Tuesday, January 10, 2017

And wrote science fiction in his spare time...

I never took much interest in the story of Casanova, so it's handy to have a review of a new biography about him to fill in some gaps in my knowledge:
Casanova moved with ease in all strata of society. As well as hordes of nobility, he met Benjamin Franklin, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, Pope Clement XIII, Rousseau, Voltaire and Mozart. He mixed with financiers, ambassadors, Freemasons, magicians and government ministers, in addition to an awful lot of gamblers, rakes, actors, dancers, courtesans and common prostitutes.

Perhaps his most famous exploit was his escape, after 15 months of miserable incarceration, from one of Venice’s state prisons, known as I Piombi, to which he was confined in 1755 at the age of 30, ostensibly for irreligion. This was the story he was most often asked to tell, and the account of it he published in 1788 was one of the few literary successes of his lifetime. He also wrote poems, a translation of Homer into ottava rima, librettos, some pamphlets on mathematics, historical studies on Poland and Venice and — among other things — a five-volume work of science fiction set in the Earth’s interior. He envied the literary fame of Goethe and Voltaire, and could not quite understand why they were more highly regarded than he was.

The desire for renown as a man of letters came early for Casanova, as most things did. By his account, it arrived around the age of 11, when he stunned the diners at his tutor’s house with a risqué Latin witticism. At about the same time, the tutor’s younger sister gave him his first taste of sex. The other achievements of his adolescence included a doctorate of law awarded at the age of 16, expulsion from a monastery, a spell as a trainee priest, a love affair with a putative castrato (whom Casanova correctly believed to be a girl in disguise), a stint in the army, various other affairs and the start of his mostly unsuccessful gambling career.
We'll leave the story before we get to the incest; maybe readers already know about that?


Jason Soon said...

yes that incest bit really put me off Casanova. I thought he was just a healthy and therefore admirable rogue but that is just sick

Steve said...

More about him from a review of a different book:

More troubling still for the modern reader are Summers’ accounts of Casanova’s sexual encounters with adolescent girls, some as young as 11. The author takes pains to place these acts in context. “In the eighteenth century, Casanova’s behaviour, which today would be regarded as criminal, was not that unusual. The concept of childhood as we know it scarcely existed at the time. In France there were no laws to prevent the rape or sexual abuse of children. In England, the age of female consent, which in 1275 had been fixed at twelve years old under canon law, had in the late sixteenth century been lowered to just ten.” Casanova’s activities as a seducer become even more transgressive with his attempts to sleep with two of his daughters, one of whom he wound up impregnating. Summers is less willing to chalk this up to the tenor of the times.