- Histoire de ma viepar Giacomo Casanova
What is that fascinates us so much with Casanova? Neither handsome, nor noble, nor rich, Casanova was born in Venice in 1725, into an acting family. After the early failure of his ecclesiastical career, he became a thief and a con man. He soon became renowned for his spectacular escape from the ‘unescapable’ Piombi prison in Venice. His interest in science and the esoteric meant that he could sell his skills to whomever was ready to put him up. Many times changing appearance and using aliases, he travelled across Europe, accumulating female conquests and sexually transmitted diseases, and engaging in scams and duels. A scholar (he translated Homer’s Iliadand Voltaire’s L’Écossaise), a dazzling storyteller, and also a lucid political thinker of his time, he dismantles the machinery of Enlightenment and pre-Revolutionary society. In 1789, at the age of sixty-four, Casanova — at this point librarian for the Count Waldstein — decides to write his memoirs as he confesses ‘ne pouvoir plus jouir que par réminiscence’ (p. 12). He devotes the last nine years of his life to this gargantuan task, working at a rate of thirteen hours a day. The 3700 pages of his manuscript tell the Histoire de [sa] viein ten books, ‘écrit en français, et non pas en italien parce que la langue française est plus répandue que la [s]ienne’ (p. 13). Gérard Lahouati and Marie-Françoise Luna, the Pléiade editors, have applied Casanova’s logic in their own approach (‘j’ai défendu à mon éditeur d’adopter des corrections que quelque puriste constipé s’aviserait d’introduire dans mon manuscrit’ (p. 1120)): they retain the Italianisms in the text as well as Casanovian idiosyncrasies, for example, ‘paq-bot’ for ‘packet-boat’, ‘ma’ for ‘mais’. They indicate any deleted passages and add language notes. But above all they focus on a new aspect of the character, virtually unknown until now: the writerCasanova. The editors argue that Casanova’s rejection of decorum, his questioning of literary codes, his mixing of tones all have the effect of producing a distinctive writing style characterized by ‘une association inédite entre l’allégresse de la phrase, la recherche de l’intensité du plaisir, la volonté d’individualiser chaque personnage et le goût, parfois, du pathétique’ (Lahouati, p. xviii). This piquant literary style absorbs many inﬂuences: Horace and Ariosto; French libertine novels; Voltaire (whom Casanova jealously worshipped); Rousseau; and the commedia dell’arte, from which he derives his taste for improvisation. The success of Casanova both as a writer and as a brand comes from ‘[c]e sens de la fête, associé à une conscience ironique de la supercherie’ (p. xxvii). Lahouati adds, ‘[l]’apologie de la jeunesse, le paroxysme des sensations, [. . .] la conviction que la liberté se ressent dans la jouissance, dans la conscience de la multiplicité des choix possibles et dans les contournements de l’autorité’ ( p. xxvii) resonate strongly with the modern reader. We are grateful to the editors to have rehabilitated Casanova the writer, and brought to light the authentic story of his life.