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Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.4 (2000) 579-586
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Casanova at the Bicentenary: Familiar Questions, New Directions
Cynthia C. Craig
Giorgio Ficara. Casanova e la malinconia (Turin: Einaudi, 1999). Pp. xii + 99. £ 24,000.00 cloth.
Lydia Flem. Casanova, The Man Who Really Loved Women (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1997). Pp. xv + 256. $24.00 cloth, $10.40 paper.
Marie-Françoise Luna. Casanova mémorialiste (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1998). Pp. 557. FF 530.00 cloth.
Andrew Miller. Casanova in Love (New York: Harcourt, Inc.: 1998). Pp. 272. $16.10 cloth, $10.40 paper.
Il Mondo di Giacomo Casanova. Un veneziano in Europa 1725-1798 (Venice: Marsilio, 1998). Pp. 267.
Philippe Sollers. Casanova l'amirable (Paris: Plon, 1998). Pp. 261. L 29.000 cloth.
The first appearance in print, nearly two centuries, ago of Casanova's Histoire de ma vie in various unreliable and heavily expurgated editions, almost immediately gave rise to a lucrative secondary market, in which historians argued over the accuracy of his accounts and ferreted out the true identities of his lovers, while archivists hunted down letters, passports, and criminal records and dusted off lesser-known texts. Denied access to Casanova's original manuscript, literary scholars were obliged to rely upon translations and adaptations by Wilhelm von Schütz (1822-28) and in particular, Jean Laforgue's 1826-1838 edition, altered both in deference to public morality and to the revolutionary sympathies of the time. Perhaps, then, it was inevitable that novelists would be unable to resist contributing their own treatments of episodes from [End Page 579] Casanova's adventures or would succumb to the temptation of finishing his famously interrupted account. Luna offers an impressive list of those who have rewritten Casanova, ranging from Balzac, Stendhal and George Sand to Federico Fellini (10). Ficara, too, talks of this phenomenon. While differentiating between the popular stereotype, the "trito emblema planetario dell'eccitazione, della seduzione" created by "psicologi, finti filosofi, poligrafi di tutto il mondo" and the "altri Casanova" created by writers such as Schnitzler and Hesse, he identifies a common urge to reinvent Casanova, "quasi che quello vero non bastasse e anche il suo mito dovesse essere trasvalutato" (ix).
The years between the appearance of the Schütz and Laforgue texts and a reliable and accurate edition, the Brockhaus-Plon Édition Intégrale (1960-62), were filled with flawed versions, pirated translations, abridgments, and, inevitably, moralizing essays and defenses of both Casanova the man and the writer. The principal debate was not so much literary as historical and moral, preoccupied with lapses and inaccuracies of fact. Autobiography's mixture of truth and fiction has proven especially troubling when the author was an acknowledged gambler, escaped criminal, practitioner of black magic, perpetual exile, and occasional spy whose extraliterary exploits quickly acquired mythic status and whose name entered the dictionary, synonymous with "philanderer."
Whether using Casanova's memoirs as the starting point for versions of his life more "novelized" than even the original, or finding in them a source of minutely detailed historical information about nearly every aspect of the eighteenth century, writers, like infatuated lovers, almost invariably shared a common claim: to be the first, or at least among the very few, to have discovered, to understand, to know, and to appreciate, the "true," "other," "vero," "veritable," "rehabilitated," "authentic" Casanova, the "anti-Don Juan."
This phenomenon persists to the present: despite the appearance of authentic texts and excellent translations, Casanova's life and his memoirs continue to be subjected to an enormous number of rewrites and a wide variety of other literary ventures, most of which claim supremacy or exclusivity, or exist in curious ignorance of each other. With the arrival of the Édition Intégrale, its translation into English by Willard Trask (1966-71, reissued in paperback in 1997), and the original French text in paperback recently edited by Francis Lacassin (1993), the original text is now readily available, and Casanova's conversational style and scandalous reputation alone might serve to make his memoirs as attractive as they are now accessible to readers of...