Monday, March 26, 2012

Casanova: His Known & Unknown Life by Guy Endore

***  I intended to publish this post a few days back but the hubby got chest congestion which led to me battling a nasty sinus cold so my concentration on this was less than full on, to say the least. Thanks for hanging in there readers! ***

There's something appealing to me about one now obscure writer writing a biography on another. I have just a few of Samuel Guy Endore's novels in my library because editions seem to be so scare nowadays. If you find one, give it a try - he's got a brilliant smoothness to his writing. In this instance though, he puts aside the fiction and writes this scholarly work. But even this bio read like a novel for me! I don't know if that's due to Endore's skills as a writer or just because Casanova is such an intriguing subject. Maybe a bit of both.

Giacomo (Jacob) Girolamo Casanova (1725-1798) is most commonly known as the legendary lothario, up there with Don Juan. His accomplishments extended outside of 18th century boudoirs though. He also held the titles of hedonist, gambler, traveler, scholar, mathematician, philosopher, intellectual, librarian, government spy, Freemason, compulsive writer, matchmaker (he had a tendency to find new amores for his romantic liaison cast-offs), aristocrat (later in life), felon... others called him a magician, an imposter  -- the "imposter" label probably came from the old money types who didn't like Casanova's ability to earn and spend like a rap mogul and throw back a few with the social elite, kicking back at places like Chateau Chambord (a chateau mentioned in one of my Tour of France posts). There was even speculation that he may have been Jesuit. He liked to be one of a kind. He hated (or maybe just felt threatened by) fellow adventurerers who led similar lives of gambling, travel, numerous loves, etc. 

As far as the writing thing goes, I have a sneaking suspicion Casanova had a strong case of hypergraphia. It's not specifically noted in this book, but there are descriptions of Casanova's numerous books and pamphlets. Whenever money allowed, Casanova seemed to constantly be sending new works to printers though very few of these publications found many readers in his lifetime. Even now, though you can find works about the guy easy enough, it's a bit of a treasure hunt to find the stuff actually written by the man himself. The easiest title to find copies of is of the autobiography itself. Problem is, Endore points out that Casanova wrote four different versions of this book and each version is full of embellishments and chronological inaccuracies. It seems Casanova didn't like pesky or boring facts get in the way of a killer story ;-) . 

photo by Greg Gorman

There's a good deal of strangeness surrounding Casanova's autobiography. Aside from all the inaccuracies, there's also the fact that he dated the book "my life up to 1797" but the book stops at the year 1774. No one is quite sure why. Maybe he got bored with the project and quit writing (from what I've read of him, this seems unlikely but possible). It's also possible -- and theorized by some scholars -- that he did in fact finish up to the year 1797 but perhaps mentioned something someone else didn't want publicized, so the pages mentioning those years might have been destroyed. And the errors -- what were the intentions behind the errors, the blatant contradictions and flat - out lies? Was it out of carelessness? Forgetfulness? Was he trying to throw sand in the face of his enemies, hiding secrets out in the open? Or was it just that he wanted credit for events he was involved with but not blame lol. If only he was around to set the record straight!
Their cynicism passes all bounds...the more I write, the more I am convinced that my work is meant to be burnt.  ~~~ Casanova on his own memoirs

Giacomo Casanova
In his autobio, Casanova gives his height as 5'9 but Endore 
explains that by today's measuring standards, his height 
fell just under 6'2. 
Could've been part of his appeal, maybe?
Being the tall, dark guy in the room?

"Casanova would have been a splendid-looking man if he had not been so ugly. He was tall, built like Hercules, but with an almost African complexion; his eyes were bright and quick, frank and intelligent, but they indicated an uneasy susceptibility and a vindictive ferocity; it was easier to make him angry than make him laugh. In fact he seldom laughed, even when he brought everyone else to laughter. He had a way about him, a very charming way... he knew everything, except those things which he prided himself upon knowing -- such as the rules of dancing, of the French language, of good taste and breeding and of conduct in high society...He was touchy and grateful; but when he was displeased, he was grumbling, bitter and altogether detestable. With a million you could not have bought back his good will once you had offended him with a joke at his expense."  ~~~ Prince de Ligne on Casanova

haven't read this one by Endore mentions that Zola used 
incidents from Casanova's life as inspiration (in part) for 
this book

This guy seemed to be the Gene Simmons of his day. He lays claim to 116 female conquests! Okay, so maybe not quite in Simmons territory but still a pretty hefty number among men, even by today's standards. Even in his autobiography, Casanova tried to be careful about concealing the true identities of these women, only naming them by initials for the most part (though Endore points out a few spots where hints to identity were dropped).  A number of the rumored liasions were with noble women (though he wasn't too proud for the occasional literal roll in the hay with a mammarific milkmaid now and then). I wonder, if your wife sleeps  with someone of Casanova's reputation, does the husband get offended or is part of him flattered that his wife was thought so tempting? The funny part in all of this is that of all the conquests Casanova claimed, only one, Francesca Buschini, can be undisputably verified and that is through her correspondence with him  that survived both their lifetimes. 

Also, I was unaware that this sort of thing was documented very thoroughly in Casanova's time but in this book Endore claims that Casanova suffered from at least 11 different STDs! 

...for what causes the delights of my life has nothing to do with the place where I dwell. When I am not sleeping, I dream, and when I am tired of dreaming, I grind out black on paper, then I read and more often than not I reject all that my pen has vomited. ~~~ Giacomo Casanova
{life of a writer right there all summed up!!}

Casanova seemed to have a good deal of spiritual conflict for most of his life. He was an abbe during his early adult years but it seems he really had to fight his liking for the ladies. He writes in his autobio of these beautiful women who would see him as just an abbe, so they would sit casually next to him or feel comfortable laying languidly in his presence. His descriptions reminded me of that classic character in romantic comedies -- you know, the guy that pretends to be gay so women will open up to him but then it ends up backfiring with the girl falling for the guy, then exclaiming "But no! I can't!" 

In his later years, perhaps because his popularity with the ladies had waned, Casanova drifted back to his religious roots, often writing moral pieces that chastised the promiscuous. He preached more and more than chastity would bring people closer to their God, but I still say at least some of this proselytizing was due to his lack of action with the ladies. If he couldn't have his fun he could at least guilt people out of theirs!

Regarding his "felon" years, Casanova was thrown into "The Leads"  -- or Piombi by its Italian name -- Prison (nicknamed for the lead plates on its roof) for allegedly being a practicing Freemason in a Catholic community -- I'm guessing because of the mystery around the Freemasons, they probably seemed cult-like to the Catholic church, though to be fair, it's not like the Catholic church hasn't had their own rumors of secret, mysterious behavior over the centuries. He served some time there but eventually got restless, oddly enough lol, and managed to figure out a successful escape. Even more odd, no one went after him and he went on to write his memoir on the experience, Escape From The Leads. Some years later, he wound up in prison again, this time in Spain, but there he was made to stick out his term so he wrote letters to every high ranking person he knew. Surprisingly, those letters actually did bring about the first tricklings of prison reform in the area (even though by that time -- his time in Spain --  Casanova's appeal had started to fade, along with his looks. He was just starting to phase into the angry-old-man-constantly -writing-complaint-letters-type that few took seriously anymore). 

"Equestrian Portrait of Prince Wenzel Anton Kaunitz-Reitberg"
by Francesco Casanova, Giacomo Casanova's brother.
Francesco was hired as Prince Kaunitz's royal painter. 

Aside from Francesca Buschini, there are two ladies that Casanova mentions a bit more than the rest, the first being Therese Imer, who later became a beloved opera singer by the name of Madame Trenti. Casanova claimed that when he ran into her years after their initial coupling, Teresa swore he fathered her daughter, Sophie, even showing him a baptismal record with the girl's birthdate (I guess basically telling him "you do the math" lol). He acknowledged that he saw resemblance between himself and the girl but ...

As to that strange encounter with Therese Imer, wife of Pompeati, we have full records with exact dates that leave no doubt that Sophie was not Casanova's daughter. We do know that Casanova corresponded with the little girl  and had a deep fatherly love for her, for he sent her  at least one present to which she replied in a childish letter, thanking him... Casanova preserved this letter throughout forty years of stormy life. It was found lately among his manuscripts. ~~~ Guy Endore 1929

If that wasn't bad enough, Therese somehow convinced Casanova to take her son with him (who knows who the father of that kid was) and try to use his connections to introduce the boy to good society! It seemed she didn't really know what to do with a boy so she pawned him off on Casanova. Mother of the Year material there! But it's funny how Lady Karma ends up finding such people, given time. Years after pawning her son off on Casanova, Therese and Sophie set up residence in the Carlisle House (I tried to find a pic of this house but I'm not sure if the building still exists. There was a Carlisle House that was later named the London Inn which fit the time period of all these people but that building was demolished in the late 1800s with a new London Inn being built near the spot -- but I don't know if this was the same place). At the Carlisle House, Therese held 24 lavish balls and extravagant dinners per year, featuring music performed by such greats as Bach and Abel. Least until she went bankrupt that is. Girl couldn't balance an account to save herself and ended up dying in Fleet Prison (a common prison for debtors).

He then went on to give his fickle heart to Manon Balleti, one of many women he proposed. Manon was the closest he came to fulfilling the offer. They made plans to marry but then Casanova decided to go to Holland. Manon's family was under the assumption that he did this to build up some wealth before marrying Manon, but really I think it was just a case of cold feet, a "runaway groom" of sorts ;-) Casanova met up with a number of old flames and acquaintances, including Therese again (pre-Fleet Prison residency obviously).  He forgets about Manon until one night -- oops! -- he runs into her at a theater while trying to put his moves on another girl! This had been about a year since his leaving for Holland. I can just picture that moment him saying "oooh heeey gurl, how you been?" LOL. 

"Manon Balleti" by Jean-Marc Nattier (1757)
Manon was once engaged to Casanova

Not sure what he said, but Casanova was able to work things out with Manon, at least for awhile. They returned to Paris together, where he and Manon took up residence at Petit-Pologne (Little Poland) estate. Eventually the union fizzled out and they went their separate ways.

There was one other woman who had an interesting link to Casanova, though she was not one of his own love affairs. Guistiniana Wynne was bethrothed to an English nobleman in his 60s. She wanted out of the arrangement. She fell desperately in love with Andrea Memno and had a child out of wedlock with him (the baby was given up for adoption). There was such a scandal surrounding the whole affair that Wynne escaped from Venice,exhiling herself in London. She went on to marry Count von Rosenberg (who, by the way, was just as old as the original "icky old guy" she was engaged to), Austrian Ambassador to Venice, becoming respectable Madame von Rosenberg, allowing her to return to Venice with her head held high above those who previously scoffed at her youthful, romantic impetuousness. The count died shortly after the marriage. His widow, now a respectable titled widow, spent her later years devoting her life to literary endeavors, hosting salons in Venice for artistic and literary people, as well as writing moral stories for boys and girls. Her affair with Andrea Memno is the subject of the book A Venetian Affair  by Andrea di Robilant (just one of many on my TBR list). As for Casanova's part, he tried to help Wynne in the matter but was later imprisoned for his involvement. 

Casanova did some 18th century couch crashing at his brother Francois' place whenever the ladies had tapped his savings too hard. While he had other brothers, Casanova and Francois shared a "party hardy" mentality, constantly living outside of their means. Casanova decided to come up with a plan to save his brother's finances (to which I said... "Dude, what about your finances?? You're crashing at your brother's!"
The plan wasn't complex, but it worked. Basically, Casanova went all Joe Pesci on his brother's clients. He went after every person that had commissioned a painting but didn't pay or hadn't picked their painting up. He then went on a mission to drum up new clients. In no time, all debts were paid off. Casanova then pulled the "bros before hoes" card and convinced his brother to run off to Germany with him, leaving Francois' icy, frigid wife (or so she was described) to fend for herself. Things didn't end well for her, but according to Endore, it might not have been entirely her fault:

His wife {Francois'}, a pretty creature, told Giacomo that her husband's lack of virility was slowly killing her. Sexually impotent he yet loved her and she loved him, and she refused to take a lover. Casanova records that her continence soon caused her death. It was one of his staunchest beliefs , one that he retained to his dying day, that lack of sexual expression is followed by mortal illness. 

I can just see my husband trying to keep me busy after reading this! I can just hear him, "Mortal illness, Angie! Is that what you want for the man you love??" LOL... oooh boys. Still, if Francois' wife had mentioned to Casanova about her husband's condition, I wonder why she was still considered "icy" and deserving of being left on her own? Relationships are such layered things sometimes... 

Mario & Luigi visited with family in Germany but got restless so they headed to Vienna. Wonder if that's like when a guy and his crew hits up Vegas? :-P

"Stolen Kiss" 
by Jean Honore Fragonard 

In Vienna, they met Prince Kaunitz, Prince de Ligne, who hired Francois as his royal painter, but again Francois blew threw his salary pretty quick, even taking on a mistress (and it's like I tell my husband, if you have a windfall you don't know how to spend, all ya gotta do is ask me, I'm here to help ;-) ). By 1803 Francois was declared bankrupt by the courts and died a few weeks after the ruling from good ol' "consumption".

"Giovanni Giacomo Casanova Chevalier de Saingalt,
with the Young Comtesse at Venice "

by Auguste Leroux

Casanova's life can be considered a cautionary tale in relying on your looks to get you by in life. True, he had to have some wits and ingenuity, the way he was able to lose and gain massive fortunes over and over again. He was virtually penniless by the time he reached "old age" (he was 58 at the time, old for then but funny to think of it as such now).  He didn't fully accept getting older until he had lost his last real tooth and was forced to embrace porcelain dentures. 

Casanova was banned from his native Venice for 16 years thanks to the Inquistion going on there, being a "person of interest", I guess. He was allowed to live on a nearby island (not Poveglia ;-) ), writing to the Inquisiton board for years, essentially begging to be allowed back into the city.After many years, he was eventually allowed back in and even talked his way into a position as a government spy for the Inquistion Board! He held the position for 7 years until the Board finally caught on that they weren't really getting much better intel than your average Neighborwood Watch.

Monty Python Inquisition sketch

the "Inquisition Song" from 
History Of The World Pt. 1
gotta love Mel Brooks!

 He spent the last thirteen years of his life as librarian at Dux Castle, the home of Count Waldenstein. By 1793,  he became so depressed with old age, the loss of his looks, the deaths of so many good friends that he actually sat down and wrote down the pros and cons of suicide and the reasons he'd want to stay alive -- actually a productive way to talk oneself down I thought. Guess he had more checks in the "tough it out" box because he ended up having a few more years yet. Casanova died June 4th, 1798 at the age of 73. Carlo Angiolini (who was married to Casanova's niece) and Casanova's dog, Finette were the only ones present at the legendary lover's passing. 

On his grave a decent plinth was placed and above that a little cross of iron. It is related that the cross soon fell from its socket and lay on the ground half-concealed among the tall grass. And it is further said that on dark nights passing girls caught their skirts on its hooks. 
Hehe.. player to the end!

So I managed to get this post knocked out! I had to put my normally happy-to-be-eco-friendly self to the side for the time being and indulge in some nice hot showers (the steam cloud being the one place I can currently regain almost full sinus function!). Between that and a constant brewing of honey infused herbal teas to wash back the Coricidin and (again, I apologize for the non - green living here) a slew of tissue boxes practically fused to my hand, I am managing to remain semi-functional, so hang in there, more posts coming shortly!