Excerpt from the Introduction
“Nowadays, Giacomo Casanova signifies the archetypical Latin lover, and there’s a bit of Casanova in everyone. But to his eighteenth-century contemporaries, the name Casanova meant something else – the Venetian adventurer, spy, duelist, gambler, escape artist, and the author of nearly one hundred novels, poems, and treatises. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Catherine the Great of Russia, Mozart, and Lorenzo da Ponte – the librettist for Mozart’s Don Giovanni and a flamboyant figure in his own right – all were friends and correspondents. To them, Giacomo Casanova personified the spirit of liberation and more than that, libertinism – unrestrained sexual pleasure. We think of Europe in the eighteenth century as the Age of Revolution or the Age of Enlightenment, but it’s also the Age of Casanova, the Venetian arriviste who incarnated its passions and pleasures. And we think of Casanova as a great narcissist, yet he played many other roles in society as he sought to find a place to match his exalted yet fragile self-image. He was a genuinely outrageous figure who also happened to be a literary, psychological, and mathematical genius; a master of self-invention and self-promotion; a dedicated card sharp, con artist, and escape artist who devised the French lottery (still in use today); and made himself into one of the first celebrities of the modern era.
Why are we still fascinated with this upstart more than two hundred years after his death? He was neither handsome, nor well-educated, nor well-born. He lacked position and power. Somehow, this impoverished bastard son of an actress made himself into the most celebrated libertine of all time and a major literary figure of his era. His was a life lived in letters no less than in the boudoir. Casanova is legendary for personifying an archetype of the endlessly romantic, promiscuous, seducing male, yet his lesser known but equally remarkable accomplishments in mathematics and literature received belated and partial recognition. He broke hearts from Venice to Paris to Prague, yet he avoided becoming a villain. Casanova exalted women even as he exploited them. He preferred to make love (the more romantic the better), not war, as he lived out his sexual and romantic fantasies.
His desire knew no bounds; this was a man who claimed to seduce his own daughter and lured her into watching him make love to her mother. How did this nobody wind up consorting with the most beautiful women and the greatest minds of his day? How did he come to write the consummate erotic memoir? How did this least-loved, cast-off child become the most celebrated lover in history? This is the story I tell.”
© Laurence Bergreen 2016