If you’ve been following this blog or if you’ve read Seductive Venice, you know that I described Judith Summers’ theories that perhaps Casanova had a daughter with his possible half-sister Teresa Imer-Cornelys. Last week I came across more information on Casanova’s views on incest.
I recently finished yet another book on Casanova’s life entitled The Other Casanova by Paul Nettl, and it also brings up an incest theme. While the book itself has some errors in it, Nettl does spend some time discussing Casanova’s very little known science fiction book, Icosameron. In it, 14-year-old brother Edward and his 12-year-old sister Elizabeth from England are shipwrecked while traveling and mysteriously end up in the center of the earth. This place is peopled by billions of Megamicres (Big Littles). In Nettl’s words, here’s what happens next: “The urge of nature drives [Edward and Elizabeth] into each other’s arms. Brother and sister become man and wife and become the parents of forty pairs of twins, each consisting of a boy and a girl” (184). The children apparently then marry and reproduce as well. This family become the aristocratic rulers of their new land.
Casanova wrote this book in his old age, while he was living at Count Waldstein’s castle in Dux. Besides his relationship with Teresa Imer, he had had other incestuous relationships in his life (as well as relationships with prepubescent girls, but that’s a separate topic). Nettl conjectures, “It seems almost as though Casanova had sought to give an ethical or religious basis to his primal sexual instincts. Incest is natural, hence God-given. Among the Megamicres every sexual aspect is reduced to esthetic and natural standards” (185-6). Casanova always defined himself as a free-thinker, and this seems to include his views on incest. Perhaps one reason for writing this book is to try to open the minds of his readers to accept so-called deviant sexual behavior. Or could the incest that is included in this book be an apologia for his previous behavior?
Hmmm, I see a possible article for l’Intermediare des Casanovistes out of this, though it should be handled by someone more trained in psychology than I.
I’ve read in some places that incest was not judged by the same standards in the eighteenth century as it is now, and that to judge Casanova by 21st century mores is a mistake. I’m not presuming to judge him here, but I find the questions fascinating. Is incest wrong, no matter the century? Is there something “natural” or “esthetically pleasing” about it, as Casanova seems to portend? If we can never actually be in the mind of eighteenth century people, how can we know what they thought about incest or the age of consent? And certainly there wouldn’t have been only one viewpoint held by all, anyway. Does questioning this aspect of Casanova’s life inform us about his other relationships? And as English teachers like to ask, “So what?” What about this thesis makes me care enough to keep reading?
Discuss among yourselves.