My friend Adriano, a Casanovist in Rome, recently discovered an interesting connection between Casanova and Honore de Balzac, the French novelist. Apparently, Balzac mined Casanova’s Memoirs for stories to include in his own novels. He also borrowed some of Casanova’s settings. Raffaele de Cesare (1845-1918) did some research into this and found borrowings in Balzac’s novels Facino Cane, about an elderly man who wishes to return to Venice, and Sarrasine, where Balzac used Casanova’s tale of Bellino, a castrato singer.
But some say that Casanova borrowed as well. In Pompeo Molmenti’s Venice: Part III Vol. II, (note p. 84-85) he tells a story that is similar to Casanova’s encounter with the nun M.M. Here’s a summary:
Maria da Riva, a nun at the convent of San Lorenzo, met the French Ambassador Froullay in the convent parlor. He fell in love with her, and it was requited. She would sneak out of the convent to join him for masked balls and parties in casini. (Up to this point it’s extremely similar to Casanova’s story.) The Inquisition eventually found out and barred her from being in the parlor to meet with Froullay. Froullay complained to Paris (“These darn Italians won’t let me have an affair with a nun!”) who parlayed with the Venetian authorities Ambassador Zeno and others. Froullay didn’t want to give in to their demands. Maria was then transferred to a convent in Ferrara where she then fell in love with Colonel Moroni. The couple fled to Bologna and married. (This second half has no comparison to Casanova’s version.)
Molmenti claims that Casanova would have known this story and must have used it in telling about his encounter with M.M., the noble nun whom he shared with the French Ambassador de Bernis. How much is true? We know the Abbe de Bernis existed, though he publicly said none of the story ever happened. (He was also an ambassador and clergyman, so he needed to say this.) M.M. has never been one hundred percent identified. I haven’t researched the details about Casanova possibly borrowing this story–it might have been covered by J. Rives Childs or one of the other biographers, or maybe one of my readers knows the research into the truth? I’m in the middle of another project right now, so I’m not going to take the time to detour into finding out, but I came across this note in Molmenti and thought I’d share it. If you know more, please comment!