What if the stories Casanova wrote in his memoirs were all fabrications? How do we know when he is telling the truth? Or now much of each story is the truth? A new essay has got me thinking about these questions.
I was very happy to receive my copy of Casanoviana, the new journal for the study of Giacomo Casanova. A few weeks ago I mentioned receiving my copy in the mail, and I spent some lovely hours reading the essays. (If only I spoke French, as the journal is trilingual!)
The essay by Dino Detailleur, entitled “The Bragadin Encounter: A Historical Assessment of an Episode in the Memoirs of Giacomo Casanova,” explores three ways we may read C’s memoirs: “a natural-naive reading, a reading based on action-oriented discourse, and a casanovistic-personal reading.” The first type, as you may be able to surmise, takes Casanova at his word, assuming that his memoirs are factual truth. Detallieur explores C’s writing and rhetorical techniques that lead readers to believe that the events he narrates actually happened; Detailleur’s assessments and inquiries are supported by research into Discursive Psychology by Derek Edwards and Jonathan Potter.
I found this approach fascinating. Though I’ve read J. Rives Childs’ biography of Casanova, where he researches the dates, places, and people mentioned in C’s memoirs, I must admit that overall I read the memoirs with more of a “natural-naive” reading style, accepting as true the bulk of the tales. Of course, I understand that Casanova was a storyteller, who often “dined” on his stories, as he said, meaning that his storytelling gave him entrée into society and homes he may not have been able to enter given his social class. I’m not completely naive, but I approached the writing of my book, Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps looking for the sites C wrote about so that I could guide readers to visit them. After reading Detailleur’s essay, I wish I could add to my preface a disclaimer that in my book I merely offer the map based on the stories that C tells us, that I don’t pretend to know the full factual truth.
Dino Detailleur has offered a new lens for viewing C’s memoirs. I won’t attempt to summarize his findings here: he has already done that masterfully in his essay. You may order your own copy of Casanoviana from editor and professor Antonio Trampus at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice–or come to the Casanova in Place Symposium in Venice this June to meet Detailleur in person! I’m looking forward to thanking him personally for opening my eyes to this new way of reading the memoirs.