Casanova in the Light and in the Dark

Much work has been done to organize Casanova’s papers, translate his memoirs and other works, and research the people and places he writes about. But the critical analysis of his impact, his place in literature, his place in the 18th century still is a growing field. For the Casanova in Place Symposium this June, Tom Vitelli and Nicola Vinovrški will present papers exploring Casanova’s identity, fame, character, and more. Read the abstracts below, then register to join us at the Casanova in Place Symposium to hear the complete critique.

Abstract for “‘Dark Matter” in Casanova’s Memoirs” by Tom Vitelli

Mark Twain observed, “An autobiography is the truest of all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines . . . the result being that the reader knows the author in spite of his wily diligences.” This paper looks at the “wily diligences” of Casanova as a writer and what he reveals by the information he chooses to distort or omit. By trying to conceal, he shows us much about himself and his world—we see a Casanova who is very different in important respects from the character he presents, which many readers have accepted at face value. We may reassess our notions of his sexuality, his reputation, and his relationships with family, money, social class, and power. Just as physicists have enhanced our understanding of the universe by calculating the influence of unseen “dark matter,” so can we refine our knowledge of Casanova by attentively reading the “negative space” in his text.

Abstract for “Casanova in the Spotlight” by Nicola Vinovrski: 

Where is Casanova in place? In the spotlight. Fixated on fame, he engaged in deliberate attention-seeking behaviour throughout his life, notably through autobiographical storytelling. Fame was a way for him to escape the confines of his social class. The emergence of new kinds of public space in the 18th century facilitated the emergence of a new kind of well-known person, of which Casanova was a prime example. Casanova’s use of public space, his travel patterns and visibility in key spaces of social exchange was very deliberate. His writings suggest that he and his contemporaries often used public space for the purposes of visibility. He utilised trans-European networks to increase his fame. He worked very hard to cultivate his public image and deserves his place in the spotlight. His writings about public spaces and his behaviour in public call into question many long held assumptions about the public sphere in the 18th century.


Tom Vitelli has been studying Casanova since 1977, when he first saw Fellini’s film in a small theater in upstate New York. He did his undergraduate thesis on Casanova As Literary Critic at Vassar College, began a friendship with the American Casanovist J. Rives Childs, and went to Venice to do research at Pierre Gruet’s Istituto Francese di Studi Storici, where he transcribed two of Casanova’s major unedited manuscripts: the Critique de Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and the Philocalies sur les sottises des mortels. The Critique was edited jointly with his lifelong friend, Marco Leeflang, and both texts were published under the auspices of the Intermédiaire des Casanovistes as part of the Documents Casanoviens series. Vitelli has contributed articles to the three recent journals of Casanova studies: Casanova Gleanings, the Intermédiaire, and the new Casanoviana (he is among the editors of the last two). His articles have examined Casanova as a writer, changing critical views of the memoirs, Casanovism as an area of study, and Casanova’s genealogy, which he documented through original archival research. Vitelli is a healthcare marketing executive and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Tom Vitelli with Chantal Thomas at the 2016 Casanova Conference at UCLA

Nicola Vinovrški has a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws and PhD from the University of Queensland. Her undergraduate studies were in international law, French language and literature and German. Her honours thesis was about French films and their American remakes. The topic of her doctoral thesis was “Casanova’s Celebrity: A Case Study of Well-knownness in 18th century Europe.” She is currently working on a special issue of Historical Social Research dealing with historical celebrity.Her research interests are Casanova, celebrity and the 18th century. She is also a lawyer working in commercial dispute resolution and international arbitration. She lives in London.

(All photos by the author. The first three images are from the 2011 Biennale.)

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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