The Casanova in Place Symposium is only two weeks away! If you’ve been following along for the past few weeks, you’ve seen the abstracts and biographies for the papers that will be presented. But on Sunday 30 June, we also have an author panel. Moderated by UCLA Professor Malina Stefanovska, it will feature a variety of authors who write about Casanova: Michelle Lovric, Barbara Lynn-Davis, Ian Kelly, and myself. I’ve previously blogged about Barbara’s book Casanova’s Secret Wife, so today I wanted to share with you some added material from Michelle Lovric. In preparing for the symposium, she wrote extensive notes; she shared much more with me, but you should come to the symposium to hear the rest!
Why do you choose to write about Casanova?
My novel Carnevale is about a Venetian woman named Cecilia Cornaro, who loves both Casanova and Byron, though naturally these affairs are some decades apart. Only one of these men knows how to love properly. Cecilia is not without talent of her own. She becomes a portrait painter, a kind of composite of Élisabeth Vigée le Brun, Angelica Kauffman and Rosalba Carriera. At the time I wrote Carnevale, no one had yet produced a fictional account of what it might be like to be a woman loved by Casanova. It appeared to me that there was a vacancy. Too many books about Casanova had been written from a man’s point of view, I felt. They were often so jeering that one can suspect that a little of the nastiness must have sprung from jealousy. That the world of the Casanovistes was for a long time dominated by men – well, it slightly misses the point, when it comes to a man born to please women.
I had something to say too about the gendering of the 18thand 19thcenturies and the perception/identities of women in those two very different spaces. It seemed to me that, in the writing of Byron, women were largely reduced to mothers and victims of the contagious, careless, contemptuous tragedy generated by an entirely self-absorbed hero. Whereas I could not help feeling that Casanova actually liked as well as loved women. Indeed, he actually thought about femininity a great deal and even wondered about coming back as a woman. So the experience of my character Cecilia reflects that empathy. Casanova teaches her about love, life, joy, regret and leave-taking. Byron teaches her about narcissism, cruelty and pain.
Also, I wanted to write about Venice in the 18thcentury: in a sense, Casanova embodied the 18thcentury, and his fall was Venice’s fall … Napoleon crushed the Venetian republic, just as her exiled son was fading faraway in Bohemia. Casanova died at the same time Venice died. That was probably a good thing as I doubt if he could have been able to bear her humiliation.
Cecilia too impersonates all the freedoms and joys of 18thcentury femininity: she is appreciated for her talent; she has lovers; she travels. It is only when she falls in love with Byron that her life becomes curtailed.
And I was interested in Casanova’s relationship with Venice – especially as my own began to deepen. Casanova spent a great deal of his life in exile from Venice. It was as if Casanova and Venice were too alike, like two ends of the same magnet, acting in repulsion. (Like Shakespeare, Casanova is attracted to uncomfortable dichotomies and twins).
Venice was like his mother … cold and indifferent to him. You might argue that both took a merely narcissistic interest in him. It was his mother’s and Venice’s affection and approval for which Casanova struggled, and by whom he was continually rejected.
“… I was born for the sex opposite to my mine, I have always loved it and done all that I could to make myself loved by it.” —- History of My Life, Preface
The same might be said for his relationship with Venice.
I’m also happy to announce the release of Michelle’s newest book, The Wishing Bones, also set in Venice and featuring Casanova as a teenager. A dark and magical book, it follows orphans as they try to unravel the evil that four sisters have wrought on Venice. Due out in late July.