As part of the Sunday June 30 program for the Casanova in Place Symposium, Malina Stefanovska moderated a panel of authors who have written about Casanova. Authors included Michelle Lovric, Barbara Lynn-Davis, Ian Kelly, and myself, Kathleen González. Michelle and Barbara both wrote fiction books, transforming the facts of C’s life or the spirit of his personality into characters and themes with exciting plots. Ian, on the other hand, wrote a biography that also includes “intermezzos” that put C’s life into the context of the 18th century. My book is a guide to C’s Venice, with seven walking routes accompanied by the stories of what happened at each location.
Here are the books by each featured author:
Casanova by Ian Kelly.
Carnevale and The Wishing Bones (due out this month) by Michelle Lovric.
Casanova’s Secret Wife by Barbara Lynn-Davis.
Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps (published in Italy by Supernova Edizioni as Casanova’s Venice: A Walking Guide) by Kathleen Ann Gonzalez.
Malina opened by introducing each of us and our books. Of Barbara’s book, Malina said, “Her writing filled that void in fiction of the female point of view.” Malina next spoke about Michelle’s books and their depiction of Venice, saying, “I felt that it was as opulent as the dresses we see in Venetian paintings…so knowledgeable, so intuitive about Venice, that I know Michelle lived in some past lives in Venice.” When introducing Ian’s biography, Malina recognized how difficult it is to write a biography about a memoir, but that “It is very well researched and deeply in habited.” Finally, she reviewed my Casanova guidebook as well as my book about Venetian women, stating that it’s “a wonderful assessment of so many unknown lives and destinies … each woman is a whole in her own right.”
After these introductions, we began rounds of questions about why we chose to write about Casanova, what research we did, what difficulties we faced, and what we learned from it all. We were first asked how we came to study Casanova. Barbara, who is an art historian, said that originally “I thought that Casanova was an idea, not a historical man, and I think that most lay people today still think that.” She also echoed the sentiment from Nicola Vinovrski from the previous day: “You can’t really read the memoirs without falling in love with Casanova.” Michelle responded to the question by discussing Tom Vitelli’s idea from Saturday, that C’s memoirs present an “absence of contemplation and the absence of auto-ethnography” which Michelle “suddenly realized created an enormous vacancy for someone to jump in there and write about what was going on. A vacancy for a writer is a vacuum and it sucks you in.” Michelle also added that “I wanted to write about what it felt like as a woman to be loved by him.”
Malina next asked us about the research we each conducted, besides reading C’s memoirs. Ian laughed while pointing out that Casanova “has written almost everything already, so what do I have to add or say?” but that he found rich material in “a series of Grand Tourist memoirs” and also explored more about 18th century food, travel, the Cabbala, and so on to fully understand C’s milieu. I added that besides reading all the biographies on Casanova as well as many of his contemporaries like the Prince de Ligne, I also visited museums and studied paintings, clothing, and maps, such as Ughi’s, from the time period.
When we discussed what we put in and leave out when writing about Casanova, Michelle revealed that she originally wrote Carnevale as a poem and then converted it to prose. Ian also revealed an interesting snafu when writing his biography–that his publisher dropped from 160,000 words to 120,000 words, requiring Ian to drastically edit his book in a short time frame. Barbara discussed her choice to alter a story about Casanova putting a dead man’s arm in someone’s bed as a prank: “I felt that that anecdote is so dark and so troubling that a reader might at that point just shut down to Casanova and not be able to care about the characters and at some level love them.” Finally, since my book is a walking guide, “I wanted it to feel alive,” I said, “so I worked very hard at finding one or two pertinent quotations … that would bring a human voice to that location, so people could feel connected or have a laugh.”
We went on to explain how we each handled the more controversial aspects of C’s memoirs, such as incest or sexual encounters. Ian spoke about putting C’s actions into context and “where the Grand Tourists were a useful parallel, a gauge, if you will, … who were doing far more nefarious things or are indeed having far more sex than Casanova writes about.” I added that “Reading his work, learning about his life, leads us to discuss areas that might be uncomfortable but that might be very rich in building our resilience, our ability to listen and our empathy with others.” Basically, the controversial issues offer an opportunity to discuss what we believe in and how we should act and thus shouldn’t be shied away from.
Of course, there was much more rich conversation in our hour and a half panel discussion, including the question of what we learned by writing about Casanova. The conversation spilled into lunch time where we enjoyed risotto, spinach, and fish. In my next post, I’ll tell you all about the Casanova ballet, which we viewed after lunch.
(All photos by RJ Wofford.)