A couple weeks ago my newsfeed blew up with articles about the newest biography on Casanova: Adventurer: The Life and Times of Giacomo Casanova. This review by the Guardian calls C a “career criminal” and particularly focuses on incest, pedophilia, and sexual assault. The Economist talks about the “dark side of Casanova’s hedonism,” calling C a “rapist and murderer.” I was concerned seeing these comments.
I’m not excusing any of C’s behavior, but I’ve also read a number of analyses of his actions within the context of the eighteenth century, so I was hesitant about exploring this new work. Written by Harvard English professor Leo Damrosch, it chronicles C’s life with more of a modern lens. Or so it seems.
But then I came across a podcast on Princeton Alumni Weekly: “PAWcast: Leo Damrosch ’68 on the Life of Giacomo Casanova.” The interview by Elisabeth Daugherty allows Damrosch to speak for himself about his impressions of C and his aims in writing this book, which feel more balanced and nuanced than many of the newspaper reviews. I haven’t read the new book and won’t draw any conclusions yet. Damrosch worked from the original manuscripts and apparently consulted the scholarship coming from modern French scholars (he doesn’t name them here, but I can guess at a few important names). Certainly for Casanovists, any new biography is of interest.