The Newest Casanova Biography

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.

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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4 Responses to The Newest Casanova Biography

  1. Thanks for alerting us to this new biography. I share your thoughts!

    • I just saw Gregory Dowling in Venice, and he has written a review of the new biography for the Wall Street Journal. (You can find it online, but I think you need a subscription to read it.) Gregory feels that the new book has a lot to offer, as the author is an expert on the 18th century and also knows much about Rousseau and Boswell and thus can do some comparisons between these historical figures. I think it’s time I read this book myself!

  2. blynndav says:

    The review is amazingly perceptive. I highly recommend it! It summarizes so perfectly what draws us to Casanova’s memoirs–it’s joy, its cast of characters, its “presentness”–and also makes keen observations about the new biography. Did you know this fact, I didn’t (in the biography): “We know more about Casanova, and in more depth, than we do about almost anyone who lived long ago.”

    • Yes, you’ve summed up the value of the review very well. Gregory is always so astute. I did know that C’s memoirs are one of (if not the) best chronicles of the 18th century, but I hadn’t realized that we know more about him than nearly anybody else from the past. It’s rather astonishing! I also liked Gregory’s comments about why we continue to read Casanova: because he’s endlessly fascinating (both good and bad). I come back to this idea again and again.

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