Casanova-Casanova, call me that
Casanova-Casanova, call me that

Few have opened Casanova's memoirs, but everyone knows approximately who he is. Many people confuse him with Don Juan. However, this is essentially a blunder.

In 1820, the publisher Friedrich-Arnold Brockhaus received a strange manuscript in French. It was a text written by the Italian Giacomo Casanova, a librarian who served in the castle of Dux (Bohemia) and died 22 years before the events described. The manuscript was a very detailed memoir. This text was destined for a fate almost more exciting and bright than the biography of its author set out in the text.

Brockhaus showed the manuscript to friends - the famous romantic writers Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schelling. They liked the biography. Judge for yourself: an adventurer travels around Europe, constantly falls in love, changes professions, twists intrigues and, moreover, reflects interestingly … It was a potential bestseller.

The text was translated into German and published. It turned out - a bomb. All of Europe was only talking about the fascinating memories of the Italian bastard. They argued a lot ("was Casanova like that or not?"), Scolded and spat ("oh, how immoral!"), Admired ("he is the freest of people!") And - read avidly. Some seriously attributed the authorship to Stendhal (they say, too similar in style). It was soon proved, however, that the author was Casanova himself and no one else. After that, it remains to prove or disprove that everything written in the book was in fact. And this task was very difficult. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Casanova fans even published a special magazine dedicated to this issue. People sat in the archives for months trying to prove that Casanova was historically accurate. Others pursued the opposite goal: to establish that Casanova deceived everyone by simply inventing a beautiful biography for himself. Basically, the first ones won in this dispute.

Young Giacomo receives the rank of abbot, his mother wants him to continue studying church law, but he is not interested. Medicine, natural sciences and philosophy - that's what really fascinated him. A little later - mathematics. Casanova changes one occupation after another: he serves in the army, moonlights as a violinist, studies Kabbalah. On some very murky business he ends up in a Venetian prison, escapes from there (all this is described in detail in his book), and leaves Venice. Further - dizzying travel and dizzying meetings: Paris - Geneva - Berlin - Petersburg; Voltaire - Frederick II - Catherine II … And the further, the stronger the story of Casanova begins to resemble not just a detailed account of adventures and amorous successes (a roguish, adventurous novel), but a novel of upbringing, the hero comes to desperate and sad thoughts about his life and your destiny …

The book ends eighteen years after fleeing Venice. Casanova in Trieste (1774). The reader knows that from here he intends to return to his hometown. According to one version, there was a continuation, but it got lost somewhere, because the manuscript read: "The story of my life before 1797". No one, however, has seen this sequel. Most likely, the author did not have time to finish his work. There is also a version that he simply did not want to write further. After all, his youth was full of the brightest events, which cannot be said about his mature years, about which it is known from his active correspondence that they were far from the best time in his life.

Returning to Venice, he first tried to translate Homer, then published a literary monthly, was a theatrical impresario, and quickly abandoned all this. Only the job of informing the Inquisition was good for him.

Soon a scandal erupted: Casanova wrote a pamphlet in which he insulted a certain patrician, who may have been his father. As a result, Casanova must leave Venice again."Either I am not made for Venice, or it is for me, or we are both for each other." Just after that, he took the position of librarian with Count Wallenstein, in the Dux castle (now it is Duchtsov, Czech Republic). And he begins to deal with his memories out of boredom. Or maybe not out of boredom. In fact, Casanova has always been a writer at heart, and his whole adventurous life was nothing more than the preparation and collection of material for his magnum opus. However, Stefan Zweig believed otherwise: “If Count Waldstein had taken good Giacomo with him to Paris or Vienna, he would have fed him well and would have let him smell female flesh, these funny stories would have been presented over chocolate and sorbet and would never have been captured on the paper". However, the memoirs are not the only text by Giacomo Casanova, he wrote in his life several satires and comedies, translations and historical works, stage reviews and scholarly treatises, as well as the utopia novel Icosameron. But still his main work was his memoirs.


It is worth dwelling in more detail on the fact that the original text of The Story of My Life was published only in the early 1960s (sic!). The fact is that, written by an Italian in French, this book, as mentioned above, was originally published in Germany, that is, in German. When in 1826 the owner of the manuscript F.-A. Brockhaus decided to publish it in French, he, apparently guided by some publishing and commercial considerations, first gave it to the Dresden professor Jean Laforgue for revision, who quite extensively rewrote the text, apparently based on how he understood the current the needs of the public. The interpreter significantly reduced the author's sexual adventures (in particular, he threw out all homosexual episodes), rewrote all passages concerning the church, altogether changed the political coloring of the memoirs (from a Catholic and a staunch opponent of the revolution, which he really was, Casanova turned into a political and religious freethinker). And, for example, in a scene of dialogue with Voltaire, Laforgue made the author praise the French.

For 140 years, the original manuscript remained locked in the safe of the Leipzig publishing house, miraculously survived two world wars, and was finally published. Moreover, the Russian reader has not yet become acquainted with the original of this book. There is still no complete Russian translation of Casanova's memoirs, and the two-volume edition published in 2009 by the Zakharov publishing house is just a contamination (the most complete collection) of all translations existing in Russian.

Casanova is largely familiar to the 20th century man thanks to Federico Fellini's film Casanova (1976). It is not known which of the versions of the book Fellini read while working on this legendary film, but from the director's own memoirs, we know how he felt about this film, and the character, and his memoirs. He wrote about it this way: “I read the“Memoirs”after I put my signature on the contractual obligation, and immediately there was some kind of dizziness, some kind of foreboding: a mistake was made. The whole idea was based only on my stubbornness and on the thought that brought me almost hysterical: if you want it or not, you still have to shoot this picture. And the idea of the film, of what it should be, also appeared from the consciousness of inevitability, from despair; it came from outside and was completely alien to the book, Casanova, the eighteenth century, and everything that was written on this topic. I traversed the endless ocean of paper "Memoirs", forcing my way through a huge amount of dispassionately enumerated facts, selected with statistical scrupulousness, as for the inventory - carefully, pedantic, meticulous - and even seemed not so implausible. They gave rise to nothing but despondency, hostility, irritation and boredom in me; I was depressed and inconsolable. But it was precisely this feeling of rejection and disgust that prompted me to the decision of the film. I decided to show the story of a man who has never been in the world, the adventures of a "zombie", an ominous puppet, devoid of his own thoughts, feelings, beliefs; a certain "Italian", forever imprisoned in the mother's womb and there, in this confinement, inventing a life that he never really knew in his world, devoid of emotions, filled only with some empty forms, pictures alternating in cold soporific repetition … Empty forms, folding and crumbling; the attractiveness of the aquarium; oblivion of the depths of the sea, where everything is completely flattened, unfamiliar, impenetrable for normal human feelings. An abstract and indefinite style film about "not life". It has no characters, no situations, no preconditions, no development, no catharsis; one mechanical, frenzied and senseless ballet of museum wax dolls, set in motion by electricity. Casanova - Pinocchio. I grasped desperately at this idea of "dizzy with emptiness", seeing it as the only possible starting point for the story of Casanova and his fictional life. This look of glass eyes, indifferently sliding over reality and absorbing its emptiness. A look without a glimpse of thought, without a desire to somehow interpret, feel reality seemed to me symbolic: it revealed to me all the drama of the all-consuming inertia with which people drag out their lives in our days."

As a result, the most controversial film of the great director was born. Someone considers this film the weakest in his filmography, someone (like, for example, one famous researcher-Casanovist) says that "Fellini set out to destroy Casanova, but he managed to destroy only himself." Others believe that Fellini recreated the very real Casanova, an artist who, in search of perfection on earth, comes to the conclusion that perfection is death. Fellini himself wrote: “Perhaps it is precisely because Casanova has become a victim of an almost universal delusion and at times downright aggressive rejection that it seems to me personally the best, clearest, most accurate film of mine. Moreover, it is stylistically perfect”.

None of the great Italian writers, scientists and artists (not Dante, not Machiavelli, not Leonardo, not Galilei) has received such public attention as Casanova. Each era interpreted his memoirs and his legend in its own way, finding in it something of its own. At the beginning of the 19th century he was loved as an unsurpassed adventurer, at the end of the 19th century - as a great lecher, at the turn of the century he was erected on a shield by the Nietzscheans. And later the fascists hated him as a symbol of the decayed and decaying Venetian Republic, so in 1935 by an act of the Ministry of Culture "The Story of My Life" was banned in Italy. If Fellini, as we have seen, the book seemed the most boring, then, for example, the Belgian psychoanalyst Lydia Flem wrote a book, the title of which speaks for itself: "Casanova, or Incarnate happiness."

Marcello Mastroianni once said: “Today Casanova has become something like spaghetti, mandolin and Santa Lucia - something that is associated with Italians outside of Italy, without causing much respect or sympathy. For foreigners, Casanova is a rather cute Italian who enjoys some success with women. " Indeed, few people have opened Casanova's memoirs, but everyone knows at least approximately who he is. Many, by the way, confuse him with Don Juan. However, this is essentially a blunder. Mussolini's ex-girlfriend, Margarita Zarfatti, who wrote the book "Casanova against Don Juan", speaks of this mistake as follows: "The Spanish Don Juan, the German doctor Faust, the Englishman Byron and the Frenchman Baudelaire - all of them, first of all, are eternally dissatisfied … Casanova, at the very first kiss Faustian Margarita would feel himself in seventh heaven and wish to stop the moment."

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