#134 – History Of My Life Volume 3, Giacomo Casanova BOOK REVIEW

December 30, 2018

Casanova 3

I do wonder why Giacomo Casanova’s modern reputation is so intimately tied up with the idea of his prolific womanizing. In this, volume three of his epic autobiography there’s barely any shagging and what little there is comes mostly from prostitution. I’m increasingly of the opinion that Casanova was making an earnest attempt to recount his life as he lived it, from every angle and in every dimension, rather than merely reel off his female conquests. We see much of his temporary conversion to become ‘a bigot’ (i.e. religious fanatic) after falling ill with venereal disease and hallucinating while under its treatment by mercury. There is his falling-in with a inveterate welsher named only ‘F.C.’ who concocts repeated unconvincing pretexts for borrowing money, and then also accounts of Casanova in the society of numerous aristocrats from Venice to Vienna to Paris.

But shagging? Nope, not much of that. He spends a long time enraptured by the transvestite male impersonator Henriette at the beginning of the volume and after that affair goes sideways he is enraptured by a 14-year old Venetian called ‘C’. He rattles a few semi-pros in-between. Considering this volume covers his life from aged 23 to 25, that’s not a lot.

What comes in ample supply are Bottom World stories. Casanova seems only to have mixed in two social milieu – buffoonish vain aristocrats holding open houses, and the low-life conmen and adventuresses who glommed onto them (Casanova being one of the latter). For example he observes a card sharper dealing at an aristocrat’s game and cheating a girl out of 100 zecchini [1] and pulls him to one side, warning him he’d tumbled to his game. The sharp offers him a 50 tagliatelle pay-off and half of subsequent proceeds so Casanova falls in with him. Most characters Casanova meets are crooked in some way, with both male and female acquaintances reappearing in later years under new false identities running new scams.


That’s a small fortune in Italy

It would also seem Casanova had long since developed a reputation in the underworld of petty crooks across Europe. As soon as he arrives at a rest-house in Ferrara he is halted by a pretty woman claiming loudly that they are cousins. Casanova has never seen her before but senses a ruse he can join in with. He realises she is a famed adventuress called Cattinella and she’s previously had him pointed out at distance (hence how she recognised him). She is engaged in cheating a local farm-boy out of money by promising him marriage and living on the hog by delaying the formal announcement. Casanova helps her slip away, leaving the young lad bewildered and waiting futilely for her return. Now, why on earth would Casanova so comfortably fall into such games? It seems there were few cons going on in a town that he wouldn’t sniff the arse of.

At the beginning of this book he claims high moral standards by choosing not to sleep with a young village girl who he’s convinced of his wizardry [2] but mid-way through he gets a different young lass pregnant and then brazens it out when her mother has him arraigned before the local magistrates for breach of promise. Indeed for much of this book it seems his natural inclination towards rabbitry and The Con causes frequent soul-searching and discomfort. Being in his mid-twenties, it’s quite reasonable to think he’s writing this authentically, as he likely hadn’t yet figured out what type of man he was to be.

This laxity in moral compass usually involves gambling (he’s locked in a constant cycle of sponging and conning to pay off gambling debts) or shagging. Sometimes it makes for good squalor stories. For example, he takes a shine to a washerwoman employed at an inn where he has his rooms.

After doing everything I could to obtain an interview with the girl in my lodging or in hers or anywhere at all and not succeeding, I resolved to have her by using a little violence at the foot of the concealed staircase down which she usually went when she left my lodging. I hid at the foot of it, and when I saw that she was within reach I sprang on her and, partly by persuasion, partly by swift action, I subjugated her on the last steps; but at the first thrust of our union a most extraordinary sound, proceeding from the place next to the one I was occupying, stayed my fury for a moment, and the more so because I saw the victim put her hand over her face to hide the shame she felt at her indiscretion….. This aural phenomenon, together with the embarrassment and confusion which I saw in my victim, suddenly took possession of my soul; all together they presented so comical an idea to my mind that, laughter having overpowered all my faculties, I had to let her go. She seized the moment to run away.

To summarise in modern English: he stopped raping a maid because her farting noises made him laugh too hard. Bottom World.


Casanova is constantly meeting women who are chaperoned, pursued or otherwise accompanied by other men and he takes relish in attempting to steal them. Often he assumes he can simply buy them [3]. In one case, he meets some Corsican officers of the Royal Italian Regiment, and becomes pally with a chode called Paterno who has been pursuing an actress. Having been brought up around the stage, Casanova knows all actresses are whores [4] but this Paterno is getting tooled by her:

Being in love with an actress who scorned him, the young man kept me entertained with his description of her adorable qualities and at the same time of her cruelty toward him, whom she received in her house but whom she repulsed whenever he tried to give her evidence of his love. She was ruining him by making him spend a great deal on dinners and suppers which were shared by her numerous family but for which she gave him no credit… I refused to attend any more of his suppers- utterly boring suppers at which, even as they were eating them, the actress’s whole family laughed at the stupidity of the dupe who was paying for them.

Casanova shared my contempt for spineless chodes and decided to shag his bird: “I had no doubt that I could obtain her favours at the cost of fifteen or twenty ravioli.” So Casanova goes to her dressing room and offers her a watch worth twenty spaghetti. She refuses, claiming herself offended. Upon hearing this, Paterno feels himself vindicated and passes on Casanova’s message to her that he wouldn’t even give her the watch if she changed her mind. Piqued, she wants to see him again, he pays her cash, and he bangs her. They then laugh at the chode she’s stringing along. I swear this story would fit with any number of Russian and Ukrainian girls I’ve known who were dating Western forum chodes, but for two things. First, I didn’t pay to bang them, and second…..

Three days later I found that the wretched woman had made me the same sort of present that I had been treated by the prostitute at O’Neilan’s. Far from feeling that I had cause to complain, I considered myself justly punished for having so basely abandoned myself after having belonged to an Henriette….. Because of the season the cure compelled me to spend six weeks in my room.

In those six weeks, his mercury-addled mind rendered him susceptible to the frame-control of the religious bigot who treat him – one De La Haye – who is a recurring character and total charlatan. These memoirs are packed with an immense number of scoundrels. Like attracts like. It does make me wonder too of the cases Casanova relates of important men taking an immediate dislike to him – I suspect he’d gone so far down the rabbit path that wolves could sniff out his degeneracy quickly and steered clear of him, hence the only people he was able to fall in with were buffoons and fellow con-men. Still, Casanova is remarkably sanguine about his frequent bouts with STDs.

The malady which we call the “French disease” does not shorten life when one knows how to cure it; it merely leaves scars; but we are easily consoled for that when we consider that we gained them with pleasure, even as soldiers take pleasure in seeing the scars of their wounds, the proofs of their virtue and the wellsprings of their fame.

I dare say I disagree. While I too fondly recall my adventures with women, I’m rather glad I never once caught the French Disease. If you lie down with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas. That said, I’m enjoying this memoir and taking a liking to the old scoundrel.

If you’d like to read a memoir series devoted to travel and womanizing that does not involve catching STDs or cheating men out of money, consider mine. Check it out here.

Mastery cover

[1] That sounds like a type of pasta to me. Did those crazy Italians use food as currency?
[2] Literally, not figuratively. He performs occult rites in a thunderstorm to impress her.
[3] Casanova seems to encounter many semi-pros.
[4] No change nowadays.

One Comment

  1. Your memoirs are better 😛

    But joke aside, that man had no inhibitions. And they present him the best seducer in history, sneakily omitting the whores and the other stuff.

    Still, a great and enjoyable read. Even better if you are able to read the French version from Bouquin i am currently going through.

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