Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Memoir of my Life (Volume 1) by Giacoma Casanova

Having finished my research on what life was like in the eighteenth century, I am going to complete my study by looking at the eighteenth century voice. The two voices I have chosen are those of Giacoma Casanova and Jonathan Swift, since both of these have lives that neatly span the century, and are therefore representative.

I began by reading Giacoma Casanova's Memoirs on my Kindle. I hadn't expected them to be quite so entertaining. It starts with the young boy suffering a nose bleed. In some accounts I have heard it described as a haemorrhage, and that is indeed what it seems to be. His beloved grandmother takes him on a gondola to see a witch, who heals him with ointments, enclosing him in a smoky atmosphere and chants. Excellent pre-enlightenment stuff! And it cures him. When he arrives home, he is, as predicted, visited by a mysterious beautiful woman at night, which seems very much a symbol for the rest of Casanova's life.

Soon afterwards, he has his first sexual encounter with a girl, only slightly older than he is, called Bettina. Bettina is somewhat duplicitous, and to get out of a sticky situation involving another older boy, she pretends to have spasms. These, Casanova wryly observes, are only cured by exorcism - not from their usual parish priest, but from a younger one who is better looking. She is rescued from her complicated situation by a bad bout of smallpox. Since Casanova has already had the disease he stays with her, and he gives graphic descriptions of the course of the disease, including the smell of the pustules, and the sick room in general. When she is past the crisis he warns her that if she scratches she will ruin her looks, and he observes that for a girl such as Bettina this is a most effective remedy for itching.

Although there is a bravado in his account, the account itself strikes me as generally honest (albeit the character he describes is inherently dishonest). He blames his promiscuity on a 'natural' excitement (which he can do nothing about, not that he would want to), and he seems to sometimes blame his female companions for knowingly inducing this in him. He loves women, and yet even while he is loving them he is, at the same time, deceiving and abusing them.

Apart from these encounters, which he describes with none of the guilt or self-reproach that is evident in the English diarists of Behind Closed Doors, there are other entertaining scenes, such as when he gives a sermon with no preparation whatsoever.

I have left Casanova at the end of volume one (of ten, I believe), and his departure from Venice for Rome. I feel I have learnt a lot about the social mores of an eighteenth century gentleman in Venice. It is a life of pleasure, and very much supports Monsieur Monnier's account of the place. I will come back to read the rest later.


Blogger Sue Guiney said...

That's what I call fun research! Casanova is such a fascinating character, I can't wait to see what all this turns into.

Tue Nov 29, 04:09:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

If indeed it turns into anything! But yes, I'm having fun. Thanks Sue.

Tue Nov 29, 04:51:00 pm  

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