Well, after keeping my nose to the grindstone of his autobiography, here’s my take on the guy: Jacques Casanova greatly enjoyed the game of seduction.
But I’d argue that he didn’t break hearts. And, as you’ll soon see, he was far more than his notorious reputation.
Casanova was an opportunist in the sexual arena—but he almost always convinced himself that he was “in love” with the woman. Late in life he wrote, “Yet without love this seduction business is a vile thing.” That’s the core of the man, I believe; Casanova wanted to be in love—and I think you’ll find that he repeatedly enjoyed being “in love with love.”
Some women didn’t recognize this condition and said “yes.” Others did—and still said “yes.” I don’t think Casanova himself realized it.
Was Casanova always honest in his relations with women? No, not always. But my opinion is that he wasn’t a cold, callous heartbreaker, and if this is true, it makes him a little more likeable. But maybe not loveable. Not quite yet anyway.
Just think about this: very often, when his roving nature obliged him to depart, Casanova would find a husband for the girl he was leaving! Not many womanizers do that, do they? And I suppose my ultimate proof that Casanova wasn’t a heartless heel is that he was lifelong friends with many of the women whose favors he’d enjoyed. Surely that says something about his “loveability.”
Shall we broaden our picture of Jacques Casanova?
As a young man in eighteenth-century Europe he became a semi-celebrity when he escaped an “inescapable” Venetian prison. Much later he added to that reputation when he dueled an aristocrat—and won. (To even duel a “commoner” was beneath aristocrats at this time. And make no mistake: Casanova was a commoner, although you’d never guess it from his extravagant behavior.) Once—to aid the king of France—our hero commissioned a lottery, making a fortune for the king and for himself. He then quickly proceeded to lose it all.
These are some of the reasons why I love Jacques Casanova. He lived fully, brilliantly, excessively. He embraced the edge.
John Masters, biographer, says that Casanova might have established one of several courses in life, but deciding on no plan, he relied on “. . . a quick intelligence, steel nerves, thousand-kilowatt energy, and the constitution of a rhinoceros.” These are positives in my book.
It’s important to recognize what Casanova was born without: good looks and, as I mentioned above, a pedigree as a “gentleman.”
The Prince de Ligne, Casanova’s close friend, described our adventurer as “. . . a fine line away from ugliness.” Given Casanova’s successes in the bedroom and in the world, I believe the man’s charisma must have more than made up for his looks.
Neither was Casanova an aristocrat—a prerequisite to success in a society obsessed with titles and bloodlines. And yet, Casanova rubbed shoulders with kings, popes, philosophers, and eminent men and women of his day—as well as with the lowborn. And the lowlife.
I can’t find it in myself to love Casanova unconditionally, I suppose, because when it amused him, he was dishonest. For years he bilked mad, old Marquise d’Urfe out of millions. In other instances, he took elaborate revenges on his enemies. He conned fools with his superior intelligence. Casanova was not entirely decent.
In a broad snapshot then, here is Casanova: dissolute genius. His professions? Author, priest, violinist, entrepreneur, spy, diplomat, librarian, soldier, secretary, gambler, traveler, alchemist, pimp, wit, lawyer, mining consultant, adventurer, charlatan.
When, as an old man, Jacques Casanova reviewed his long life, he wrote: “I did not stop to discover if what was leading me on was vice or virtue.” A simple statement—with no judgment of his own character—but, at the least, his thoughts are candid. I, for one, appreciate his honesty. After all, how many of us would write an autobiography for posterity and include the truly repugnant things we did—as did he?
Finally I’m guided by Prince de Ligne’s description of the man. Casanova is “. . . sensitive and generous . . . unpleasant, vindictive, and detestable . . . honorable . . . superstitious . . . [of] prodigious imagination . . . [and] Venetian vivacity . . . a rare human being . . . worthy of true respect and friendship.”
I guess that’s good enough for me. I can finally call Jacques Casanova a lovable ol’ cuss because, yes, he was a flawed human being.
Aren’t we all?
**About The Secrets of Casanova**
Paris of 1755 is bloated with opportunity. That’s the way Jacques Casanova, an unredeemed adventurer with an ever-surging appetite for pleasure, needs it. But times, men, and gods are changing—and Jacques’ luck is fading. When he is thrust to the center of a profound mystery, he doesn’t care if vice or virtue leads him onward. “After all,” he declares, “a man who asks himself too many questions is an unhappy man.” But as Jacques’ challenges mount, what questions will he ask? What price must he pay to uncover a treasure of inestimable value? Loosely based on Casanova’s life of intrigue, peril, and passion, Michaels’ The Secrets of Casanova will keep you burning the midnight oil.
After Michaels received his BA in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, a chance experience thrust him into a career as a professional actor and fight director. To date he's acted in fifty theater productions, more than forty television shows, and choreographed dozens of fights for stage and screen. In The Secrets of Casanova, Greg again proves his skill at telling a theatrical story. He lives with his wife, two sons, and Andy the hamster. Visit him online, on Twitter, and Facebook.