History of My Life
The name of Giacomo Casanova, Chevalier de Seingalt (1725-98), is now synonymous with amorous exploits, and there are plenty of these, vividly narrated, in his memoirs. But Casanova was not just an energetic lover. In his time he was a diplomat, businessman, trainee priest, traveler, prisoner, magician, confidence man, gambler, professional entertainer, and charlatan. He financed business projects, organized lotteries, wrote opera libretti, and dabbled in high politics. Above all he was an autobiographer of enduring brilliance and subtlety who left behind him what is probably the most remarkable confession ever written.
Casanova explored to the full all the possibilities eighteenth-century Venice offered by way of love and profit before being imprisoned, escaping from jail, and fleeing from the city to begin travels that took him across Europe. In Moscow and London, Berlin and Constantinople, he met the famous men and women of his time—Catherine the Great, Voltaire, Louis XV, Rousseau—and recorded his encounters for the memoirs he wrote in retirement at the end of his life.
History of My Life is by turns touching, thrilling, wonderfully comic, and quite irresistible. The present edition, which includes approximately one third of Casanova's enormous (and unfinished) book, contains all his major adventures and all his greatest affairs of the heart.
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This book contains some of my favorite stories of all time, especially Casanova'a escape from prison. I read two other English translations of this story...amazing how inaccurate the first translation was! Thank you Willard Trask for the best-possible translation, and for the amazing footnotes.
"History of my Life" is as much a History Lesson as it is a memoir. You'll find yourself learning interesting things about life in 18th century Europe. Before reading this book, I never knew the weird way Italians told time (changed daily based on sunrise and sunset), their units of money, their system of State and courts, modes of transportation, social habits, superstitions, treatments for V.D., etc. Much of this is contained in Trask's fantastic footnotes, so get two good bookmarks and be prepared for a lot of flipping back and forth.
The other reviewer who mentioned that there is a lot of dry info...he's right. Casanova wasn't going for a best-seller at this point in his life. He was broke, nearly toothless, and effectively living on charity as the librarian of Count Waldstein in Bohemia. I believe him when he said that this was one of his few remaining pleasures...reliving his life by remembering it and recording it. Other critics have rightly observed that Casanova had a bad memory, mixed up places and events, and exaggerated a lot. Even Trask points this out several times in the footnotes. However, other historians have praised the Memoirs as being THE BEST source for information on details of the 18th century, especially C.'s description of traveling by carriage throughout Europe.
His writing style makes me feel like I know (knew?) him as a friend. I feel myself cringing when I realize he is about to lose a fortune gambling, or about to make his usual impulsive decisions that often lead to disaster. I find myself wishing I could sit down and try to talk some sense into him. I think today he would be diagnosed with ADHD!
There are many touching, often sad tales spread out almost randomly throughout his memoirs. I'll never forget his story of C. meeting a young, fourteen year old chamber-maid, and overcoming his desire to seduce her (rare self-control for the Chevalier du Seingalt). He bumps into her 10+ years later in a seedy tavern. She had changed from a sweet, innocent symbol of purity and beauty into a weathered, destitute whore, and Casanova's description of events made me tear-up. Equally powerful is his recollection of a young cellmate in prison. The young man's only crime was falling in love with the daughter of a nobleman. He was thrown in prison with no trial and sentenced to (ten?) years confinement...all to protect the "honor" of a rich father.
I love the Trask translation of Casanova's memoirs! If you're not sure about buying the entire set, I would strongly recommend buying the first two volumes first (ending at his escape from prison).
Review: History of My Life, Vols 1-2 (History of My Life)User Review - Katie Donaldson - Goodreads
Long book with at times amusing stories of the trouble Casanova finds himself, however i think i expected more of the writing, or work, or something instead Casanova seems to tell his story as one ... Read full review