Casanova’s Intimate Confessions

Giacomo Girolama Casanova’s Memoir, “History of My Life.”

“I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.”  

 Giacoma Casanova entered this world practically on-stage. Born to parents of the theatre in 1725 Venice, he lived his theatrical lifestyle with passion. His true occupation has been summed up as quick-witted, with steely nerves, luck, social charms, and the knack for gaining money from the gratitude of some or by trickery of others. He was known by his contemporaries as extraordinary, with a far-reaching intellect and a rare curiosity about life. Known to have hobnobbed with Voltaire, Ben Franklin, Catherine the Great and Mozart, Casanova had no lack of social skills.

G. Casanova

His memoir, penned by his own hand beginning in 1789, exposed him as a man far more intellectual than the playboy figure painted of him on film. Had it not been for his many sexual escapades, he would have been a multi-talented dignitary of some kind. But his lust for the pleasure and presence of the opposite sex was, for him, his undoing.

“I have always loved and done all that I could to be loved. I was born for the opposite sex. All of my life I was the victim of my senses. I have delighted in going astray. Cultivating pleasure was always the chief business of my life…”

His original erotic manuscript, all 3,700 pages, was purchased in 2010 for the modest amount of $9.6 million. Now kept in the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris, in two black archival boxes, those who have examined it have described his handwriting as elegant and precise. It had been hidden away in private hands since Casanova’s death in 1798. The French government had every intention of obtaining the original manuscript, and did so by an anonymous benefactor.

Bibliotheque de nationale Paris
Bibliotheque nationale de France

The manuscript, simply titled The Story of My Life, did formerly appear in 1821. Even though it had been heavily censored, it was denounced from the pulpit and put on the Vatican’s Index of Prohibited Books. Since then, society has grown more tolerant of morally explicit material. In 2011, several of the pages-alternately provocative, ribald, boastful, philosophical, tender and somewhat shocking, were put on public display in Paris with plans to show them in Venice as well. Although Casanova was born in Venice, a French government commission has consecrated it a ‘national treasure,’ in France. He spent much of his life in Paris and spoke predominately French, which was the language of intellectuals in the 18th century.

Casanova was clearly one of Europe’s most captivating and misconceived characters. According to writer Tom Vitelli, a leading American Casanovist, “he would have been surprised to discover that he is remembered first as a great lover. Sex was part of his story, but it was incidental to his real literary aims. He only presented his love life because it gave a window onto human nature.”

Already an established writer, Casanova translated ‘The Iliad’ into his Venetian dialect, wrote a science fiction novel along with several mathematical dissertations. He lived the last fourteen years of his life at the hidden Castle Dux in Bohemia, which today is the Czech Republic, as the librarian for Count Waldstein. It was here he wrote his notorious memoir.

castle Dux
Castle Dux

Miraculously, Casanova’s manuscript survived in excellent condition. Entrusted to his descendants, it was kept for twenty-two years, then sold to Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus, a German publisher from Leipzig. The Brockhaus family kept it safely tucked away for almost 140 years. Escaping a direct hit by a bomb in World War II,  a family member pedaled it on a bicycle across Leipzig to be stored in a bank security vault. Winston Churchill inquired after its fate when the U.S. Army occupied the city in 1945. It was finally transferred back to its German owners in Wiesbaden by American truck.

The first French uncensored edition was published in 1960, soon to be followed by an English edition in 1966. Casanova has since been cast as a most engaging luminary, a celebrity of sorts. “It’s a wonderful point of entry into the study of the 18th century. Here we have a Venetian, writing in Italian and French, whose family lives in Dresden and who ends up in Dux, in German-speaking Bohemia. He offers access to a sense of a broad European culture,” says Vitelli. Most of his memoir has been verified by historians as accurate. A fantastic read, his more than 120 notorious love affairs are intermingled with duels, swindles, arrests, escapes, gamblers, meetings with royalty, and generally living on the edge.

“The readers of these Memoirs will discover that I never had any fixed aim before my eyes, and that my system, if it can be called a system, has been to glide away unconcernedly on the stream of life, trusting to the wind wherever it lead.”  

Giacomo Girolama Casanova

Cas in chair



* The Complete Works of Jacques Casanovede Seingalt by Giacomo Casanova,

Casanova in the Doge’s Prison

Venice Bridge of Signs

Casanova Walked the Bridge of Sighs

“It has always been my opinion that when a man sets himself determinedly to do something and thinks of naught but his design, he must succeed despite all obstacles in his path.”  Casanova

Giacoma Casanova, Latin lover and debaucherer, had gone too far. In 1755 everything caught up with him. Refusing to change his ways, he was sentenced in his hometown of Venice to the Doge’s prison, the dreaded prigioni, for depravity and blasphemy. Crossing the Bridge of Sighs from the Doge’s palace, so named by Lord Byron after the ‘sighs’ of condemned prisoners at their last glimpse of light, Casanova was put into a lead-lined cell inside the infamous Leads prison. No convict had ever escaped the sweltering vaults.

Corridor of the Leads
Corridor of the Leads (Prigioni)

Giacoma Casanova

Casanova had previously traveled extensively throughout Europe, supporting himself as a soldier, violinist, spy, entrepreneur, businessman, Homeric translator, novelist, and librarian. He actually considered becoming a priest at one point which, minus his robust sexual appetite, might have worked. His involvement as a notorious libertine, gamester, disturber of the public peace, and inability to stay out of debt worked against him as his womanizing contrivances, seemingly untamable, spiraled him further downwards.

Casanova's House, Venice
Casanova’s House, Venice

He didn’t spend idle time in his prison cell, however. Finding an iron rod, he managed to dig a tunnel in the corner. Later, after being forced into another cell, he passed the bar to a renegade monk named Balbi, who occupied the cell next to him, with the idea that the monk would dig a tunnel to his cell and another tunnel leading out. Balbi burrowed through the ceiling, freeing them both and using the bar to pry open lead plates on the roof. Breaking into a room through a dormer window, they continued to force open doors and gates until they reached the water. Finally, Casanova having spent fifteen months in prison, they made their escape by gondola to central Venice.

Casanova and Balbi were free…never to return to the Doge’s prison. They parted ways with Casanova fleeing to Paris, where he engaged in the creation of the French state lottery, finding himself wealthy and enjoying the charms of high society once more.

“I then turned and looked at the entire length of the beautiful canal, and, seeing not a single boat, admired the most beautiful day one could hope for, the first rays of the magnificent sun rising above the horizon.”  Casanova

Steeped in myth, what is the truth regarding Casanova? Was he as risque as history describes him? A legendary memoir penned by Casanova, conveniently named Story of My Life, has been kept in private hands until just recently. Stay tuned as I explore the unsuspecting contents that will amaze and surprise you about Giacoma Casanova in my next post.