Thursday, August 4, 2011

#3: The Duel by Giacomo Casanova

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The Duel
by Giacomo Casanova
-born in Venice, 1725
-70 Pages
-translated by James Marcus
-more about Casanova (via Goodreads)
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Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Giacomo Casanova was the son of touring actors that left him in boarding schools.
- He earned a law degree at 16 & was expelled from seminary at 17 for scandalous conduct...after which he vowed that sex would be his life's avocation.
- He tried being a soldier, gambler & musician before becoming a senator's patron, roving intellectual, womanizer, diplomat, and some-time spy.
- He befriended Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Goethe, Rousseau, & Mozart.
- He was often arrested for blasphemy, seduction, debt and/or fighting, often leading to some spectacular escapes.
- He died of old age in 1798 with a 22 year old girlfriend by his side.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
This thinly veiled autobiographical novella--it appears with few alterations in the author's famous memoir--represents the essence of Giacomo Casanova: romance, a fearless and scathing wit, and adventure.

It tells the story of a young, well-connected libertine who is forced to flee his hometown, Venice, when his behavior lands him afoul of the authorities. But when he manages to take shelter in the Polish royal court, he finds himself in an equally treacherous environment, and soon positioned into a potentially fatal confrontation over a ballerina he cares little about.

Told with debonair wit and a merciless attitude toward high society, the tale becomes a tense adventure that leads to a surprising outcome.

My Impressions:
I admit that I'd never really given much thought to the etymology of the term "Casanova".  I suppose I realized on some level that it must have come from a person, but I never really stopped to think about it.  It's pretty amazing for a person to have maintained such a reputation throughout multiple centuries (and countries,) based on nothing more than a romantic soul and mad social skills.  One of the main reasons that Casanova has gone down in history in such a major way is due to the hefty memoirs he wrote.  This abridged version, weighing in at 1512 pages, contains only 1/3 of his writings (which means that The Duel, at a mere 70 pages, is just a smidgen).

I must also admit that I'm enchanted...though it kind of rankles to fall victim to such a cliche (enchanted by Casanova...hrmmm).  In The Duel, Casanova writes about himself in the third person, which is especially endearing in passages of hindsight such as this:
If he had been wise, he would have accepted [the money]--but at that moment, he was too much in thrall to the demon of heroism.
His way of explaining (rationalizing) his actions and pursuits is only one of many charming qualities.  He seems to love drama simply for the heroic and romantic ideals he associates with it.  He is also intelligent, with a love of knowledge and culture in addition to his love of women.  It's his wit and an almost boyish innocence that make him intriguing rather than irritating.  He honestly seems to want to help others live like himself:
The phrase I cannot is too often heard on the lips of mortal men.
I sincerely enjoyed experiencing how this guy thought.  One of my favorite lines (I'm a sucker for wit) was when he was defending his religious position by reflecting on the absurdity of a prayer such as he could have prayed before the duel: (don't know if that makes any sense...if it doesn't, just read the novella already. It's only 70 pages and totally worth the brief time commitment.)
"Grant me, O Lord, the time and the strength to repent of that sin which, out of pride, I now willingly commit."
Yep, I'm a fan.  His other books are already on my wishlist.

3 comments:

  1. I wasn't going to read any of the 5 Duels--but I may have to change my mind. He sounds--fun? Well, witty at least.

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  2. I can highly recommend reading the full unabridged memoires. I have the full set and found them really enjoyable reads.

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  3. Heidi, his outlook on life really made it enjoyable reading. I don't know how the other Duels will be, but I do recommend reading this one if you can get your hands on it!

    Nicki, thanks for letting me know! I was trying to decide between the abridged/unabridged...I usually have no use for abridgments, but they are all so lengthy that I wasn't sure.

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