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Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy

Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy

by Ian Kelly

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"A sheer testament to the power of the written word." (The New York Times)

Giacomo Casanova's energy was dazzling. He made and lost fortunes, founded state lotteries, and wrote forty-two books and 3,600 pages of memoirs recording the tastes and smells of the years before the French Revolution-as well as his affairs and sexual encounters with dozens


"A sheer testament to the power of the written word." (The New York Times)

Giacomo Casanova's energy was dazzling. He made and lost fortunes, founded state lotteries, and wrote forty-two books and 3,600 pages of memoirs recording the tastes and smells of the years before the French Revolution-as well as his affairs and sexual encounters with dozens of women and a handful of men.

Historian Ian Kelly draws on previously unpublished documents from the Venetian Inquisition, and documents by Casanova and his friends and lovers, which give new insights into his life and world. Kelly's research spans eighteenth-century Venice, Paris, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Rome, Prague, and the Czech castle where Casanova lived, wrote, and died.

From his devotion to kabbalah to his collaboration with Mozart and librettist Da Ponte on the opera Don Giovanni, from his vast appetite for food and sex to his training for the priesthood, Casanova reveled in the commedia dell'arte. And, as Kelly posits, it is from Casanova's careful study of its artifice and illusion that his success as both a libertine and a libertarian was founded.

Editorial Reviews

Toni Bentley
…entertaining and highly readable…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Venice, Paris and other cities where Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) restlessly traveled are brought to vivid life by food and travel writer Kelly (Cooking for Kings). Remembered today primarily for his sex life, Casanova was a polymath who trained to be a priest, worked as a violinist, soldier, faith healer and librarian, made and lost fortunes and wrote 42 books plus plays and opera libretti. He was born to an actress in Venice who thought the sickly boy was an imbecile and sent him away, aged nine, to be educated in Padua, where he flourished. The 17-year-old had his first sexual affair with two sisters, a scenario repeated throughout his life with other sisters, mothers and daughters, and even nuns. This life of sexual adventures produced eight illegitimate children and included falling in love with an apparent castrato who turned out to be a woman en travestie; he also enjoyed a life of wealth and social status in Venice after saving the life of a senator. Imprisoned there by the Inquisition, he escaped to Paris, becoming a fixture on the city's social scene. Kelly presents a colorful, sprightly biography of a singular man. Illus. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The ultimate self-invented "new man" of the new world of 18th-century Europe, Casanova has become such a figure of legend that it requires a biography such as Kelly's to place him correctly in context. As a biographer, Kelly (Beau Brummell ) has a flair for deconstructing what seems outrageous and inexplicable and making sense of a turbulent life. A citizen of Venice, Casanova was at home all over Europe, easily making inroads into the ranks of power and prestige via the church, the theater, and the aristocracy. His connections helped him in whatever pursuit he was engaged in at the time, be it espionage, literary aspirations, scams, or his constant and infamous seductions. The "facts" in Casanova's own autobiography often defy belief, but Kelly's deft handling of the historical facts separates truth from fiction and offers background information that counterbalances Casanova's claims. The book's contents are interestingly arranged into acts, scenes, and intermezzos that perfectly capture the theatricality and staged quality of Casanova's life. Although the biography does lose direction when it becomes a graphic and unpleasant catalog of sexual escapades, the historical overview of the man and the era is very well done. Recommended where interest demands.-Elizabeth Morris, Barrington Area Lib., IL

Kirkus Reviews

British biographer and cultural correspondent Kelly (Beau Brummell, 2006, etc.) fleshes out the complex 18th-century Venetian—principally known and caricatured as a serial seducer—as a significant intellectual chronicler of his age.

No biographer who takes on Giacomo Casanova (1725–1798) can avoid covering the vast amount of boudoir and biological specifics the subject was only too eager to document. Kelly does not shrink from the task, but he consistently strives to put these aspects of Casanova's character within a larger context. Not just a great lover, but a writer, diplomat and philosopher, Casanova authored more than 40 books. Certainly, the man got around as did few in his time, and rubbed shoulders (and thighs) with the great and near great. His keen eye for their mores, predilections, virtues and vices resulted in a unique cultural record of an era that the French Revolution would bring violently to a close. Noting that he undoubtedly had friends as well as lovers who went to the guillotine during the Terror, Kelly notes, "In this new testament for the modern world, Giacomo Casanova cast himself as messiah and lead actor, lover, sex-god and principal protagonist but also as lead fall-guy, comedian, fraudster, grifter and dupe." Born to a popular actress (and probably not fathered by her husband), Casanova grew to need the rich and the titled because he was neither, yet he always felt destined for the undeserved lifestyle he largely enjoyed. Kelly acknowledges the inaccuracies and exaggerations that populate Casanova's memoirs—thousands of extant manuscript pages were not sorted and published in French (the language he chose to write in) until 1960. The author adds thathistorians eventually corroborated much that critics initially disputed.

Kelly's immersion in the Casanova story pays off handsomely.

Agent: Ivan Mulcahy/Mulcahy & Viney

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
7.48(w) x 0.26(h) x 1.14(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Ian Kelly’s books Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the First Celebrity Chef and Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style were published to wide acclaim in both the United Kingdom and the United States. A writer, an actor, and the director of television documentaries, he writes frequently about food and travel for many British publications, among them The Times and The Guardian. He lives in London with his wife and their two children.

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