Casanova in Love

Casanova in Love

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by Andrew Miller

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From the award-winning author of Ingenious Pain comes a poignant, witty portrait of the famed Venetian seducer, who, at the end of his life, reflects on one of its turning points: his visit to England where, at the age of thirty-eight and in need of a respite, he found himself instead driven from exhilaration to despair by an elusive young woman.
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From the award-winning author of Ingenious Pain comes a poignant, witty portrait of the famed Venetian seducer, who, at the end of his life, reflects on one of its turning points: his visit to England where, at the age of thirty-eight and in need of a respite, he found himself instead driven from exhilaration to despair by an elusive young woman.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Adventurer, charlatan, musician, practitioner of the medical and kabalistic arts, Freemason, con artist, memoirist, spy, and above all, seducer of women, Giacomo Casanova (1725 - 1798) is one of the most extraordinary characters of the 18th century. The son of Venetian actors (his published assertion that his real father was Venetian nobleman would result in his second, and permanent, exile from the Republic), Casanova became the consummate actor of the age, extemporizing a lifelong performance that won him access to the highest social levels in the courts of Europe. His acquaintances included such worthies as Benjamin Franklin, the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, Catharine the Great — even Pope Clement XIII, who conferred upon him a knighthood in the Papal Order of the Holy Spur. In all, the astonishing record of his life — thoughtfully transcribed by Casanova himself in his autobiography, HISTOIRE DE MA VIE — so nearly resembles the stuff of fiction that it is difficult to know just where the historical truth begins and where it ends.

Little wonder then that few novelists have attempted to enlarge upon Casanova's version of events. That singular accomplishment belongs to English author Andrew Miller, who in CASANOVA IN LOVE undertakes an inspired psychological portrait of the legendary Venetian seducer and the Age of Enlightenment that created him.

Miller, who memorably immersed readers in the turbulent scientific, philosophical and social upheaval of the 18th century in his 1997 debut novel INGENIOUS PAIN, focuses on a crucial episode in Casanova's career —onethat Casanova himself recognized as the turning point in his life: His arrival in England in 1763, seeking respite from the excesses of his rake's progress.

—Greg Marrs

Library Journal
Mais non, this is not the Giacomo Casanova we have come to expect. Miller gives us a 38-year-old Casanova, soul-sick (mid-life crisis, they'd say today), gone to England in 1763 to try to revive. There he is befriended by the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson and thrown under the spell of young, beautiful Marie Charpillon. Casanova's maddening attempts to win her continuously fail despite money owed him by her family; frustrated, he tries life as an onion-eater (that is, a laborer), a Grub Street hack, and a squire of a dank country estate. Sometimes funny, sometimes grim, these sidetrips are the best parts of the book; the section on the underclass would have done Dickens proud. A framing device that allows Casanova hindsight works less well and seems appended only for its rhetorical purpose. On the whole, though, as a trip back in time with a celebrity cast, this is a winner.
-- Robert E. Brown, Onondaga County Public Library, Syracuse, New York
Lorna Sage
Miller's Casanova. a New Age narcissist -- so observant, so chastened, that self-love can save him after all.
-- New York Times Book Review
John Elson
. . .[S]tylishly recounted. . .has the picturesque grunge of a Hogarth sketch.
-- Time
Detroit Free Press
"Andrew Miller's lush, enthralling new novel is a wonderful companion to...Lydia Flem's stunning, intense biography Casanova: The Man Who Really Loved Women... Miller, too, makes one of the 18th Century's most intriguing figures a vivid, memorable presence... Miller evokes Casanova's amazingly complex life and paints a scintillating, evocative, erotic portrait of the 18th Century and one of its major figures." -- Detroit Free Press, December 6, 1998
Seattle Times
"[Andrew] Miller, significantly, challenges our traditional notions about [the] legendary figure [of Casanova] by giving us not the triumphant sensualist, but a man who at 38 has lost his touch. This is a Casanova who no longer takes the pleasure in bed-hopping that he once did; an adventurer on the verge of middle age for whom love has become 'a game, an itch, a false kind of money;' a cosmopolitan at the end of his tether 'who has done everything but who has nothing.' "Even as he de-mythologizes Casanova, Miller uses him to probe the contradictions of English character as only an outsider could observe them: 'Every man felt free to criticise the government in terms that would ensure his arrest in Venice, and yet the great lords here had more power than any in Europe. Foreigners were hated and Jew-baiting worse even than in the territories of Germany, but London was full of exiles who thrived in all manner of business.' This odd combo of grumbling and power-worship, xenophobia and laissez-faire, could just as easily describe England today. "The central truths of 'Casanova in Love,' however, apply to more than one country - and feel as true in 1998 as 1763. After every moment of youthful glory, the book suggests, comes a loss of confidence and a downward tug of gravity (in all senses of the words). And it's then that you find out what sort of soul you are and how much feeling of futility you can bear...[Miller] sure gets it painfully and hilariously right." -- The Seattle Times, October 25, 1998
Kirkus Reviews
A richly imagined historical entertainment, capturing both the gaudy, amoral life of mid-18th-century London and the character of one of history's most famous Lotharios.

Miller (Ingenious Pain) clearly has a spacial affinity for the 18th century. Like his previous novel, this one doesn't just catalog the sights and smells of an earlier (exuberant and appetitive) age, but renders in subtle and believable fashion the energies that animated it—energies boldly reflected in the person of Giacomo Casanova, the adventurer, quondam spy, would-be scholar, and infamous rake, who lands in London in 1763, at the age of 38, fleeing various outraged parties and unpleasantries on the Continent. Determined at first to live quietly, Casanova soon finds himself overcome by the old need to be known, and admired. And London, "this bruised honeycomb of a town," would seem a perfect stage on which to play some new part. After all, "these days everyone was reinventing himself." He acquires a manservant, Jarba, a black man who speaks several languages, is discreet, and proves to be coolly competent in a variety of dangerous situations. The danger mostly comes from Casanova's ill-starred pursuit of the beautiful, beguiling, elusive Marie Charpillon. For Casanova, of course, reticence is arousing. But Marie, like everyone else on hand, is not what she seems. What begins as a seduction becomes, for Casanova, an obsession, and his pursuit of Marie throws him in with a robust cross-section of hustling London, from aristocratic bawds and thuggish lords to assassins and even an imperturbable blind judge. Only the multi-talented Jarba's efforts save Casanova from destruction. Miller, meanwhile, injects a shrewd reading of Casanova into the action, revealing a man of extraordinary gifts doomed by his own appetites to frustration and melancholy. And he discovers a fitting image of an age enthralled by grand gestures, by the idea of imposture, and by the artistry of living well.

Another moving, persuasive and satisfying tale from the most original historical novelist now working.

From the Publisher
“Stylishly recounted . . . Miller's limning of London in 1763 and 1764, with its acrid stenches and incessant rains, has the picturesque grunge of a Hogarth sketch."—Newsweek
“A lush, enthralling new novel . . . Evokes Casanova's amazingly complex life and paints a scintillating, evocative, erotic portrait of the eighteenth century and one of its major figures."—Detroit Free Press
"Miller's prose is jewelled; the heritage details—clothes, streets, interiors—have a haunting, graphic sheen."—The Times Literary Supplement (London)

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

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Chapter One

IMAGINE HIM NOW: thirty-eight years of age, big chin, big nose, big eyes in a face of `African tint', a guardsman's brawny chest and shoulders, stepping down the gangplank in Dover harbour behind the Duke of Bedford, with whom, after a gentlemanly wrangle, he had shared the expense of the voyage from Calais, each of them paying three guineas to the captain of the brig. Servants lugged the men's cases, stacking them on the quayside.

    `In-ge-lan! In-ge-lan!'

    `England indeed, monsieur,' replied the duke in the faultless French one would have expected from the British envoy to Fontainebleau. `And may your stay here prove to be an interesting one.'

    They stood a moment, settling themselves on terra firma, recovering their land-legs, inhaling a breeze of salt and caulking tar and fish guts. A half-naked boy, holding his mongrel by its scruff, stared at them--their stiff coats, tight gloves, their sword hilts glittering in the sunshine--as if they had been lowered out of a cloud on creaking ropes like the heroes of a village pantomime. Casanova stared back; the insolence of wealth at the insolence of poverty. Such children were everywhere, of course, a kind of transient human trash, yet he could never look at them without seeing himself, half-witted son of the dancer Zanetta, running through the calli, gaping at red-cloaked senators, at gilded foreigners, at ladies tottering in their jewelled dogs. From his pocket he took a small coin, a scrap of silver, and balancing it on his thumbnail he flicked it to the child. The coin bounced on the cobbles and rolled into a puddle of yesterday's rain. The boy, still staring at the men, felt for it with his fingertips. Casanova turned away. He was determined to have no unpleasant thoughts for as long as he was able.

    In the customs house he gave his name as de Seingalt, the Chevalier de Seingalt, a citizen of France. Lies, of course, or something like them, but it pleased him to dream up names for himself; it was also politic. Europe--the parts of it that counted--was a small place, and in his travels he had met at least half the people of influence in the entire continent. `Casanova' was in too many documents, too many secret reports and in the minds of too many people he would rather not encounter again. As for his being a French citizen, well, he was, in the loosest sense, in the employ of a minister of Louis XV who, during a supper of buttered lobsters and wild doves on a puree of cooked artichoke hearts, had desired Casanova to learn what he could about the English which might be of use to a foreign power--shipping, scandals, disaffected Tories. And since, in addition to this, he was in permanent exile from the Venetian state for corrupting the youth of the Republic; for preferring the playwright Zorzi to Abbe Chiaria in a year when the Red Inquisitor was head of the Chiaria faction; for freemasonry and cabbalism and driving the Countess Lorenza Maddalena Bonafede mad, the description was not, perhaps, without some slender basis in fact. These days everyone was reinventing himself. It was almost expected.

    With a moist flourish of the pen he signed `Seingalt' in the Register of Aliens. The official blotted the ink with sand, leaned back in his chair and smiled, coldly.

    `It is just,' he said, `a formality, monsieur. You are free to pass.'

The Duke's machine was waiting in the street outside the customs house. Casanova, having arranged for his numerous packing cases to follow on the first available wagon, accepted the Duke's offer of a lift into London. It was warmer now. They took off their coats and opened the tops of the windows, just an inch or two or the dust from the road would choke them. His Grace, a very orderly sort of man whom Casanova had never surprised in the Allee des Soupirs at the Palais Royal or in any other of the notorious walks of that notorious area, immediately began a history of the County of Kent from Earliest Times until the Present Day, but Casanova, though nodding his head and occasionally exclaiming politely, heard no more than a few words. He was looking out at the green whorls of English fields and English woods, at the enchanting chalky blue of the English sky, and wondering if this tilled and agreeable little country might not be just the place for a man to revive himself, to shake off those morbid dawn vigils, those nights when it seemed some demonic lapdog crouched on his chest, panting into his face; those lugubrious moods that had troubled him ever since Munich like a cough one could never quite be rid of ...

    Munich! Where every card had been a losing card and that little dancer, La Renaud, had stolen his clothes and his jewels and infected him with a vile disease. Exquisite pain. A fever that had made him roar like a lunatic in a thunderstorm. And what the disease had started the doctors almost finished with their Latin, their drunkenness, their dirty knives. In the end he had saved himself with a strict regimen of milk and water and barley soup. Two and a half months of it. Double vision, tooth-rot. The most terrifying exudations.

    In time the wasted muscles had recovered. Walnuts cracked once more between his fingers, and to the casual glance he did not look much altered by the experience. And yet, he wondered, what was the true cost of such a battle? What percentage of a man's deep reserves were consumed by it? It felt sometimes as if the world had dosed in on him, the horizon tightening like a tourniquet. He needed peace, a span of quietude in which to find himself again; serenity. I am, he told himself for the third or fourth time that day, in the prime of my life. He found it strange, however, disquieting, that he should need to remind himself of this as often as he did.

They arrived in the West End of London at dusk, parted with expressions of mutual esteem, and as the Duke's carriage glided away into the evening the Chevalier was seized with that delicious vertigo which always followed upon arrival in a strange city with his purse full of gold, that sense of being softly pressed upon by a mysterious abundance. On the subject of cities he considered himself the expert--he who had seen so many--and claimed he could tell everything simply from the pace at which the people walked, the condition of their animals, the number and behaviour of their beggars, the various stinks that constituted the particular and distinctive air of the place, like the nose of a wine or the intimate whiff of a petticoat. London, filtered through the fine inner reticulum of his head, had a smell of damp mortar, of mud, roses, brewer's mash. Of coal-smoke and pastry and dust.

    In Soho Square he lounged under the windows of the Venetian residency, long enough--so he hoped--for Zuccato, the Resident, looking down at the traffic of the square, to notice him, alive and tolerably well in London, indifferent to the censure of that distant and longed-for republic.

    He puffed out his chest and strolled through the gardens in the centre of the square towards the house opposite. He was calling on an old friend, one with whom, somewhere in the past and under other skies, he had spent some passionate hours: Madame Cornelys--also known as de Trenti and as Rigerboos--widow of the dancer Pompeati, the same Pompeati who had destroyed himself in Venice by ripping up his stomach with a razor.

    She received him in the drawing room on the first floor. The lamps had not yet been lit and Casanova could not tell, not until he was close enough to bow over her hand, how kindly or otherwise the years had treated her. She wore a gown and underskirt of dark and lighter blues and on her face a little paint, a little powder. She was still as thin as she had ever been, thin as a boy, but a boy now whose body had been hardened in the kiln of hard living.

    They complimented each other. Each remarked how the other had not changed at all. The years had simply passed them by! How young she looked. How well he seemed, and prosperous too. They laughed. She said the darkness flattered her. Her gaze mirrored his: between them, the reflex of concealment was pointless. Whatever would not be said--and much would not be said--there could be no important secrets.

    They walked, arm in arm, and stood at one of the tall windows overlooking the square. With etiquette satisfied they began to speak of old acquaintances, of Marcello and Italo, of Frederic and Francois-Marie and Fyodor Mikhailovich. A sombre roll-call of names, of briefly conjured faces, for too many had already fallen victim to the riptides of disaster: sputtering, clutching their throats, their hearts, bleeding in a park at dawn or cleaning a pistol with the barrel in their mouths. Fleetingly, in the guise of melancholy, their old intimacy surfaced. The evening seemed to pull at them, to seduce them with the onset of night. They fell silent. For two or three minutes, as they watched the light receding over the London rooftops, a golden shawl dragged over church spires and chimney pots and patterned by the flight of small birds, the Chevalier entertained the idea of embracing her, of carrying her to the lit de jour behind them for the brief consolation of pleasure, the copulatory anodyne. Then clocks chimed and servants came in with lights. The couple at the window stood apart.

    She made her money now by throwing parties for the Quality. One great dinner a month for which a two-guinea ticket must be bought in advance. She led him to the banqueting hall, holding up a candelabra to show the expanse of polished table where five hundred guests could all sit down together. She said there was not another like it in the city.

    `You must be doing well for yourself, my dear Teresa.'

    `I should be,' she answered, looking at him through the candle-tips, `but everybody robs me. The workmen, the traders, the servants. My receipts last year amounted to twenty-four thousand pounds but I have hardly a penny for myself. What I need'--she turned away--`is a sharp man to look after my interests.'

    Casanova looked the length of the hall. This was his first offer in London and not one to despise, yet he knew immediately that he would not, could not, accept. Her luck was out; he could smell it on her breath. Her gratitude would be of the poisonous variety and in the end he too would cheat her. La Cornelys and her parties--the vileness of which he could readily imagine--were precisely what he had not come to London for.

    `I am sure you will find such a man,' he said.

    `No doubt,' she answered, as though drawing the nib of her pen through his name, dismissing him.

    In the drawing room, where coffee was served in the French manner, Casanova was introduced to Cornelys' daughter. Her name was Sophie, and a quick subtraction of the years--a calculation he had performed on many occasions--showed that he himself might be the girl's author, that a line could be traced from the creaking bed, the shout, the last careless thrust, to this cool-eyed child in her cap and gown. She spoke well in both English and French. She played the piano. She sang. She danced. She was ten years old. He danced with her then covered her face with kisses. It was a wise father who knew his own child. Her skin was as delicate as honeysuckle, and when she stood before his chair they stared into each other's eyes as though trying to see themselves. She would, of course, never know all her brothers and sisters. Most he did not know himself, but he had reached the age where on the main streets of any town from Bruges to Famagusta he imagined that he saw them, casting flirtatious glances at him, smiling at him with his own lips. It should perhaps have reassured him but it made him feel diluted, tugged at.

    It was the eleventh day of June 1763.

Chapter Two

FOR A FORTNIGHT he lived beneath Cornelys' roof, then, no longer able to ignore her reproachful stares, her prattle about the servants, the fear on her skin when she left the house in case she should be seized by her creditors, Casanova rented a residence of his own in Pall Mall at twenty guineas a month. The house had four floors, each with two rooms and a closet. Everything was scrubbed, folded, ready to be lived in. There were carpets, mirrors, china services, a set of silver plate, an excellent kitchen and plenty of good linen. To the rear of the house was a little garden with a brick privy and a pond where a stone Cupid gazed at the lily buds.

    He was assisted in his negotiations by a Signor Martinelli whom he had uncovered at the Orange Coffee House opposite the Haymarket Theatre, a resort for rascally Italians where Martinelli, sitting by the window oblivious to the gangs of vongole, sellers, disgraced confidenti and professional husbands, had been correcting a manuscript as though he were in the library at Padua University. For fifteen years he had lived among the English like a learned bedbug, a man full of quiet industry who had, it seemed, weathered the storms of his life and achieved at last that tranquillity Casanova longed for. His latest venture was a new translation of the Decameron for which subscription tickets were a guinea each. Casanova bought a dozen. He had a reverence for writers which he could never quite overcome.

    When they had settled business at the house, Martinelli guided the Chevalier across the town to the Royal Exchange on Cheapside. Here, among the hustle, the polyglot babble, the quick clasp of hands, the shaking heads, the clink and sniff of business, the eyes that settled on one's apparel, one's company, measuring, assessing, marking down in the ledgers of memory one's particular face and estimated fiscal mass, Casanova acquired a servant, a young educated black man with shrewd polite eyes, a forehead of licked coal, a slender, somewhat female presence in a suit of brown fustian and a scarf, a crimson scarf, like a flame at his throat.

    `Your name?'

    `I am called Jarba.'

    `You speak Italian?'

    `When I was a boy, signore, I lived in the house of an olive merchant in Palermo.'

    `And the French tongue?'

    `Yes, monsieur. In Bordeaux I was for five years footman to the wife of a lawyer.'

    `No doubt you also speak good English.'

    `Indeed, sir, I do, for I served as valet to an English sea captain and went to sea with him and every night read to him from his Bible.'

    `What became of your sea captain, Jarba?'

    `He died.'

    `In his bed?'

    `He drowned.'

    `Then I should like to hear the circumstances.'

    `We were bound for the Guinea Coast, monsieur, with a cargo of glass and brass wire and cloth. Storms blew us far into the west and then the winds deserted us and we drifted for many days. There was sickness. The men were too weak to pull the ship from the boats. We shot cannon to wake the wind and my master prayed in his cabin but the wind did not come back. Some said it was because our trade was evil. Some said the captain was cursed. There were strange lights, monsieur. The sailors saw sea beasts with human faces and ghost ships with crews of weeping men. One morning when the sea was like oil the captain called me to his cabin. He blessed me, gave me his spyglass to remember him, then went on to the deck, climbed the rail and dived into the sea. He did not come to the surface again.'

    `You tried to stop him?'

    `He did not wish us to stop him.'

    `He was insane?'

    Jarba shrugged.

    `What age was this unfortunate man?'

    `Of about the same age as Monsieur.'

    Jarba was hired and found for his new employer a French cook who was stood in the atomic bustle of the crowd with his pans and ladles, claiming, for anyone who would hear it, that he had once cooked a chicken fricassee for the Queen of France.

    Now, considered Casanova, travelling home behind the damask curtain of a sedan chair, the house keys in his pocket, I have burrowed into the city. I can live and dine like a gentleman. Everything is good. The world is good. He wished however that he could somehow unremember Jarba's captain, for he was afraid that he would dream of him, of his long swim to the floor of the ocean. He was afraid that he would begin to admire him.

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Meet the Author

ANDREW MILLER's first novel, Ingenious Pain, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the International IMPAC Award. He was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award for his novel Oxygen. He lives in Brighton, England.

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