Casanova: 1725 to 2025

As we get closer to the 2025 tercentenary of Casanova’s birth, there will be an inevitable uptick of interest in the life of one of the eighteenth century’s most fascinating characters.

In preparation, Dave Thompson (me!), has been working on a ten-year, two-book project to be published by specialist history publishers Pen & Sword that will hopefully act as an introduction both to the man himself and to the age in which he lived, drawing on up-to-date research as well as Dave’s own analysis.

Casanova’s Life & Times: Living in the Eighteenth Century is the first of the two books and will be released on 30th November 2023. It is a hybrid book, part biographical and part general history of the eighteenth century, with a particular focus on day-to-day society, and is available to pre-order now (here or here).

The second book is similarly hybrid but with the focus on Casanova’s intellectual development and the Enlightenment, embracing the major ideological influences upon Casanova and the Enlightenment, stretching back to antiquity and including figures such as Horace, Ariosto, Gassendi, Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. Casanova & Enlightenment: his Study of Life and other Writers, is due to be released towards the end of 2024.

Both books will be particularly useful to anyone who is intending to read biographies about Casanova or Casanova’s memoirs themselves.

Early feedback on Casanova’s Life & Times: Living in the Eighteenth Century has been positive:

a very fascinating picture of European society and its contradictions

Professor Antonio Trampus – Director of the Department of Comparative Linguistic and Cultural Studies, Ca’Foscari University of Venice.

And below is a review by Lisetta Lovett – Medical Historian, Senior Lecturer, Consultant Psychiatrist and author of Casanova’s Guide to Medicine:

We live in a time preoccupied with celebrity culture. In this book, David Thompson uses the life of one of the greatest of historical celebrities to take us on a journey into a different country, the eighteenth century. Thompson helps the reader understand Giacomo Casanova’s life by the standards of his era rather than succumb to applying present day values. Just as Casanova’s Histoire de ma Vie is a memoir written in his final years that provided him with a vehicle to reflect critically on his life and human nature in general, Thompson’s book is a critical effort to understand Casanova within his historical context through exploring how Europeans in the eighteenth century experienced life compared with today. Thus, we learn about eighteenth-century sociability, that is the ways in which social networking occurred through routes such as the theatre, Freemasonry, and the occult, all of which were interests that helped Casanova, despite his lowly beginnings, to become a favoured guest at the highest tables in Europe. His popularity arose from his charm, incredible erudition, and theatrical ability at telling a good story, especially about himself. Casanova’s passion for gambling and his many duels are explained in the context of their societal function, namely showing the world contempt of wealth as a sign of social status, and demonstrating the primacy of honour. These are alien ideals today but played an important part in Casanova’s world. In order to understand his peripatetic life Thompson performs the huge feat over two chapters of summarising the politics of eighteenth-century Europe together with the effects of the Seven Years War. Some readers may find these chapters quite dense, but their inclusion helps explain Casanova’s experiences of variously acting as spy, financier, diplomat, political commentator, and historian. To understand Casanova’s anti-clericism and religious attitudes, one chapter is devoted to the role of religion in common life, its appeal as a career to the well-educated and lower nobility, the Protestant Reformation, and antisemitism. All very relevant given that the young Casanova embarked on an ecclesiastical career at the behest of his mother and mentor. A chapter on the Public Sphere further helps us understand why and how society opened up thereby facilitating Casanova’s easy movement across different classes of society. Of course, a book of this nature cannot ignore Casanova’s complex relationships with women. The reader will not be disappointed by the last three chapters that summarise Casanova’s affairs, sketch out his era’s ideas on love and attitudes to marriage, reflect on his ‘soft edged libertinism’ and discuss the behaviour of Casanova’s lovers. Having given us in an earlier chapter an ambitious overview of normative relationships between men and women, highlighting for example how women were regarded as property and rape within marriage was not a crime, the reader by this point is in a much better position to objectively assess Casanova’s dealings with women. The last chapter follows seamlessly into a consideration of Casanova’s personality, values, and philosophy. The author’s analysis resists both hagiography and present-day condemnation. Casanova remains a conundrum but thanks to Thompson’s efforts the reader may feel able to make a more balanced and even sympathetic assessment.

For anyone who wants an accessible overview of the eighteenth century and is curious about its greatest celebrity, Casanova’s Life and Times will bring you a highly informed, readable, and entertaining account.

Extracts from the book can be found here.