Some of the misconceptions around Casanova can be traced back to the early nineteenth-century editions and translations of his memoirs, many of them heavily edited, bowdlerised and generally abused. Particularly influential was the Laforgue edition which was to become the basis of various other subsequent translations and versions, including the freely available online Arthur Machen English translation. Jean Laforgue was a Professor of French at Dresden and employed by Brockhaus (the publishing firm who owned the memoirs) to edit Casanova’s manuscript. Unfortunately, Laforgue took considerable liberties with the original, to help to render it more in keeping with the ‘taste of the present century’, sometimes eliminating whole passages sometimes including additions of his own to spice up the narrative, sometimes altering the memoirs to reflect Laforgue’s own anticlericalism and his support for the French Revolution. Bu that was not all. Translator Willard Trask highlights the worst aspect of Laforgue’s meddlings: ‘He is constantly distorting Casanova’s psychology by adding motivations and sentiments which Casanova either left to be inferred or, more often, simply did not have in mind at all.’
The most accurate unabridged English translation of Casanova’s memoirs is Trask’s 1966 version. Many readers, however, will baulk at the near £200 to buy it new, however, and may opt for the Arthur Machen translation which is freely available online as part of Project Gutenberg. Beware, however, that the Machen translation is based upon Laforgue.
Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is freely available here.
27 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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