Eighteenth-century Europe was an intensely religious place, at least compared to modern Europe. Casanova himself was a believer in God and defended the Catholic Church in his conversations with Voltaire. Its power was not as great as it had once been because of the challenge of the Enlightenment but, nonetheless, it was important to reflect this aspect of society in ‘Casanova in Paris’. We have done this in several ways. Part 1 includes at least four churches and a convent as settings, in addition to various city-scape, architectural references. There are various religious practices such as the communal worship we see in the opening of chapter 1 (‘The Southerner’), the funeral service in chapter 4 (‘Place des Fleurs’), Bechard’s scourging in chapter 3 (‘The Recruit’) and his going to confession in chapter 12 (‘The Damned’). Four of the characters have official spiritual responsibilities: Stefano, Abbé de Bernis, Abbess Catherine and Louis XV himself (an absolute monarch as of divine right and possessor of the royal touch). There’s also Bechard’s priest Brother Isaac. Casanova’s dreams are populated by devils, demons and a crucifixion. In addition, the religious dimension is underscored by several of the quotes that we have placed on each chapter title page such as that on chapter 1 (‘The Southerner’).
In a previous blog we discussed the theme of gender and sexuality (here). Within the religious world of the eighteenth century these issues acquire an altogether different complexion. The penalties for not conforming to the religious laws, norms and expectations of such a society could be very great. Our judgement of characters in terms of their courage, honesty, morality, hypocrisy, selfishness and cynicism has to take into account the complexities of a world infused by beliefs in God and the supernatural. From the point of view of a writer, this creates different opportunities to add tension and interest. Compared to a woman in a modern western-style culture, the position of a character such as Gabrielle is far more perilous in a place where both the act of conceiving a child out of wedlock and the act of terminating that pregnancy are not only illegal but sins against God. Continuously people are having to navigate their lives between religious and spiritual demands on the one side and temporal and worldly demands on the other. Some use blind faith and self-sacrifice to navigate their way, such as Gabrielle’s mother, others use cynicism and self-interest, such as de Bernis. Neither approach guarantees a happy outcome.
‘The Prologue’, and chapters 1 to 6 of ‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ are now freely available here.
6 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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