Casanova and the affair of Giustiniana Wynne – part 4


The final of four posts on Casanova and the affair of Giustiniana Wynne.

Whatever her true feelings towards Casanova Giustiniana had appeared to warm to him quite quickly after their early meetings, so much so that she managed to find herself alone with him at a masked Opera Ball whereupon Casanova professed his love to her.  It was several days later that he received her letter.  In it she writes:

I am putting my life, my reputation, my whole being in your hands and through you I hope to find my salvation.  I beg you to assist an unhappy soul who will have no other recourse but to seek her own death if she cannot remedy her situation.

The implications of what she proposed, to have an abortion, was dangerous for all concerned.  Firstly, it carried enormous health risks for the mother.  Secondly, although in France the practice of aborting children was fairly widespread it was nonetheless a serious crime to perpetrate or abet.

Casanova’s response to Giustiniana’s message offers an insight into the nature of both his personality and his memoirs.  He regarded himself, with some justification, as an Enlightenment man of letters.  The primary aim of his autobiography was to try to give a truthful psychological account of men’s characters, in particular his own.  This was natural philosophy, a scientific endeavour, objective and evidence based.  He described what men and women do, not what they ought to do.  In the extract below, he illustrates how impulses of chivalrous self-sacrifice and opportunistic sexual exploitation can co-exist within the same person at the same time.  He also highlights his vanity and ego, and, with regards to his decision-making, touches on the relationship between emotion, reason and wisdom.

I was petrified with astonishment and could only write, “I will be with you at eleven o’clock.”
No one should say that he has passed through great misfortunes unless they have proved too great for his mind to bear. The confidence of Mdlle. X. C. V. [Giustiniana] shewed me that she was in need of support. I congratulated myself on having the preference, and I vowed to do my best for her did it cost me my life. These were the thoughts of a lover, but for all that I could not conceal from myself the imprudence of the step she had taken. In such cases as these there is always the choice between speaking or writing, and the only feeling which can give the preference to writing is false shame, at bottom mere cowardice. If I had not been in love with her, I should have found it easier to have refused my aid in writing than if she had spoken to me, but I loved her to distraction.
“Yes,” said I to myself, “she can count on me. Her mishap makes her all the dearer to me.”
And below this there was another voice, a voice which whispered to me that if I succeeded in saving her my reward was sure. I am well aware that more than one grave moralist will fling stones at me for this avowal, but my answer is that such men cannot be in love as I was.
(Casanova’s Memoirs, The Eternal Quest, Chapter VI)

It was hardly surprising that he ‘was petrified with astonishment’.   Here he was, rich and famous, anticipating the pleasures of seducing a beautiful woman with whom he was besotted, now faced with making a decision the consequences of which could destroy them both.  What made his astonishment all the greater was the fact that she was so many months pregnant without it showing.  He met with Giustiniana who, despite his reservations, was determined to go ahead, the cautionary tale of her mother’s undoing no doubt strengthening her resolve.

In mid-February, using another masked Opera Ball as cover, Casanova made arrangements for Giustiniana to meet with a midwife called Rene Demay who might be amenable to helping them.  The aim was to arrive at the ball separately then slip out together, see Demay, and return unnoticed.  The meeting was all rather seedy and unpleasant with Casanova regretting having taken Giustiniana along.  Nonetheless, the mid-wife agreed to put together a potion, for the large sum of fifty louis.  Before returning to the ball they went to Casanova’s country house, Petite Pologne, where, after enjoying a bottle of champagne and some pleasant conversation, he tried to seduce her.  When she resisted, however, he didn’t pursue his attempt.  He observed: The mere idea of violence revolts me.

Casanova’s unease in his dealings with Rene Demay turned out to be fully justified as she and a collaborator, Louis de Castelbajac, attempted to cash in by offering to sell their information to Poupliniere.  He would have none of it, however.  A cursory examination of Giustiniana by his secretary Maisonneuve, which involved resting his hand on her belly to check that it was flat, reassured him that the accusations were baseless.  In an attempt at extortion, Demay and Castelbajac now brought criminal charges against Casanova and Giustiniana which in turn brought counter charges by Poupliniere who had uncovered that Castelbajac was in cahoots with his relatives.

But the clock was ticking and there was still the problem of the unwanted pregnancy.  Casanova now resorted to concocting his own abortifacient on information proffered by his close friend the Marquise D’Urfé who drew upon her extensive knowledge of alchemy and the occult.  The alchemical application, known as an ‘aroph’, was to be administered several times a day for a week. And the method of delivery?   Via the tip of Casanova’s penis (according to Casanova, the formula also required fresh semen).  Apparently Giustiniana laughed when she heard this but went along with it nonetheless.  Biographer Ian Kelly notes:

Although it has been suggested that this was a cruel or, at least, opportunistic coercion into sex, the prescription of arophs and other unguents with invasive techniques, including penetrative sex, were established methods of procuring an abortion. (Casanova: Actor, Spy Lover, Priest)

The aroph too, failed, and time was running out.  Casanova had, however, during his period of intimacy with Giustiniana, managed to convince her to rule out suicide as a solution to her problems.  Instead, using his contacts, notably the influential Countess du Rumain, he arranged for her at the beginning of April to lie low at the convent of Conflans and to stay there until she’d given birth.  Mrs Anna, who had been kept completely in the dark about what was going on, lost no time blaming Casanova for the disappearance and issued a writ against him.  Casanova, of course, pleaded ignorance and, in fact, had taken the precaution of visiting the family on the day of Giustiniana’s disappearance expressing his wish to see her.  In Paris, the Giustiniana affair became such big news that Madame de Pompadour herself was taking an interest.  Inevitably, rumours were rife that Mademoiselle Wynne was expecting. The cover story, communicated in letters smuggled out from the convent, was that she had gone into hiding because she feared for her safety as a consequence of the threats she’d received linked to her betrothal to Poupliniere.  A month later Giustiniana was delivered of a baby boy.  There’s no record of what happened to the child.

During Giustiniana’s confinement, Casanova had been having to deal with the ongoing cases against him.  The Countess du Rumain explained to the city’s judiciary, Antoine de Sartine, that there had been no abortion and that Giustiniana was pregnant, information that Sartine discretely kept to himself.  At the same time, Demay and Castelbajac offered to retract their testimony for 100 Louis.  Casanova reported this to Sartine who had the pair arrested and imprisoned.  At the end of May, Giustiniana finally resurfaced leading to Mrs Anna’s charges being dropped.  Poupliniere was still keen on going ahead with the wedding once matters had settled but Giustiniana had now decided against becoming a member of the tax collector’s toxic household.   She wrote to Andrea, who hadn’t known what to think about the news that had been reaching him from Paris, giving him her version of events.  Claims that she was expecting, she reassured him, were nothing but malicious rumour mongering.

In July the family departed for London.  The authorities had not been inclined to extend the Wynnes’ permit to stay, such was their unhappiness at all the brouhaha.  Andrea and Giustiniana continued to correspond but time and distance began to take their toll.  Their lives, particularly Andrea’s, would begin to move along different paths.  Andrea’s attention became increasingly taken up by his political career.  The pair, however, always remained friends.

The Wynnes never really felt comfortable in London and after two years Mrs Anna petitioned the Venetian authorities to allow them to return, which was granted.  Giustiniana herself had decided to stay single and live modestly on the small allowance she had inherited.  It turned out, however, that shortly after her return to Venice she ended up marrying the Austrian ambassador, the seventy-year-old Count Philip Orsini-Rosenberg, much to the surprise of everyone.  She was now financially secure.  In 1764 Count and Countess Rosenberg left Venice for Austria.  In 1770, Giustiniana returned, now a widow but still only in her thirties.  Eventually she settled in Padua and became recognised as an accomplished writer, publishing several novels.  Andrea’s career prospered.  In fact, in 1789 he was a whisper away from being elected Doge.  Giustiniana died in 1791 and Andrea two years later.  As for Casanova, shortly after the Wynne affair his fortunes in Paris soured and he moved on to try his hand elsewhere.


‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is now freely available here.

Articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.


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