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Casanova's Life and Times (Hardback)

Living in the Eighteenth Century

Hobbies & Lifestyle > Biography P&S History > By Century > 18th Century P&S History > Social History

By David John Thompson
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 20 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399052054
Published: 28th November 2023

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Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) was born the son of a moderately poor acting family at a time when the stage carried enormous social stigma. Yet in his own lifetime he achieved celebrity across Europe, rubbing shoulders with numerous of the eighteenth century's greatest men and women, from Frederick the Great to Catherine the Great, from Voltaire to Albrecht von Haller, from Pope Benedict XIV to Pope Clement XIII. It was a fame that had little to do with his romantic exploits. This was to come later, following upon the posthumous publication of his magnificent History of My Life. An adventurer and a man of learning, his was an extraordinary life whose story was intertwined with the story of eighteenth-century Europe. To try to understand this fascinating character we need also to try to understand the period in which he lived. This is the aim of Casanova's Life and Times.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A good telling of the life and times of Casanova. The historical background to his life is fascinating and the book is worthy if only for that. However this is a character which has fascinated many and I greatly enjoyed getting to know the man, especially within the context of his time. He seems to have lived largely on wits and opportunity and he certainly lived a large life. The author writes well with an easy flowing style which makes history come alive. I very much enjoyed Casanovas' Life and Times.

NetGalley, Carol Elizabeth Keogh

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book explores the captivating life of Giacomo Casanova, while situating him in the intricately woven fabric of his age. Born to humble actors, he achieved astonishing fame in 18th century Europe, befriending figures like Voltaire and Catherine the Great. Though first known as a scholar and adventurer, his reputation now rests on his posthumously published memoir detailing his notorious romantic exploits.

This book does an excellent job of recreating the world of 18th century Europe, putting Casanova’s life in context. It’s entertaining and well-written. Even if you have no interest in Casanova, this book is worth reading for the historical aspects alone.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed getting to know more about Casanova, it was well-written and felt like it was well-researched. David John Thompson has a great writing style for this type of book and I was engaged with the story.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a really interesting read as my knowledge of Casanova was really basic. So this book had lots of new information.

NetGalley, Abi Davies

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.

Lissetta Lovett, author of 'Casanova's Guide to Medicine'

Thompson enlivens Casanova’s life with comprehensive and lively storytelling, while his deep and broad historical knowledge enlighten the times in which Casanova lived. Readers will feel smarter for having read this book.

Kathleen Ann Gonzalez, Casanovist and author

‘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.

About David John Thompson

DAVE THOMPSON is a retired teacher, a history writer and blogger with a degree and masters in History. He has long been intrigued by the controversial life of the adventurer and man of letters Giacomo Casanova and the continuing difficulty successive generations of scholars have found in getting to grips with him. Everyone who encounters him, specialist and non-specialist, is faced with the challenge of historical and moral complexity. The hope is that this project, of which this is the first of two volumes, will provide not so much clear-cut answers to that challenge but a helpful framework within which to consider it.

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