One of Giacomo Casanova’s most famous deeds was to break out from the dreaded Venice prison in 1756. After 15 months in prison, and after having been interrupted in his planning by a change of cell, he and a companion escaped through the roof on the night between October 31, and November 1 in 1756. Casanova’s escape became a news story in Venice, Italy, and over most of Europe. In his book “The story of my escape from I Piombi” (Histoire de ma fuite des prisons de la République de Venise qu’on appelle les Plombs), he explains toroughly what really happened.
The escape from Venice prison in 1756.
The second attempt.
The prisoner in the neighboring cell, whose name was Father Marino Balbi, then slowly and methodically dug a hole between his cell and that of Giacomo Casanova. Once in Balbi’s quarters the two men managed to break through the roof and from there they crawled and dragged themselves threw a tiny window, over the attic, and down into a big lounge inside the Palace. Unfortunately, the doors were locked, they were trapped. They collapsed on a couch and fell asleep.
Early the next morning, a servant opened the door. The two men woke up disoriented, but Casanova at once started screaming at the man:
– This is outrageous. A scandal. How is it possible that this can happen at the Doge’s palace? Are you responsible for this…?
Casanova in fact wore a dress in taffeta, at this point rugged and dirty, but still a sign of elegance. Being who he was, he had kept it for this occasion. And his companion was a priest and dressed as such.
Fate would have it that the evening before there had been a great ball at the Palace and the servant thought that what he had found were two unfortunate guests who had been locked inside one of the ballrooms by mistake.
– I am so sorry for the inconvenience, he said. Please, please don’t mention this to my superiors… Please I beg you…
And unknowingly he escorted the two gentlemen outside from the Palace and bade them farewell with compliments and reverence.
And Giacomo Casanova was a free man again.
Traveling the world: Paris 1756 – 1758.
That incredible story about his escape from “Il Pimbo” would become one of his most important deeds. Today we would call it viral. It was often the main attraction whenever Casanova was invited. Everybody wanted to know about how this fascinating man escaped one of the most feared and secure prisons in Europe, and they wanted to hear it from him in person. And he found himself famous and popular again.
As Venice was closed for him and would be so for 18 years he moved to the world’s political, and economical hub of the 18th century, Paris. François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis had been the French ambassador but was now appointed Minister of Foreign affairs in Paris. He knew Casanova well and introduced him to the Paris aristocracy.
In 1758 he planned and outlined a national lottery. to help restore the state finances after some of Louis XV’s disastrous affairs. The lottery was an enormous success, and Casanova was invited to the inner circles at the court. His popularity and fame had never been greater.
Reflections, meditation, and failures 1758 – 1774.
In the coming years, his desires very slowly changed. He was still the most exquisite, sociable, amiable, witty, and good-looking man in the known world, but something in his eyes had changed. Something was darker, more of an introvert… As if he was searching for something else.
He did services for France as a spy, he started an unsuccessful enterprise in import-export, and he courted a great number of women, some of which were married. And that’s when he finally met the one woman who he wasn’t able to have.
Her name was Marianna Charpillon, or more exactly, Auspurgher. A French daughter of a prostitute. She, herself, was in the same trade. Casanova met her in London.
– She had a face of an angel, chestnut hair, blue eyes, and a perfect, symmetric body. In short, I found her simply irresistible.
She was only 17 and Casanova almost 40. Her provoking ways and seducing manners made him completely lose control. But the more he courted her, gave her presents, flowers, jewelry, and declared her his love, the more she resisted him. It came to a point where he tried violence and brute force to get her, which resulted in accusations and a short stop in jail. Still, she wouldn’t budge.
Considering her profession, and the fact that Casanova couldn’t even buy her passion for money, while he could witness other men do just that, made a profound, and devastating impression on him. For the first time in his life, he felt beaten, defeated. And he decided to kill himself… Suicide from a broken heart.
As he stood on the side of the Themes ready to throw himself into the dark water, a friend called him from a distance…
– Hey Giacomo… Why don’t you come with me to have a few drinks together with these two ballet dancers?
And Casanova was saved.
He later bought a Parrot and trained it to say:
– Miss Marianna Charpillon is more of a whore than her mother.
Casanova back in Venice once again 1778 – 1783.
Casanova met with most of the intellectual and cultural elite in 1700s Europe. He also knew many of the nobles and politicians. He knew Mozart, he met with Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Benjamin Franklin. He was a friend of Catherine the Great, Frederick of Prussia, as well as Madame de Pompadour, and Pope Benedict XIV.
But he still wasn’t a nobleman, and he had to trust his value as entertainment to be accepted into the high society of the 18th century. And as time went by the longing to see Venice again became ever stronger.
He finally succeeded in negotiating a pardon for the prison sentence, which actually never was very long in the first place. Something Casanova wasn’t aware of at the time of his prison break. He agreed to take the role as a spy for the Republic and served as such for a time in Trieste.
He stayed in Venice from 1774 to 1783, apart from when he traveled, which he did a lot. Times had changed though, and Casanova was older. Now he needed a way to cover the daily expenses. He worked as a theater impresario for a time, he started a monthly magazine, he translated the Iliad from Greek, and he wrote his own works. It was one of those, a short pamphlet criticizing the wrong person that finally got him banned from Venice for good.
He had found himself in a quarrel over money at the Palace of Michele Grimani. The opponent was a certain Carletti. What frustrated him wasn’t so much the insults by Carletti. He was quite used to that. What he couldn’t accept was that Grimani, a man he considered his biological father, took Carletti’s side. Casanova returned the favor, writing a short story dressed as Greek mythology. But anybody could see who the leading roles really were. And he practically said it out… He, Giacomo, was the son of Grimani, and more so, Grimani’s son was actually the offspring of another Venice nobleman by the name of Sebastiano Giustinian.
Well, he lost his most influential ally in the Republic.
And he probably seduced one or two of the ruling class’ wives and daughters as well.
He left Venice in 1783, never to return again.
And we’re back where we started – In Duchcov 1783 – 1798.
When he left Venice, he was almost sixty. His health was still good, but his capacity as a lover and socialite was considerably reduced. He felt old and the world he knew was slowly changing.
He went to Trieste. Then continued to Vienna where he stayed for a while working as a secretary for the Venetian ambassador. He reconnected with some of his old friends, but when the offer came to become a librarian at the Castle of Count Waldstein at Dux, Bohemia, he had kind of run out of options and accepted. His life as a rake was definitely over.
In Dux – Duchcov, he witnessed from a distance the French revolution and the fall of the Venetian Republic. His world crumbled, and he died on June 4, 1798.
His last resting place is unknown.
Giacomo Casanova, the writer.
Although Casanova is known to the world as a master of seduction, his real value is that of a writer. He wrote a multitude of manuscripts of every sort, he translated, edited, and published. And it was mostly in that quality he made his living… As a storyteller.
Most Giacomo Casanova experts agree that there is a difference between when he’s writing from his own experience and when he’s not. And his by far most famous book is his memoirs. In Histoire de ma vie he takes the reader on a fantastic road trip through the 1700 society with a focus on female beauty and erotic attraction. And the reason for the natural language and flowing narrative was perhaps that he didn’t write it for anyone to read it at all.
The memoirs were probably never meant to be published. That could also be one reason why they are so massive… 3700 pages, as well as the presence of quotidian details clotting its pages. He wrote them as a way to relive his many adventures, more for himself than for others to discover. It could even have been a suggestion from his doctor as a remedy against his melancholia, to write down his memories. It is written in French.
The book was published, heavily censored, in 1825 under the name Mèmoirs. The Catholic Church immediately put it on their list of forbidden literature, together with every other publication by the author.
- In 1960 (… After 170 years !) the first uncensored version was published.
- In 2010 National Library of France bought the original manuscript for 7,25 million euro. The seller was an anonymous heir to the publisher Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. Histoire de ma vie is now considered a French national treasure.
- The narrative finishes in mid-sentence around 1774.
Apart from his memoirs, he wrote around twenty books, mostly after 1770.
Casanova, the greatest lover of all time.
The number of women he conquered range from 122 to 216 depending on who is counting. These are obviously not in any way exact calculations. Casanova didn’t finish his story, he probably didn’t mention everything about everything, and it was written at least 50 years after his first erotic encounter.
Let’s say 150 women in a lifetime.
A study in the US from 2004 concludes that about 1 in 5 American men have more than 20 sexual partners in a lifetime. Considering that casanova never married and that he was incredibly desirable and didn’t seem to have had any problems in his conquests, 150 isn’t all that much. George Simenon, the Belgian writer famous for his books about the French detective Jules Maigret is said to have had seduced 10.000 women. Rumors have it that Frank Sinatra made love to 5000 women. Like Piero Chiara, author of the book “Il Vero Casanova”, the true Casanova, said in an interview:
– I would say a normal Lifeguard at Rimini or Riccione (Italy) would have more women than that…
Giacomo Casanova wasn’t a conquerer just for the pleasure of it. He seems to have loved truly every time. He fell in love, sometimes deeply so, and suffered just like everybody does in the cruel and agonizing game of love.
As an example, he lived his days in Venice together with Francesca Buschini, a young lady without money or name. She was very much in love with the writer, and he with her. They lived together for a long period until Casanova was forced away from the lagoon city. From his many letters, we sense a touching ingenuity and tenderness, as well as a heart saddened by the fact that she wasn’t near. He actually continued paying for her for many years after he left Venice.
But the stories, the myths… Are they true?
Yes, it is reasonable to think that they are.
We have two ways to tell that at least most of it is, in fact, true.
- First of all, as I mentioned before, he probably didn’t write it to be published. It was a sort of diary, and the honesty in his words is noticeable. He doesn’t even try to put himself in a good light. His failures and defects are portrayed just as clearly as his success.
- The second thing to remember is that his adventures can be verified. And it has been verified. Countless experts have followed Casanova’s footprints all over Europe. Venice kept records of felonies, employments, business agreements, births, and deaths. And so did France. The travels, the enterprises, the books, even the escape from “I Piombi”, that is all true. What can’t be verified is what happened behind closed doors. His lovers are often named with only their initials, or with an alias. Still, they haven’t been difficult to identify. It is reasonable to think that what he tells us about his love affairs is mostly accurate. He just wouldn’t have much reason to exaggerate. In the State Archives of Venice, you can find documentation of the repairs made inside Casanova’s prison cell after the breakaway.
He lived his life to the fullest. Through his journeys, he saw most of France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Checchia, and England. He met many of the most prominent men of the 18th century, and he loved and was loved by the most beautiful and fascinating women. Without being born noble, and without having accomplished great deeds in science, finance, or politics, he still counts as one of the most famous men of all time.
Giacomo Casanova, the world’s greatest lover.