Casanova – the great lover

His is one of those names everyone knows, without necessarily knowing much about the actual person. We wouldn’t know a great deal about him if he hadn’t left twelve enormous volumes of memoirs, in which he detailed his many affairs – and alas not many people are now prepared to set aside the time to read though such a huge book. I’ve used it a great deal, of course, in this new biography – but I have also revealed a great about his mistresses (who they really were, for instance – he almost always used false names, to protect them from scandal). And I’ve done my best to set his travels in context – and he was one of the great travellers of his time, visiting most of the country of Europe. He was also a great adventurer – his escape from prison in Venice was one of the great adventure stories of the century, and made him much more famous in his time than his sexual escapades.

One of the difficulties of writing about him, in this age of political correctness, is that he was more or less kept by his mistresses – of several million pounds he made during his life, well over half came from presents from women. But they gave him money not because he tricked them, but because of the real affection they had for him, and the happiness he brought them – ‘you were put on earth to bring happiness to women’, one said. He was himself very generous, and clearly had a very attractive personality – but it is also clear that he was a great lover, who knew perfectly the secret of how to please a woman in bed. He even astonished the great courtesans of the period by his skill in love-making.

Many people aren’t aware that he loved men as well as women. He was by no means completely gay – but if no woman was available and a handsome man offered to go to bed with him, he was not going to turn the opportunity down. This may not shock us today – more difficult for us in 2002 is the fact that he frequently went to bed with children of 12 or 14, and that he had a child by his own daughter (though when she was a mature young woman who knew perfectly well what she was doing – and who he was). But we must remember that children of that age were regarded as possible sexual partners by most eighteenth century European men – and indeed women – and that many of the Popes regarded incest as a venial sin, which they themselves often committed.

Casanova could have been a great writer or philosopher if sex had not been his main, almost his only, preoccupation. He wrote plays, libretti for operas, philosophical books, he knew something about chemistry and more about the occult. He not only had charm, but intelligence – he talked on equal terms with Catherine the Great and Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin Frederick the Great. In short, he was one of the most fascinating men of his time, and if you enjoy reading about him as much as I enjoyed writing about him, none of us will have anything to complain about.

CASANOVA is published in the UK USA and Australia by Sutton Publishing. It can be ordered from any bookseller, or from – click on the button on our home page.