Traveling a lot lately, I recently blasted through this biography of Casanova. In the English-speaking world, we mostly know him as a feckless playboy, a serial womanizer. His name is synonymous with seduction. From geeky Pick Up Artists to bragging rappers, men with something to prove often refer to themselves as budding Casanovas. There have been a handful of shitty movies about him. Robert Greene even featured him prominently in his book, “The Art of Seduction.”
But none of this — the reputation, the books, the bragging, the shitty movies — does the man justice. He was such a complicated and intriguing person, almost everyone misses the big picture. There’s a LOT more to learn from him.
His passion for women was only an extension of his amazing passion for life, living and people. It didn’t hurt either that he was a prodigy, a polymath, brilliant in almost every subject and fluent in five different languages. He made and lost half a dozen fortunes, lived in every major European city before it was fashionable nor reasonable, hung out with Kings (Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, Louis XV), intellectuals (Voltaire, Rousseau), and artists (Mozart). He also hung out with monks and beggars. He survived the Inquisition, escaped from prison, wrote over 40 books and was banished from three different countries.
His legacy is beyond women — it’s that of living life to it’s most possible limits, disregarding the ideas of “success” or “failure” in favor of simply having experiences and appreciating them. As he said in his memoirs, “Whether you think my actions good or bad, no one can deny, that I truly lived.”
But since this website is about women, let’s talk about women for a second — because, don’t get me wrong, he IS inspiring in his own special way. He wrote about sexual experiences with 133 women in his memoirs. He notes that he purposely left out a dozen or so who’s reputation he didn’t want to tarnish (probably very famous women). He also stopped his memoirs when he turned 42, and I imagine there were another few dozen encounters after that.
All in all, you’re looking at a guy who slept with almost 200 women in his lifetime. Not bad for a guy hitting his prime in the 1750’s, a time when you could get imprisoned or even killed for winking at the wrong woman.
He lost his virginity in a threesome to two sisters when he was 17. He slept with nobility, nuns, a couple of mother/daughter combos, and dozens of famous actresses of the time. This is some hall of fame shit here, folks.
But here’s what I found truly interesting that really doesn’t get enough air-time about him. Sure, the notches on his bed post are impressive, but for him it was much more than that. He stated very explicitly that he wasn’t addicted to sex as much as he was to “affairs.” He legitimately believed himself to fall in love with most of the 133 women he wrote about and probably more. He speaks of seduction the same way brilliant artists and musicians speak of their craft — that it wasn’t HIM seducing, that he was just a vehicle for love to express itself to these women. In fact, he took NO credit for his seductions, preferring to see it as letting himself succumb or “fall” into the emotion with each woman… whatever that means.
He also said something that I’ve felt only the last year or so: “Though the effect is always the same… every woman is a unique experience unto herself.” Almost literally a different sensual flavor of the same emotion.
He remained close friends with most of his former lovers, often corresponding with them for decades — even after they married and had families. His first love died in his arms 50 years later.
He said of himself, “I’m not an attractive man; I simply have an unbridled belief that I am capable of anything.”
But before I gush about him for too long, there’s something tragic in him as well. His constant passion to push himself to the extremes of living and emotion ended up undermining him. Eventually, his body couldn’t keep up with heart and mind, and eventually society moved on without him.
And though having had hundreds of lovers, over a dozen marriage proposals, eight illegitimate children, and thousands of friends and acquaintances — many in high places — he died miserable, bitter, and alone.