This is the story of Giacomo Casanova, one of the most interesting and controversial figures
(by Adriano, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
The next few years were an intense continuous wandering around Europe. First, he went to the Netherlands, then to Switzerland, where he met Voltaire at the castle of Ferney. The meeting with Voltaire, the greatest living intellectual at the time, occupies several pages of the Histoire and is reported in great detail. Casanova began by saying that it was the happiest day of his life and that for twenty years, he had been waiting to meet with his “master.”
In 1766 an episode occurred in Poland that deeply marked Casanova: a duel with Count Branicki. During an argument over the Venetian dancer Anna Binetti, the latter apostrophised him by calling him a “Venetian lazy slacker.” The count was a prominent figure at the court of King Stanislaus II Augustus Poniatowski. For a foreigner without any political cover, it was not advisable to oppose him. Therefore, even if heavily offended by the count, any man of ordinary prudence would have retreated in good order. Casanova, who was apparently not only an amiable conversationalist and a skilful seducer but also a man of courage, challenged him to a pistol duel. The count came out very seriously wounded but not seriously enough to prevent him from honourably begging his people to let his opponent, who had behaved according to the rules, go unharmed. Although fairly seriously wounded in one arm, Casanova managed to leave the barren country.
He then went to Spain and later landed in Provence, where he fell seriously ill in January 1769. He was nursed through the intervention of his beloved Henriette, who, meanwhile married and widowed, had retained fond memories of him. He soon resumed his wanderings, travelling to Rome, Naples, Bologna, and Trieste. During this period, contacts with the Venetian Inquisitors intensified to obtain the coveted pardon, which finally arrived on September 3, 1774.
The narrative of the Casanovian Memoirs ceases in mid-February 1774. Returning to Venice after eighteen years, Casanova reknit old friendships, which were never dormant thanks to a very intense epistolary activity. For a living, he offered himself to the Inquisitors as a spy, precisely in favour of those who had been so determined earlier to condemn him to imprisonment. Still, this collaboration dragged wearily on until it was interrupted by “poor performance.” Left without sources of livelihood, he devoted himself to writing, using his vast network of relationships to procure subscribers for his works.
It should be noted that, for an ex-convict who escaped and was later pardoned, he had very high-level acquaintances. This showed that, despite his vicissitudes, Casanova was by no means an outcast. Here, too, is a reflection on the character’s ambivalence and his eternal oscillation between the outcast and the privileged class.
During this same period, he began an affair with Francesca Buschini, a very simple and uncultured girl who for years would write to Casanova, after his second exile from Venice. The letters (found in Dux in the Czech Republic) are of a moving naiveté and tenderness, using a lexicon much influenced by the Venetian dialect, with obvious attempts to Italianize the text as much as possible. This was the last meaningful relationship of Casanova, who remained very attached to the woman. Even when he was hopelessly distant from her, deeply saddened by the twilight of his life, he kept up a close correspondence with Francesca, as well as continued to pay, for years, the rent for the house in Barbaria Delle Tole in which they had cohabited. He kept sending her letters of exchange with discrete sums of money.
The name of the street, “Calle”, derives from the presence, in ancient times, of carpentry workshops that reduced tree trunks into boards (“tole”, in Venetian dialect). The Calle is located in the immediate vicinity of Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo and here was located the last Venetian home of Giacomo Casanova, precisely in Barbarìa Delle Tole, at number 6673 in the Castello district. The specific identification was derived from a letter to Casanova from Francesca Buschini, found in Dux (present-day Duchcov, Czech Republic), dated December 13, 1783. The apartment occupied by Casanova and Buschini (owned by the noble Pesaro family of S. Stae), rented at 96 Venetian liras per quarter, corresponds to the three third-floor windows located under the attic seen above left. The letter in question, sent by Buschini to Casanova, now in exile, referred to the house in front.
During these years, Casanova published other works and tried to scrape by as best he could. But his reckless character cost him new clashes of gossip and arguments. Finally, Casanova was forced into his final, definitive exile.