The Duel [Casanova]

By Giacomo Casanova.

Once again, this book benefits from the added materials. As well as Casanova’s novella, we also have the excerpt from his memoirs which covers the events recounted in The Duel. The differences between the two are intriguing, but neither are eminently reliable; both seem to portray Casanova in a overly favourable light. Much of the background to the duel was also interesting particularly his relationship with the Polish king Poniatowski. Casanova seems to have liked Poniatowski vey much, despite being banished at the novella’s end, and he describes him as a wise man, but then wonders how a wise man could have made so many bad decisions as king. Poniatowski, and his ineffectual nobility, are mostly to blame for the initial carving up of Poland in 1772. To be fair, Poniatowski did introduce many reforms but they were too late, the nobility didn’t have the support of the people, they were a dissolute bunch. The democratic nature of the Polish kingship was also unique in Europe, it seems Poniatowski was an enlightened man, which is why Casanova liked him, but he made some bad decisions and then, in 1795, it was too late. You could argue that in the modern day Komorowski and Sikorski are now doing the same, carving up Poland to outside interests for the benefit of the ‘newly-moneyed’ nobility. The statement that history repeats itself is a cliche, but it is sometimes true, motifs and actions do seem to recur.

The only negative thought that crossed my mind when reading this book was the fact that Casanova’s memoir and the novella could be seen a bit like a modern non-entity celebrity tell-all tale. Except that, he actually wrote it, and it is in the literary vein of the larger than life expositions that we see from Celine and Cendrars. Casanova also did things too, he travelled about in a rakish fashion with little money but always managed to get by, he met powerful influential people and thinkers of the day (and he was a thinker himself), and argued, had duels and generally had a good swashbuckling time. So, really, it’s a bit different to Jordan. I have convinced myself.

There are some interesting biographies of other famous duelists in the materials as well. A very worthwhile and pleasurable read. Now on to Von Kleist.

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