I’m working on a memoir largely set in Italy, part of which concerns my experience as an apprentice gondolier in Venice.
Casanova was a Venetian, and one of the greats of Italian literature. The memoir itself is enormous, written in 12 volumes that average maybe 350 pages each.
It can be an imposing work: Though the books are written in clear prose, many passages bog down into period mores.
There are lengthy explanations and rationalizations of what he was doing within the context of values of his time—values that no longer exist, and aren’t especially interesting when discussed ad nauseum.
Literature at its most serious is almost always funny.
It’s hard to name an authentic great—Dickens, Faulkner, Zadie Smith—who’s not a gifted comic, too.
You know how Rebecca West says that half of us wants to be in the house, surrounded by our contented offspring and grandchildren—but the other half wants to burn that house to the ground?
Well, Casanova just fully burned the house to the ground.
To me, this line shows he actually grew as person—in a way that the memoirs don’t, quite.
It shows that, by the end, he could finally laugh at his gambling and his social striving and his endless affairs.