The Duel by Giacomo Casanova

duelA well connected young man, a libertine from Venice, finds himself in trouble with the law.  So he flees to Poland where he finds a place in the royal court.

I really want this story to be true.

The inside flap of my edition says the novella is a “thinly veiled autobiography” and that it later appears, with a few small changes, in the author’s memoir, but the story is so incredible that it beggars belief.  Still, I hope it’s all true.  I hope this guy Casanova really lived the life he claims.   What an adventure it must have been.

And what fun to spend it with Giacomo Casanova.  Here he is describing a dinner with the Queen of France in 1750:

…I found my self at Fountainebleau, among the circle that dines with the Queen of France–or to put it more accurately, watches the Queen of France eat.  The silence was profound. The queen, alone at her table, looked at nothing but the dishes that were placed in front of her by the ladies-in-waiting.  After having tased one, and wishing to ask for a second helping, she majestically lifted her eyes and swiveled her head as well (in contrast with certain foolish gentlemen in our country, who roll their eyeballs only and therefore seem possessed by the Devil).  Quickly surveying the entire company, she allowed her gaze to rest on one gentleman, the loftiest of them all, and perhaps the only one suited to such an honor.  In a clear voice, she said to him: “I believe, Monsieur de Lowendall, that there is nothing better than a chicken fricassee.”

Afterwards, every cook in the court begins to compete to see who can make the best chicken fricassee as though no other food in the world, nor any other thing, matters.  I found it very funny and I love that Casanova just happened to find himself at Fountainebleau.

While in Poland, Casanova is essentially tricked into committing a duel worthy offense over a run-in at the theatre, but this isn’t really the point of reading him.  The novella is really an opportunity for Casanova to observe the high society he dwells in.  His observations are cutting and witty; I found him charming at least in print.

Should I ever find myself in Fountainbleau again, C.J. and I once spent a rainy afternoon touring the palace there, I could do a lot worse than spending my time with Casanova.