Previous biographers have taken Casanova at his word; Damrosch is tougher ... Here we go, I thought. Casanova for the age of #MeToo and toxic masculinity. Can’t we keep the Casanova myth as it is? Can’t sex ever be fun? Why not let sleeping rogues lie? The more I read of Damrosch’s biography, however, the more uneasy I felt about Giac the Lad ... In his stylish, insightful and, yes, one must admit, sexy biography, Damrosch gives us the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly ... Reading Damrosch’s stern but measured book, I went from fancying Casanova, to hating him, to pitying him. There’s no fool like an old fool and no man so lonely as the Priapus who can’t get it up. Good, bad, in flight or in flagrante, Giacomo Casanova, scourge of 18th-century husbands, is never less than compelling.
The question naturally arises: What does Mr. Damrosch have to offer that is new? Actually, a good deal. To begin with, this is the first biography to make use of the two superb new editions of the Histoire that have come out over the last decade, revolutionizing Casanova studies ... n his quotations, Mr. Damrosch provides his own fresh translations from these editions and draws upon the scholarship of their editors, as well as upon numerous French and Italian commentaries ... More important, Mr. Damrosch is an authority on the 18th century and so ideally suited to place Casanova within the context of his time ... When he reaches the end of his biography Mr. Damrosch joins in the 'appalled applause.' His concluding remarks are a tribute to the liveliness of Casanova’s prose ... The great virtue of Mr. Damrosch’s biography is that, while never losing critical distance, he fully succeeds in communicating that 'vivid presentness,' that 'joyful eagerness' for life, which is what keeps us reading Casanova—and reading about him.
Damrosch, a Harvard literary historian, is in turn clear that he is writing a post-MeToo Casanova. At the same time, he is also keen that we should understand just what a valuable document Histoire is for scholars working on the 18th century. It has only recently become available in its entirety and, despite some fantasy elements, bears unparalleled witness to the social, political and intellectual mindset of the time.