The BnF

Casanova’s memoirs acquired by BnF

Casanova’s last adventure

Manuscrits de Giacomo Casanova

The famous manuscript by the brilliant writer of memoirs was acquired by BnF thanks to a generous patron. Over 3700 pages written in French, disclosing a tight and neat handwriting, peperred with deletions, alterations and crossed-out names. Some of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova’s secrets will be soon delivered to researchers making it possible the critical edition which “Casanovists” dream of. This famous collection of Casanova material among which the centerpiece “Histoire de ma vie” (The Story of my life), one of the major works of 18th century literature, was acquired by BnF thanks to a generous anonymous donor. It is the most expensive patrimonial acquisition ever made by the library.

Very few persons have had the opportunity to look at the manuscript. “The paradox is that the original copy of a text known throughout the world had remained little-known” declares Bruno Racine, President of BnF. The extraordinary destiny of the manuscript is worthy of its Venetian author’s eventful life. Casanova’s memoirs begin with the writer’s birth and stop in 1774. The generous and bold style of these admirably written pages takes us in the footsteps of a brilliant adventurer who knew how to become a diplomat, a financier, a gambler, a swindler or a magician. He escaped from “The Leads”, the famous Venice jail and doors were open to him in European courts. He met Rousseau and debated with Voltaire. The narrative takes us in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Spain and even in Russia. This colourful account contains a variety of female characters such as society women, actresses, maids and a nun seduced by the freethinker who affirmed his belief in the quest for pleasure.

Casanova began to write his memoirs in 1789 at the request of the Prince de Ligne; he never ceased to modify them and was tempted to get rid of them. Eventually, the year of his death, he bequeathed them to his nephew, Carlo Angiolini. The latter took the manuscript to Dresden and his children sold it to the German publishing house Brockhaus, in January 1821. The manuscript was translated into German. Then, Brockhaus asked for the help of a French teacher to rewrite the French version, correct italianisms and “purify” the text to avoid shocking the public with the intimate accounts of Casanova’s love life. The teacher lost four chapters of the manuscript which was given back to the publishing house, ten years later. During the bombings of Leipzig, the manuscript was found intact and carried out to Wiesbaden on a German military truck in 1945.

In Autumn 2007, Mr. Claude Martin, French Ambassador in Berlin, informed Mr. Bruno Racine that a mysterious emissary had told him about the possibility to buy this outstanding collection. “We have waited patiently and persevered in our efforts during two years and a half before clearing obstacles” Bruno Racine says. The major interest of this collection as an outstanding patrimonial work was acknowledged by the consultative commission for national treasures. After many tribulations, the pieces have been added to BnF’s collections where they are going to experience new adventures. Numerous projects aiming to enhance them have already been planned among which the digitisation of the collection that will be made available via Gallica, and an exhibition to be organised in 2011.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010