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laisser aller

Histoire de ma vie

Histoire de ma vie (History of my Life) is both the memoir and autobiography of Giacomo Casanova, a famous 18th century Italian adventurer. A previous, bowdlerized version was originally known in English as The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova (from the French Mémoires de Jacques Casanova) until the original version was published in 1960.

Although Casanova was Venetian (born April 2, 1725, in Venice, died June 4, 1798, in Dux, Bohemia, now Duchcov, Czech Republic), the book is written in French, which was the dominant language in the upper class at the time. The book covers Casanova's life only through 1774, although the full title of the book is Histoire de ma vie jusqu'à l'an 1797, (History of my Life until the year 1797).

Contents of the book

The book comprises 12 volumes and approximately 3500 pages, covering Casanova's life from his birth to 1774.

Story of the manuscript

Casanova allegedly wrote the first chapters of the book in 1789, during a profound illness.

In 1794, Casanova met Charles Joseph, Prince de Ligne. The two of them established a mutual friendship. The Prince expressed a desire to read Casanova's memoirs, and Casanova decided to polish the manuscript before sending it to the Prince. After reading at least the first three tomes of the manuscript, Charles Joseph suggested that the memoir be shown to an editor in Dresden to publish in exchange for an annuity. Casanova was convinced to publish the manuscript, but chose another route. In 1797, he asked Marcolini Di Fano, minister at the Cabinet of the Saxony Court, to help him with the publication.

In May 1798, Casanova was alone in Dux. He foresaw his death and asked for members of his family currently residing in Dresden to come and support him in his last moments. Carlo Angiolini, the husband of Casanova's niece, traveled without delay from Dresden to Dux. After Casanova's death, he returned to Dresden with the manuscript. Carlo himself died in 1808 and the manuscript passed to his daughter Camilla. Because of the Napoleonic Wars, the climate was not favorable for publishing the memoirs of a character belonging to a past age. After the Battle of Leipzig (1813), Marcolini remembered the manuscript and offered 2500 Thalers to Camilla's tutor, who judged the offer too modest and refused.

After some years, the Recession compromised the wealth of Camilla's family. She asked her brother Carlo to quickly sell the manuscript. In 1821, it was sold to the editor Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. Brockhaus asked Wilhelm von Schütz to translate the book into German. Some extracts of the translation and the first volume were published as early as 1822. The collaboration between Brockhaus and Schütz stopped in 1824, after the publication of the fifth volume. The other volumes were then translated by another unknown translator.

Due to the success of the German edition, the French editor Tournachon decided to publish the book in France. Tournachon had no access to the original manuscript, and so the French text of his edition was translated from the German translation. The text was heavily censored. In response to the piracy Brockhaus brought out a second edition in French, edited by Jean Laforgue (1782-1852) which was very unreliable as Laforgue altered Casanova's religious and political views as well as censoring sexual references. The French volumes were published from 1826 to 1838. These editions were also successful, and another French pirate edition was prepared with another translation from the German edition. As the German edition was not entirely published at this time, this edition allegedly contains passages invented by the translator.

From 1838 to 1960, all the editions of the memoirs were derived from one of these editions. Arthur Machen used one of these inaccurate versions for his English translation published in 1894 which remained the standard English edition for many years.

The original manuscript was stored in the editor's head office in Leipzig until June 1945, when it was moved to the new head office in Wiesbaden just before Leipzig was heavily bombed. In 1960, a collaboration between Brockhaus and the French editor Plon led to the first original edition of the manuscript.

Quotes

  • Digne ou indigne, ma vie est ma matière, ma matière est ma vie (Worthy or not, my life is my subject, and my subject is my life)
  • Le lecteur qui aime à penser verra dans ces mémoires que n'ayant jamais visé un point fixe, le seul système que j'eus, si c'en est un, fut de me laisser aller ou le vent qui soufflait me poussait (The reader of these Memoirs will discover that I never had any fixed aim before my eyes, and that my system, if it can be called a system, has been to glide away unconcernedly on the stream of life, trusting to the wind wherever it led)

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