Posts Tagged ‘Venice’

Casanova’s Return to Venice

17 September 2016

Casanova's Return to Venice. Arthur SchnitzlerCasanova’s Return to Venice by Arthur Schnitzler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 
Ageing, weary, his money gone, Casanova is travelling to Venice, to ask its overlords to forgive his past misadventures there, so that he can live out the rest of his days in “the city of his youth… enshrined in all the charms of memory”.

He is no longer handsome. “His power over his fellows, over women no less than over men, had vanished. Only where he evoked memories could his words, his voice, his glance, still conjure… His day was done!” But such self-admissions surge up against his narcissism, creating great turmoil in his heart. Intellectually he fancies himself the equal or superior to Voltaire, against whom he is preparing a polemic. But he remains addicted to sexual conquest and can’t settle calmly into the life of the mind.

A chance meeting on the road leads him into the lives of a group of local people, creating a forum in which the tensions of his inner life play out. There is his amiable and generous host Olivo; his hostess Amalia, hot to resume an old liaison with Casanova; their 13 year old daughter. There is a playful aristocratic Marchesa and her husband the Marchese, who is enraged at being openly cuckolded by the coolly insolent young soldier Lorenzi. There is the calm and lovely young Marcolina, focused on intellectual pursuits. This group spend two days and nights together, in gardens, bedrooms, at dinners and at the gambling table.

Spoiler alert

The charms of Amalia are stale to Casanova, who tries to put her off by emphasising his own physical decay. It is Marcolina who he must have: Marcolina, who holds the youth and beauty that he has lost. She offers him a dignified friendship across the generational and gender divide, with gentle intellectual sparring between equals, but she recoils at every glimpse of his lust. In fact she is sending him into a confused frenzy of despair, self-deceiving hope, and desperate calculation.

At their introduction, Casanova and Lorenzi “exchanged glances of cold aloofness that seemed to offer assurances of mutual dislike”; but moments later Casanova was staggered by the sense that his own youthful persona stood before him. He is temporarily soothed when he learns that Marcolina has rejected Lorenzi’s offer of marriage, but when he discovers they have a secret relationship the blood rushes to his head.

In the end, it is only by literally taking over Lorenzi’s identity – impersonating him in the dark – that Casanova beds Marcolina. But this “return to youth” is pitiful: when she realises what has happened she feels loathing and disgust, then deep sorrow. His second return to youth, in the form of Venice, is also pathetic: he is only allowed back as a police spy, reporting on hot headed young men of the kind that he once was.

Casanova also manages to rape Amalia’s 13 year old daughter. The girl does not show any distress during or after the event, rather she is excited and conspiratorial. Casanova cynically reflects that he managed to have grandmother, mother and daughter. The incident seems designed to throw further light on his character, but it may overshadow the rest of the story for many modern readers.

Most of the text is a close observation of Casanova’s state of mind. During the climatic events in Olivo’s house it shifts style, and feels more like one of Schnitzler’s plays recast into novelistic form.

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