Casanova, the lover and the librarian

This past week, I rewatched the 2005 film Casanova, starring the late Heath Ledger as “the world’s greatest lover.” It’s a slight film, to be sure, but an enjoyable one amidst stunning backdrops. Heath Ledger is well cast as the title role, and a large cast of well-known actors — including Oliver Platt and Jeremy Irons (!) — romp their way through the film.

It starts off with a closeup of Casanova writing his memoirs, and flashbacks reveal tales of love and adventure (along with heartbreak). “10,000 pages, my life and loves. That’s just about 1 woman for every page.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Casanova' (2005)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Casanova' (2005)

So what does this have to do with librarians?

Casanova spent the last dozen or so years of his life as private librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein at the Castle du Dux in Bohemia. In 1783, Casanova was exiled from his birthplace, Venice, for the second time, and from 1785 to 1798, he spent the remainder of his life at the Castle du Dux. While the job — and locale — must have been quite a lonely one, Casanova used that time well by writing his memoirs, Histoire de ma vie (Story of my Life). All 12 volumes of it! And it is because of these memoirs that we know his name today. Becoming a librarian, therefore, helped Casanova in preserving his legacy — and by his own hand, cement his place in history.

(See, librarianship helps EVERYONE. 😉 )

Libraries and librarians are never mentioned in the 2005 film. There is, however, a literary angle explored in the film. Casanova falls in love with a young lady, Francesca Bruni (played by Sienna Miller), who is a (fictional) swashbuckling intellectual who writes philosophical texts under a male nom de plume. She visits a libreria, which is Italian for “bookstore,” as seen below (Library would be “biblioteca,” FYI). There are a few scenes throughout the film set in this bookstore.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Casanova' (2005)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Casanova' (2005)

There’s an interesting history to how his memoirs made it to the public, here in this article about Casanova on the Smithsonian site. The memoirs were published in bowdlerized versions all through the 19th century through the mid-20th century, and the complete text was not published until 1960. You can read the (bowdlerized) English translation of his memoirs here on the Project Gutenberg site.

You might also enjoy this round-up of 10 surprising former librarians. As well as my review of the book Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession, written by librarian Kathleen Low.

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