No one doubts Casanova's ability to detail the settings and social
environs of his day, but they certainly disagree on the entertainment value
of his writing. Contrast this review by John Simon found in Book World
"...a consummate gift of organizing, dramatizing, and verbalizing."
to this review by Bernard Grebanier found in the Saturday Review in the same year:
"...the book cannot be read, except in small snatches, with much pleasure because digested consecutively it is monotonous."
It now appears as though the bad critiques or perhaps the size of the work or maybe even the censors have won. It is nearly impossible to find all 12 volumes of his memoirs. Casanova's works have all but disappeared. The fact that he was an Italian who wrote in French is no help either. His name is hardly found under the heading of French literature, nor is it found under Italian literature.
But it must be literature. In Kenneth Rexroth's Classics Revisited, Casanova's memoirs are not only present, but Rexroth compares Casanova to Homer!
"Purity, simplicity, definition, impact ---these qualities of Homer are those of Casanova, too. In addition, he has a special talent for giving the impression of complete candor. Only when we escape from the swiftness of his narrative and recollect his adventure in tranquillity do we ever suspect that he is not telling the strict truth."
Of course, placing a piece of work into the realm of literature is not simply about the piece itself. Its place is also concerned with the way in which it has affected writers over time. Considering this then, there is no doubt that Casanova's History of My Life deserves a high throne in literature.
In a letter to Milena Jesenka, written in 1920, Franz Kafka writes:
"Do you know of Casanova's escape from `The Leads'? Yes, you know it."
Kafka knew the book very well. By his time, Casanova's I Piombli had been published in nearly every European language. In truth, Casanova read the novel before August 1914, the month he began work on The Trial. Kafka's The Trial is a novel of imprisonment, much like Casanova's imprisonment in `The Leads.' Neither Kafka's main character nor Casanova is informed of his crime or his sentence. Right from the start The Trial mirrors I Piombli. Both men are taken away in the morning, both need to dress, both actually feel the need to dress very well and do so. Both are led to informal judges who tells them of their guilt, but not their crime nor their sentence. Both are the womanizing, free-wheeling Bohemians that charm everyone but their judges. There is one major difference, though.
At the end of I Piombli, Casanova escapes from the prison through an opening in the lead roof of the prison. Casanova, the man, the myth, gets away---lives to tell the tale another day. Kafka's main character is not so lucky. He is beheaded.
We all ask the question of ourselves:
I wish to escape the prison. But am I strong enough?