« The Other Eurydice | 首页 | Henry Ford »

The Memoirs of Casanova


Throughout my stay at           I had two steady lovers: Cate and Ilda. Cate came to see me every morning, Ilda in the afternoon; in the evening I went out socializing and people were amazed to see me always on my own. Cate was well-built, Ilda was slim; going from one to the other renewed desire, which tends as much to variation as to repetition.

Once Cate had left I hid every trace of her; likewise with Ilda; and I think I always managed to stop either of them finding out about the other, both at the time and perhaps afterwards too.

Of course I would sometimes slip up and say things to one of them that could only mean something if said to the other: 'I found these fuchsias at the florist today, your favourite flower,' or 'Don't forget to take your necklace again,' thus provoking amazement, anger, suspicion. But these banal improprieties only occurred, if I well remember, at the beginning of the double affair. Very soon I learnt to separate the two relationships completely; each relationship took its course, had its continuity of conversations and habits, and never interfered with the other.

At the beginning I thought (I was, as you will have appreciated, very young, and looking for experience) that amatory arts would be transferable from one woman to the other: both knew a great deal more than me and I thought that the secrets I learnt from Ilda I would then be able to teach to Cate, and vice versa. I was wrong: all I did was to muddle things that are only valuable when spontaneous and direct. Each woman was a world unto herself, or rather each was a sky where I must trace the positions of stars, planets, orbits, eclipses, inclinations and conjunctions, solstice and equinox. Each firmament had its own movement, in line with its own mechanism and rhythm. I couldn't expect to apply notions of astronomy I'd learnt watching Cate's sky, to Ilda's.

But I must confess that freedom of choice between two lines of behaviour was no longer an option: with Cate I had been trained to act one way and with Ilda another; I was conditioned in every way by the partner I was with, to the extent that even my instinctive preferences and tics would change. Two personalities alternated inside me; and I wouldn't have been able to say which me was really me.

What I've said holds good as much for the spirit as the body: the words spoken to the one couldn't be repeated to the other, and I very soon realized I would have to vary my way of thinking too.

When I feel the urge to recount and evoke one of the many twists and turns of my adventurous life, I usually resort to the well-tried versions I've developed for social occasions, with whole sentences and more repeated word for word, the effects calculated right down to the digressions and pauses. But certain escapades that never failed to win the appreciation of groups of people who didn't know me, or who weren't involved, had to be considerably adapted if I was to tell them to Cate or Ilda alone. Certain expressions that were common currency with Cate, sounded wrong when I was with Ilda; the quips Ilda picked up at once and returned with interest, I would have had to explain to Cate with every 'i' dotted and 't' crossed, though she appreciated other jokes that left Ilda cold; sometimes it was the conclusion to be drawn from a story that changed from Ilda to Cate, so that I took to giving my stories different endings. In this way I was gradually constructing two different versions of my life.

Every day I would tell Cate and Ilda what I had seen and heard the evening before wandering round the haunts and hangouts in town: gossip, shows, celebrities, fashionable clothes, eccentricities. In my early days of undifferentiated insensibility, I would repeat word for word to Ilda in the afternoon whatever I'd said in the morning to Cate: I thought this would save me the imaginative effort one is constantly having to make to keep people interested. I soon realized that the same story either interested one and not the other, or, if it interested both, then the details they asked for were different and likewise different were the comments and judgements they expressed.

What I had to do then was to produce two quite different stories from the same material: and this wouldn't have been particularly problematic; except that each evening I also had to live through things in two different ways in line with the stories I'd be telling the following morning; I'd look at everything and everybody from Cate's point of view and from Ilda's point of view, and I'd judge them in line with their two different criteria; in conversation I'd come up with two retorts to the same quip from someone else, one that Ilda would like, the other that Cate would like; every retort generated counter-retorts that I had to reply to once again in two ways. I wasn't aware of this split personality operating when I was in the company of one or the other of them, but mostly when they weren't there.

My mind had become the two women's battlefield. Cate and Ilda, who didn't know of each other outside my head, were constantly clashing and fighting for territory inside me, hitting out at each other, tearing each other to shreds. The sole purpose of my existence was to be host to the bitter struggle between two rivals neither of whom knew anything about it.

That was the real reason that persuaded me to leave              in a hurry, never to return.


I was attracted to Irma because she reminded me of Dirce. I sat next to her: she just had to turn her body a little towards me and put a hand over her face (I would whisper to her; she would laugh) and the illusion of being close to Dirce was striking. The illusion awoke memories, the memories desires. To transmit them to Irma somehow, I gripped her hand. Her touch and the way she started revealed her to me for what she was, different. This sensation was stronger than the other, but without cancelling it out, and, in itself, agreeable. I realized that I would be able to derive a double pleasure from Irma: that of pursuing through her the lost Dirce, and that of allowing myself to be surprised by an unfamiliar presence.

Every desire traces its curve within us, a line that climbs, wavers, sometimes dissolves. The line the absent woman evoked in me might, a second before it began to decline, intersect with the line of my curiosity in the present woman, and transmit its upward thrust to this still all undiscovered trajectory. The plan was worth a try: I redoubled my attentiveness in Irma's regard, until I persuaded her to come to my room at night.

She came in. She let her cloak slip off. She was wearing a light white muslin blouse that the wind (it being spring the window was open) ruffled. That was when I realized that a different and unexpected mechanism was taking charge of my sensations and thoughts. It was Irma who was taking up the whole field of my attention, Irma as a unique and unrepeatable person, skin and voice and eyes, while the resemblances to Dirce that occasionally surfaced in my mind were no more than a disturbance, so much so that I was eager to be rid of them.

Hence my meeting with Irma became a battle with the shade of Dirce who kept on sneaking in between us, and every time I felt I was about to capture the indefinable essence of Irma, every time I felt I had established an intimacy between us that excluded every other presence or thought, back came Dirce, or the past experience that Dirce embodied for me, to stamp her impression on what I was experiencing that very moment and prevent me from feeling it as new. At this point Dirce, her memory, the mark she had made on me, brought me nothing but annoyance, constraint, boredom.

Dawn was coming in through the shutter slats in blades of pearl-grey light, when I realized beyond any doubt that my night with Irma was not the one now about to end, but another night like this one, a night still to come when I would seek the memory of Irma in another woman, and suffer first when I found her again and when I lost her again, and then when I couldn't free myself from her.


I rediscovered Tullia twenty years on. Chance, which in the past had brought us together only to separate us just when we realized we liked each other, now finally allowed us to pick up the thread of our relationship at the point where it had broken off. 'You haven't changed at all,' we both told each other. Were we lying? Not entirely: 'I haven't changed,' was what both she and I wished to have the other understand.

This time the relationship developed as both expected. At first it was Tullia's mature beauty which engaged all my attention, and only later did I tell myself not to forget the young Tullia, seeking to recover the continuity between the two. Hence, playing a game that came to us spontaneously when we talked, we would pretend that our separation had lasted twenty-four hours and not twenty years, and that our memories were of things that had happened only the day before. It was lovely, but it wasn't true. If I thought of myself as I was then with her as she was then, I was confronted with two strangers; they aroused warmth, affection, plenty of it, tenderness too, but what I was able to imagine in their regard had nothing to do with what Tullia and I were now.

Of course we still regretted how all too brief our first encounter had been. Was it the natural regret for lost youth? But my present satisfaction I felt gave me no cause for regret; and Tullia too, now I was getting to know her, was a woman too taken up with the present to abandon herself to nostalgia. Regret for what we hadn't been able to have then? Maybe a little, but not entirely: because (again with this exclusive enthusiasm for what the present was giving us) I felt (perhaps wrongly) that if our desire had been satisfied at once it might have removed something from our happiness today. If anything the regret had to do with what those two poor youngsters, those 'others', had lost, and was added to the sum of all the losses the world suffers in every instant never to retrieve. From the height of our sudden richness, we deigned to cast a compassionate eye on those excluded: hardly a disinterested feeling, since it allowed us to savour our privilege the better.

Two opposing conclusions can be drawn from my relationship with Tullia. One might say that having found each other again cancelled out the separation of twenty years before, erased the loss we suffered; and one might say on the contrary that it rendered that loss decisive, desperate. Those two (Tullia and I as we were then) had lost each other for ever, never to meet again, and in vain would they have called on the Tullia and I of today for help, since we (the selfishness of happy lovers is boundless) had entirely forgotten them.


Of other women I remember a gesture, a repeated expression, an inflexion, that were intimately bound up with the essence of the person and distinguished them like a signature. Not so with Sofia. Or rather, I remember a great deal about Sofia, too much perhaps: eyelids, calves, a belt, a perfume, many preferences and obsessions, the songs she knew, an obscure confession, some dreams; all things my memory still keeps in its store and links with her but which are doomed to be lost because I can't find the thread that binds them together and I don't know which of them contains the real Sofia. Between each detail lies a gap; and taken one by one, they might just as well be attributed to someone else as to her. As for our lovemaking (we met in secret for months), I remember that it was different every time, and although this should be a positive quality for someone like myself who fears the blunting effect of habit, it now turns out to be a fault, since I can't remember what prompted me to go to her rather than anyone else each time I went. In short, I don't remember anything at all.

Perhaps all I wanted to understand about her at the beginning was whether I liked her or not: that was why the first time I saw her I bombarded her with questions, some of them indiscreet. Instead of fending these off, which she could well have done, in reply to every question she overwhelmed me with all kinds of clarifications, revelations and allusions, at once fragmentary and digressive, while I, in my struggle to keep up with her and hold on to what she was telling me, got more and more lost. Result: it was as if she hadn't answered me at all.

To establish communication in a different language I risked a caress. In response Sofia's movements were entirely aimed at containing and putting off my assault, if not exactly rejecting it, with the result that the moment one part of her body slipped away from my hand, my fingers would slither on to another, her evasion thus leading me to carry out an exploration of her skin at once fragmentary yet extensive. In short, the information gathered through touch was no less abundant than that recorded by hearing, albeit equally incoherent.

Nothing remained but to complete our acquaintance on every level and as soon as possible. But was it one unique woman this person who undressed before me, removing both the visible and invisible clothes the ways of the world impose on us, or was it many women in one? And which of these was it that attracted me, which that put me off? There was never an occasion when I didn't discover something I wasn't expecting in Sofia, and less and less would I have been able to answer that first question I had asked myself: did I or didn't I like her?

Today, going over it in my memory, another doubt occurs: is it that when a woman hides nothing of herself I am incapable of understanding her; or is it that Sofia in revealing herself so abundantly was deploying a sophisticated strategy for not letting me capture her? And I tell myself: of all of them, she was the one who got away, as if I had never had her. But did I really have her? And then I ask myself: and who did I really have? And then again: have who? what? what does it mean?


I met Fulvia at the right moment: as chance would have it I was the first man in her young life. Unfortunately this lucky encounter was destined to be brief; circumstances obliged me to leave town; my ship was already in harbour; the next morning it was due to set sail.

We were both aware that we would not see each other again, and equally aware that this was part of the established and ineluctable order of things; hence the sadness we felt, though to differing degrees, was governed, once again to differing degrees, by reason. Fulvia already sensed the emptiness she would feel when our new and barely begun familiarity was broken off, but also the freedom this would open up for her and the many opportunities it would provide; I on the other hand had a habit of placing the events of my life in a pattern where the present receives light and shade from the future, a future whose trajectory in this case I could already imagine right up to its decline; what I foresaw for Fulvia was the full flowering of an amorous vocation which I had helped to awaken.

Hence in those last dallyings before our farewell I couldn't help seeing myself as merely the first of the long series of lovers Fulvia was doubtless going to have, and to reassess what had happened between us in the light of her future experiences. I realized that every last detail of a passion that Fulvia had surrendered herself to with total abandon would be remembered and judged by the woman she would become in just a few years' time. As things stood now, Fulvia accepted everything about me without judging: but the day was not far off when she would be able to compare me with other men; every memory of me would be subjected to parallels, distinctions, judgements. I had before me an as yet inexperienced girl for whom I represented all that could be known, but all the same I felt I was being watched by the Fulvia of tomorrow, demanding and disenchanted.

My first reaction was one of fear of comparison. Fulvia's future men, I thought, would be capable of making her fall totally in love with them, as she had not been with me. Sooner or later Fulvia would deem me unworthy of the fortune that had befallen me; it would be disappointment and sarcasm that kept alive her memory of me: I envied my nameless successors, I sensed that they were already lying in wait, ready to snatch Fulvia away, I hated them, and already I hated her too because Fate had already destined her for them . . .

To escape this pain, I reversed the train of my thoughts, passing from self-detraction to self-praise. It wasn't hard: by temperament I am rather inclined to forming a high opinion of myself than a low. Fulvia had had an invaluable stroke of luck meeting me first; but taking me as a model would expose her to cruel disappointments. Other men she would meet would seem crude, feeble, dull and dumb, after myself. In her innocence she no doubt imagined my good qualities to be fairly common attributes amongst my sex; I must warn her that seeking from others what she had found in me could only lead to disillusionment. I shivered in horror at the thought that after such a happy beginning Fulvia might fall into unworthy hands, who would harm her, maim her, debase her. I hated all of them; and I ended up hating her too because destiny was to snatch her from me condemning her to a degraded future.

One way or another, the passion that had me in its grip was, I suspect, the one I have always heard described as 'jealousy', a mental disturbance from which I had imagined circumstances had rendered me immune. Having established that I was jealous, all I could do was behave like a jealous man. I lost my temper with Fulvia, telling her I couldn't stand her being so calm just before we were about to part; I accused her of hardly being able to wait to betray me; I was unkind to her, cruel. But she (no doubt out of inexperience) seemed to find this change in my mood natural and wasn't unduly upset. Very sensibly she advised me not to waste the little time we had left together on pointless recriminations.

Then I knelt at her feet, I begged her to pardon me, not to inveigh too bitterly against me when she had found a companion worthy of her; I hoped for no greater indulgence than to be forgotten. She treated me as though I were mad; she wouldn't let me speak of what had happened between us in anything but the most flattering terms; otherwise, she said, it spoiled the effect.

This served to reassure me as to my image, but then I found myself commiserating with Fulvia over her future destiny: other men were worthless; I should warn her that the fullness she'd known with me wouldn't happen again with anyone else. She answered that she too felt sorry for me, because our happiness came from our being together, once apart we would both lose it; but to preserve it for some time longer we should both immerse ourselves in it totally without imagining we could define it from without.

The conclusion I came to from without, waving my handkerchief to her from the ship as the anchor was raised, was this: the experience that had entirely occupied Fulvia all the time she was with me was not the discovery of myself and not even the discovery of love or of men, but of herself; even in my absence this discovery, once begun, would never cease; I had only been an instrument.