Casanova’s Eternal Chase

The combination of three names on the title page of a book by Stephen Zweig strikes one as surprising when two of them are Tolstoy and Casanova. Whatever can these two names have in common? The author of that book hardly grasps this. As a follow-up we perform here an analysis of the story which has a considerable amount of Tolstoy’s self-confession in it—the narration of a Kreutzersonate.

Together with that we shall analyze a characteristic episode from Casanova’s memoirs because we can thus produce a confirmation that what Don Juan actually looks for in his eternal search is not to be found: a man in a woman.

Here is Bellino’s story. Casanova made a chance acquaintance of an artistic family — mother, two sons and two daughters. One of the “sons” seems to him to be of uncertain sex. The friend who had introduced him to the family invites him to listen to a lady singer, but actually means Bellino. Bellino was introduced by the mother as her son. Casanova thinks that he must be a eunuch who plays women’s roles, as was the custom in ancient Rome where women were forbidden to appear on stage. While listening to the singing Casanova feels a fire flaring up in his heart and sees with his eyes that Bellino has a bust. He allows his imagination a free rein and feels that he is passionately in love. He leaves the spot where he accidentally met the Bellino family without feeling intrigued about whether Bellino is a boy or a girl.

The next day he tries to start a sexual play with Bellino, but he still faces the two younger sisters “two buds who only wait for a breath of love to come into a bloom. If I had thought that Bellino was a eunuch, regarded as scum of the human race, I would have naturally preferred him to his marvelous sisters.”

Grateful for a gift of money given to him for his efforts, the other brother kisses him on the mouth with half-open lips. “Seemingly he presumed such tendencies in me which I did not possess. I let him know that he was mistaken.”

Casanova also uses money to find out from the mother whether Bellino is a boy or a girl. The mother claims that he is a boy, but Casanova does not believe her anymore than if himself could look over Bellino over with his own eyes. He leaves the mother some money. He feeds the whole family, even offers money to Bellino, who insists that he is a eunuch. However he puts his hand on Bellino’s chest and finds that it is the bust of a seventeen-year old girl, and not the repulsive one of a eunuch. Bellino retorts that eunuchs also have developed chests.

Casanova covers Bellino with kisses—he still calls him a “he” although he considers him to be a girl. Bellino runs away. He (Casanova) spent the night with the beautiful young sister, with the approval of the match-maker mother. This time, however, unusually for him, he finds that he cannot whisper the usual love words to her. He stays another night in order to establish whether a male or a female being is the object of his passion. The second night they give him the young sister, again for remuneration. The secret must be exposed that day.

In the evening Bellino appears in a woman’s dress. “At the table I could not tear my hungry eyes away from that adorable creature. I felt a sweet blissfulness in imagining that Bellino was of that sex that I wanted him to be.”

"I completely lost the rest of my reason… my instinct could not have led me astray so much, and I could not have the feelings which underpinned my fiery hopes towards a eunuch. But I wanted to convince myself of the truth with my own eyes."

Casanova is unsure. He says so himself. And at the same time he loves him passionately and hopes very much that it is a girl. This is characteristic. We shall soon see that this hope was actually a disappointment. The hope to find a girl in him and his expressions of aversion towards eunuchs before he had found out who he was dealing with are the games of the double ego.

Casanova’s friend, who does not care one way or the other, thinks that Bellino is a eunuch.

Bellino’s behavior was intriguing. But we can already solve the puzzle—it was a girl. Casanova tells us only after twenty-five pages. She said to Casanova: “I am that which I told you I was, and cannot resolve to prove my disgrace to you, especially since I would risk to be pursued by your worthy self."

Something psychologically revealing lies in her words. But he makes a few more passes at Bellino and draws back in fear. It seems that he recognizes the man.

Then he allows Bellino to accompany him to the nearest town. “The whole affair is still strange and incredible, and although I was entirely convinced of my error. I did not stop to wonder about him (Bellino) and his true character."

The next day they drove off together. The mother whispers the Lord’s prayer when saying goodbye and afterwards Casanova makes the following rejoinders “The belief in the blissfulness of providence which is peculiar to most people who practice unlawful or immoral professions is not nonsensical or hypocritical. There are many feelings in it, and also love for God."

To this he adds a saying in Latin which was used by thieves in the time of Horace while they turned to their goddess: “Fair Laverne, give me the power to and to appear sincere and holy and cover my deeds with darkness (night) and my sins with a deceptive cloud."

During the voyage emotions rise again in Casanova’s head. Once again he demands to know the truth from Bellino because he has a “magic” influence on him. If you still refuse, I shall think that you took it upon yourself to torment me, and that you are a good physiologist who found the best way to make a love-inflicted illness incurable, constantly heating the passion without ever satisfying it.” This is actually Don Juan’s fate, because he is unable to commit himself.

“You would not be cured,” answers Bellino, “even if I proved I was either a boy or a girl; you are in love with me regardless of which sex I am.” These words tell about the attraction to people of the same sex (homosexuals) because — as we explain in another paper—it is actually the indifference to sex arising from a narcissistic self-love which swings the pendulum of passion towards its own kind. This is safer. The movement in amplitude towards the two poles is like that of a man trying to secure this attraction to the most distant pole. However, it is the force of gravity, and not the artificial intellectually derived force which is the stronger one that always tends downwards towards homogeneity. It is one of the conditions of life, and the origin of culture to overcome this tendency.

“Oh no,” says Bellino, “the male would not evoke a feeling of repulsion in you. I am convinced of it. Your hot temper would triumph over your reason and your reason would even serve your passion.” ...You shall not have any peace, you shall seek what cannot be found. How can you believe that you will stop to love me when I prove that I am a man? Will the beauty and the charm you find in me disappear? You shall be able to convince yourself that you can change me into a woman or, worse still, you will imagine that I myself can change my sex.”

This girl who speaks here through Casanova’s pen is balking about some deeply psychological subjects here. The origins of paranoid insanity are also sketched here with an unsuspecting hand.

And he also answers: “If everything were as you say it is, then it would be better to commit occasional sins against nature, which is actually a brief attack of madness, than to let one’s reason go mad with an incurable disease.” The discovery of the secret and the closeness of the relationship are described by Casanova as very passionate. This time we can believe him.

The discovery of male attributes in a woman constitutes the best possible circumstance for love in a latent homosexual who toys with the idea of male-female in his fantasy. (During the transvestitism an artificial phallus was used in the erotic culmination, according to Casanova’s description.)

We might expect now that this “magic” attraction, or set of circumstances will quickly fade with the advent of reality. The usual psychological game of retreat starts now. In the morning he resolves to marry her. They travel on during the day. He forgets his passport. How are we to explain this in a man who has just decided to get: married? Casanova says it was a coincidence. We know otherwise. He is arrested and separated from his bride. In jail he philosophizes about happiness and sorrow. The retreat continues in spite of his resolutions and philosophical ideas. On the day when he should have received a new passport from Rome he makes an unexpected (even to himself) escape attempt using an officer’s horse. The escape seems quite Irrational because it can only complicate his situation. However, we shall understand the psychology of this when we realize that it is a flight from marriage, from the commitment of oneself to one woman, from women altogether and from his dark impulses.

In a few days he once more meets Bellino—secretly this time, because he is in hiding. She now lives under the name Theresa. She thinks that he is in love with her more than ever, but this is not the case anymore. Very soon he must put two feelings to a test: love and self-love. He advises Theresa to go to Naples and tells her that she should not sacrifice her career for him, but that he cannot go with her because in that very place the local society will turn against him. So much rationalization. “I have resolved not to listen to the voice of my heart.” Just when that voice was dying away. “To drink love for a week was stronger than reason, but reason sweeps away love just as everything else in life.” This is Peter Gynt, seeing to be without principles, but haunted by impulses which he cannot overcome.

It was this secret, the male and the female, which attracted his passion in such a way which even for him was unusual. This exerted a magical force on him only as long as the object was a magical sphinx. When it lost the cloud of glory for him, and Casanova went on in his infinite search. Is not the sphinx himself thought to be the symbol of the puzzle, since this stone figure seems to be of an indefinite sex?