When Casanova didn’t find his writer’s voice

By coincidence, I came across a passage in Giacomo Casanova’s memoirs that seems to sum up perfectly the mystery surrounding a writer’s voice that Cheri and I talked about yesterday.

Casanova, a Venetian, was studying French and visiting a teacher three times a week for an entire year. Once, he composed some poetry and showed it to his teacher.

Teacher: Your thought is noble and very poetic; your language is flawless; your verses are good and quite correctly measured; and yet in spite of all that, your octave is bad.

Casanova: How so?

Teacher: I haven’t any idea. What’s lacking is that certain something. Imagine seeing a man whom you find handsome, well-built, pleasing, full of intelligence and wit: in a word, perfect in your severest judgment. A woman arrives, gives the man a look and after considering him well, tells you, as she leaves, that she doesn’t find him at all attractive. ‘But Madame,’ you say, ‘tell me what you don’t like about him.’ ‘I haven’t the vaguest idea,’ she says. You return to this man, look at him more carefully, and you finally realize that he’s a castrato. ‘Ah,’ you say, ‘now I see why that woman didn’t find him to her liking.’ (page 169 here)

Fortunately for Casanova, he discovered that in his primary field of endeavor in life, which was not writing, he had rather enough of that certain something.
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9 thoughts on “When Casanova didn’t find his writer’s voice

  1. I know. And I checked out your blog. How cool to live in an old ambulance!
    Where in Hong Kong were your favorite ad hoc abodes? Did you ever crash on Cheung Sha beach or in Sai Kung?

  2. I shouldn’t digress or take the low road as I am inclined (you’re a scholar), but I’d like to see your reader’s best metaphors for that ‘certain something;’ that is, in terms of romance, not writing. For example, as an elderly neighbor (and scholar) told me; ‘I dated a woman after my first wife died, but it didn’t work out. I guess she just didn’t melt my butter.’

    By the way, Somerset Maugham has an essay for people like me who make use of semicolons in excess; correctly and otherwise.

  3. Low roads wittily traveled in good company can have good views, so let’s take this one, Mr Crotchety.

    I like ‘melt my butter’, but I instinctively view that as a feminine metaphor. I can’t entirely say why.

    The very first thing that pops into my head is Austin Powers’ use of “mojo”. Clearly that won’t do. I shall ponder…

    Also, if you could please offer another hint about that essay by Somerset Maugham, I’d quite like to dig it out….

  4. I lied. The essay isn’t really an essay, but a passage from a short story called “The Creative Impulse.” The semicolon bit leaps out of the story. I just Googled it. A short cut didn’t really fall into my lap. Your best bet is to read the story and enjoy the full commentary.

  5. Cheri Block Sabraw,

    The Jose Feliciano version of ‘Light My Fire’ used to give me bad dreams as a child. I thought my house was going to burn down. Personal baggage not withstanding, I should be so easily kindled.

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