Lucia works as a servant girl in Italy and is engaged to be married. But after the pox disfigures her face, she flees in shame without telling her lover. Years later, as a reknowned Amsterdam courtesan who never goes out without her veil, Lucia is at the theater when she recognizes her long-lost fiancé, Giacomo Casanova; and she cannot resist the opportunity to encounter him again. Based on a woman who appeared briefly in Casanova’s legendary diaries, Lucia emerges as a brilliant woman who becomes every bit his match. In Lucia’s Eyes by Arthur Japin is an elegant and moving story of love denied and transformed.
According to brief references in his autobiography, the adult Casanova happens upon his lost adolescent love, Lucia, in an Amsterdam brothel where he is shocked to find that she has become, in his own words, "repulsive" (see the author’s postscript on page 233). Japin imagines this chance meeting of the former sweethearts through the eyes of the young woman herself, constructing Lucia’s own autobiography almost as a counterpart to Casanova’s celebrated memoirs. In Japin’s hands, the story of Lucia’s tragic life becomes a complex exploration of the meaning of love and human nature, as well as an unflinchingly honest portrait of Dutch prostitution in the eighteenth century.
The beautiful and innocent Lucia falls in love with the dashing young Casanova, whom she meets at her childhood home in rural northern Italy. When Casanova leaves for Venice to pursue his diplomatic career, promising to return in the spring to marry Lucia, tragedy strikes: Lucia becomes ill with smallpox. She survives the ordeal but her face is permanently scarred and ugly. Knowing that Casanova cannot pursue his career in Venice with an unsightly wife, she chooses to give him up — instructing her mother to tell him that in his absence she ran off with a courier. The rejected Casanova departs, and Lucia, in desperation, flees her home forever to make her way alone.
In Bologna, Lucia develops her new identity, Galathée de Pompignac, and becomes a secretary to Zélide, a French female archaeologist. As they travel together through Italy and France, Lucia’s education is furthered by the ideas of the Europe’s nascent Age of Enlightenment. However, after Zélide’s untimely death, Lucia moves on to Amsterdam where it is not long before her destitution drives her to the sordid life of a prostitute. Years later, after Lucia’s position has finally improved and she has become a highly-desired courtesan, Lucia’s emotional foundation is shaken to its core by a chance encounter with the love of her youth: Casanova. The reunion of the former lovers reveals the true meaning of love and survival for Lucia and, ultimately, brings her a chance for a new life.
If you want to know the WHOLE story, you could also read Giacomo Casanova's History of My Life. Known as a womanizer, Casanova retired at 60 to write about his life. Because every previous edition of Casonova's Memoirs had been abridged to suppress the author's political and religious views and tame his vivid, often racy, style, the literary world considered it a major event when Willard R. Trask's translation of the complete original text was published in six double volumes between 1966 and 1971. Trask's award-winning translation now appears in paperback for the first time (at 1512 pages long).
To read all posts related to our discussion of ILE, click here.