Friday, April 15, 2016

Once Upon a Very Strange Time

Imagine, if you will, a 12-year-old boy in 18th century Amsterdam who is whisked away to the mansion of the richest woman in France, where he is enrolled in the best boys’ school, given jewels and clothing and a pony.
A fairy tale? No, it’s history, and a rather sad one. The boy was the son of Teresa Imer, a former lover of Giacomo Casanova and the half-brother of Casanova’s illegitimate 5-year-old daughter. Casanova took the boy to live with the 63-year-old heiress Jeanne de Lascaris d’Urfé de Le Rouchefoucauld.
The Marquise d’Urfé entertained such purportedly uncanny figures as the Conte de Saint-German, who claimed to be several hundred years old; Franz Anton Mesmer, the pioneer in hypnosis; the Conte di Cagliostro and Casanova, who claimed magical powers derived from the ancient Hebrew secrets of the Cabala. Giuseppi Imer was obtained and pampered because the Marquise was convinced Casanova could help her transplant her soul into the body of a young boy and thereby make her immortal.

No wonder France had a revolution.

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