Conjuring Casanova, by Melissa Rea


Giacomo Casanova, by Anton Raphael Mengs

Casanova, the ultimate ladies’ man; the legendary lover; author; lawyer; convict (forgery, witchcraft, unlawful gambling). The dreamboat-come-true of Melissa Rea’s feminist heroine-about-town in Conjuring Casanova. In my humble opinion, you’d never know why from the portrait above but Dr. Elizabeth Hillman, 21st Century Chicago Emergency Room doctor, has a thing for Casanova and without even trying, poof, there he is.

fairy dustHow I Met Melissa

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Melissa Rea at a writing conference.
She told our small group of her Casanova idea, and ultimately, Melissa met an agent, the agent met a publisher and VOILA! the project we talked of came to life. Much like Casanova himself does in Conjuring Casanova. Melissa invited me outside and threw a handful of sparkly glitter in the air, telling me it was fairy dust for good luck. Elizabeth Hillman’s version of fairy dust brought her dreamboat to life. But both Elizabeth and her creator make me believe in magic!

Melissa Rea was kind enough to sit down with daeandwrite to answer a few questions that will make your enjoyment of Conjuring Casanova greater and add some depth for your book club’s discussion. Before I get to those, however, let me advise: this novel is hot like Casanova and not for any shrinking violets or nervous readers. There’s sex in it and by that I mean, graphic descriptions. How could it be anything less when the world’s most legendary lover is involved?

Sound like your kind of book? Read on.

Q&A With the Author


Author Melissa Rea

Q: So how did you come up with the idea for Conjuring Casanova? What is Giacomo to Melissa?

A: I was writing a saucy little three book series, which may never be read by anyone, but it takes place in the 18th century. As saucy stories go, I needed to know something about women’s underwear in the time. Like all lazy researchers I Googled, “Women’s underwear in the 18th century”  The answer was, “nowhere are the details of everyday life in the eighteenth century better detailed than in the memoir of Giacomo Casanova.” I ordered the first of 12 volumes and was hooked. It was so outrageously unapologetically honest. He detailed all his success and his hideous failures with equal zest. He blamed no one for his bad luck and always took complete responsibility for his actions. The thing that made me smile was the loving delicacy with which he described his lady loves. He truly believed women worthy of his life’s pursuit and believed himself in love with nearly every one. In this misogynistic age, that was a wonder to this jaded modern gal.

Histoire de Ma Vie is 3700 pages and it took me several times to completely understand the translation of 18th century French written by an Italian. As I re-read, I began to feel like I was sharing the adventures of an old friend, albeit a rather naughty one. Through his writing I  learned about the French lottery, Baroque music, the king of Poland, Italian poetry, Voltaire, Canon Law, the King of France, European geography, 18th century medicine and a wealth of other subjects. How could you not love a man that called women’s body parts, beauties and charms?
I sat one day visiting with my friend through his words and the idea struck me, “What would Casanova think of modern women? More importantly, what would they think of Venice’s most famous libertine? Et voila, Conjuring Casanova was born.


Q: Did you have a playlist that you listened to while writing? For a book club, what listening selections would you suggest? (Barry White?)

A: When I write I can’t listen to anything with words. I sort of enjoyed listening to music of Casanova’s time as I conjured him. I love Vivaldi and Telemann. If you notice, all the chapter titles are pop songs from many genres of music. Each song was one I thought of as I wrote the chapters. (daeandwrite note: see below)

Q: FOOD! Let’s talk food. The food in Conjuring Casanova made me hungry every other page. Was food a big part of Casanova’s memoirs? Did you take any of the food from his memoirs specifically? Have you visited Venice? What food/menu/recipes can you share?

A: Casanova said in his memoir, that he was both an epicure and a glutton and often detailed his meals. The thing I found most surprising was the Italian Ices served for dessert, without benefit of refrigeration. He rarely cooked but was very capable especially when it furthered a seduction. I am a breakfast fan and his eggs cooked in butter with ham, is one of my favorites. The restaurants described in Conjuring Casanova were ones I visited when in Venice doing research. They had both been in operation in some form, according to the waiter, for at least 400 years so Casanova could have eaten there. The spider crab salad Lizzy ate cost 40 Euros but well worth it. My very favorite recipe in the world is Julia Childs Boeuf Bourguignon. . This how Casanova leaned to cook it in the book. I have rarely been able to pull it off, but of course, his was perfect.


I like Melissa’s idea of Julia Child’s beef bourguignon. But, my menu is the one straight from Conjuring Casanova that I haven’t been able to stop thinking of since I read it: crab-stuffed filet mignon, baked potato and creamed asparagus. The novel notes the filet is covered in a delicious sauce, I would use a béarnaise.

Crab Stuffing: Saute one small celery, two green onions in olive oil for one minute then add two crushed garlic cloves, cooking carefully so that the garlic doesn’t brown or burn until the onions are soft. Add 1 cup crabmeat, two tablespoons parsley and 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper.

Butterfly your filets and add the stuffing, tying the filets closed with kitchen twine. Cook steaks in a hot pan 2 minutes each side to brown, Place steaks in oven proof dish and cook in a pre-heated oven of 180 degrees Celsius for 15-20 minutes depending on how thick they are for a nice pink centre.

Bearnaise sauce: don’t tell anyone, but I use the mix.


I like Melissa’s music suggestions and I would play some Vivaldi, but I would also download Giuseppe Verdi’s I Due Foscari, an opera set in Venice.

The song titles from Conjuring Casanova:


Lady Blue

A Little Help from My Friends

Wherever I May Roam

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Stranger in a Strange Land

Sympathy for the Devil

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Beautiful Loserconjuring

Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

Love the One You’re With

Should I Stay or Should I Go

The Night Chicago Died

The Unforgiven

Homeward Bound

Just the Way You Are

Coming Home

The Letter

Life Is A Highway

Happy Reading!

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The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

VF Kaitlyn        Lili_Elbe_1926

What a time to read The Danish Girl. a novel about the first transsexual operations!  What good fortune for the producers of The Danish Girl movie starring last year’s Academy Award-winning actor! What a cosmic shift in the zeitgeist!

Published in 2000, The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff fictionalizes the real life story of Einar Wegener, a Danish man who is believed to be one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery in the 1930s. The movie, starring Eddie Redmayne, will be released November 27, 2015, only a few short months after Bruce Jenner’s own well-publicized transition into Caitlyn.


Einar Wegener, pre-operations

Einar Wegener, a landscape painter living in Copenhagen in the 1920s is known for his small, dark landscapes of the rural Jutland bogs. Somewhat to his surprise, he finds himself mwegenerarried to Greta, a vivid American artist who wears the orange oil of her native California as a perfume. They live together cozily in the top floor apartment of the Widow House adjacent to the Baltic Sea. Einar is content painting “the small rectangles lit by June’s angled light, or dimmed by the dull January sun” but not the incandescent person he becomes through the course of the novel.

Einar Wegener’s transformation begins so naively; Einar’s wife Greta has a portrait to finish but her subject, an opera diva at the Royal Danish Opera, hasn’t sufficient time to pose. Greta needs her husband’ help.

“It’s just that Anna has canceled again. So would you mind trying on her stockings?” Greta asked. “And her shoes?”

The April sun was behind Greta, filtering through the silk hanging limply in her hand. Through the window, Einar could see the tower of the Rundetarn, like an enormous brick chimney, and above it the Deutsche Aero-Lloyd puttering out on its daily return to Berlin.

“Greta?” Einar said. “What do you mean?” An oily bead of paint dropped from his brush to his book. Edvard IV began to bark, his white head turning from Einar to Greta and back.

“Anna’s canceled again,” Greta said. “She has an extra rehearsal of Carmen. I need a pair of legs to finish her portrait, or I’ll never get it done. And then I thought to myself, yours might do.”

Portrait of Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Portrait of Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Ebershoff’s novel captures the extraordinary story of Einar’s transformation into Lili Elbe, beginning with Einar’s secret glee serving as a model for his wife’s painting, to his adoption of his wife’s clothes outside her presence, to falling in love with a man and ultimately living as a woman with a longing to be one.  Einar’s story is not the only fascinating one here; Greta herself undergoes an equally compelling metamorphosis in the novel, transforming her rather pedestrian art into joyous explosions of color.  In real life, Gerda Wegener became a painter of beautiful, but fairly graphic, sexualized paintings.

In The Danish Girl though, it is Lili’s journey that consumes us. Seeking medical opinion after opinion, Greta and Lili are despairing and Lili nearly suicidal when they find a doctor willing to help. He offers to complete a series of devastatingly painful gender reassignment surgery.

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Now, in the middle of the night, Lili didn’t want to disturb Carlisle’s sleep, but she could barely remain silent. The pain was returning, and she was gripping the sash of the blanket, shredding it in fear.  She concentrated on the bulb in the ceiling, biting her lip, but soon the pain had spread through her body, and she was screaming, begging for a morphia injection. She cried for ether. She whimpered for her pills laced with cocaine.

With an echo of the sentiment, Caitlyn Jenner confessed to Vanity Fair that “Pain is kind of, for me, part of the pain for being me.”

eddieThe Danish Girl is fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable and the perfect book for your book club to read now, before Eddie Redmayne’s version hits theaters.

UPDATE: The trailer for the movie has just been released and it looks like a true and beautiful version of the novel.  Here’s the trailer link:


There are lots of mentions of oranges, pickled fish. Einar (Lili) and Greta go to the South of France as well as Copenhagen, offering lots of options. My menu would be a “humorous” take on male/female foods, though, I think.

Sweet Cucumber & Peppers

7 cups sliced cucumber – don’t peel  just score with a fork and slice

1 cup green pepper sliced       cut slices in half again

1 cup sweet onion sliced      cut in half again

1 tablespoon celery seed

Vinegar Mixture

 2 cups white sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

 Stir well and bring this mixture to boil on stove.   When it comes to rolling boil,  take off burner and let cool,  then put in fridge and let get cold before you pour it over vegetables.   When cold, pour over vegetables and stir well and keep covered in frige.  Can eat right away  but better after couple of hours.     

Raw Oysters

Carrots with Hummus

Peach pie

Gingerbread men and women


I asked writer David Ebershoff what music he would recommend pairing with The Danish Girl for a book club night and he said he listened to Strauss’ Four Last Songs quite a bit while writing the novel. He also suggested Mozart’s “trouser” roles, those operas in which women sing the male character’s roles.  Le Nozze di Figaro, La Clemencia de Tito to name two.  See more information here:


No need to cast this one.

The Danish Girl opens in limited theatrical release on November 27, 2015 and opens nationwide this week. It has already been nominated for, and won, a number of prestigious awards, including: Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominates for Alicia Vikander, best supporting actress, Eddie Redmayne, Best Actor.

Happy Reading, Eating & Movie-Watching!