“They talk about the immorality of the Liaisons Dangereuses, and any other book you like with a vulgar reputation; but there exists a book, horrible, filthy, fearful, corrupting, which is always open and will never be shut, the great book of the world – not to mention another book, a thousand times more dangerous, which is composed of all that men whisper into each other’s ears, or women murmur behind their fans, of an evening in society.”
I’m a very visually-oriented person, which is why I suppose I also love words. Language, for me, is so powerfully evocative and expressive. In hindsight, that’s the only thing I liked about Honoré de Balzac’s The Girl with the Golden Eyes: the language.
The Girl with the Golden Eyes is chock full of motifs and decadent language and imagery. It’s concise, it’s fast-paced, it’s got so much condensed into it that it’s impossible to take everything in. I was so mesmerized by the visuals Balzac was offering me, that I hardly glanced at the deeper meaning behind the racy storytelling. If you’ve read this (or anything else by Balzac, probably – I wouldn’t know, this was my first time reading him) you’ll realize that it’s quite hard to miss the point, because Balzac likes to ‘insert slabs of philosophy, religious discourse and politics’ wherever he sees fit. Sorry, just quoted myself there. There’s a lot of social criticism, and it’s very blatant too. It takes Balzac quite a while to reach the actual characters, because he’s so wrapped up in describing the immorality of Parisians, and everything else that was ever wrong with France up until the July Monarchy. I rather liked that part of the novella more than the ‘romance’ between Henri de Marsay and Paquita Valdes, though. Call me prudish, but there was something nasty about the experience of reading it; like swallowing bitter medicine, only to find afterwards that it’s petrol, not medicine.
If I were to compare The Girl with the Golden Eyes to what I’ve read in the past, I’d say it reminds me most of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Les Miserables. For different reasons, of course. Les Miserables probably more contextually, because you know, French writers, 19th century, heavy focus on society. Dorian Gray, because of language and themes. Wilde has a more flamboyant way of storytelling; he really cakes on words, and seems to like drowning his readers in the opulence and sheer magnificence of his language. Though Balzac is less wordy, and actually quite minimalist in his writing, The Girl with the Golden Eyes had the same quality of richness that I found in Dorian Gray. What I liked best was the gold motif. Gold is linked to immorality,
Every passion in Paris resolves into two terms: gold and pleasure.
And in chief, what struck me the most, what I am still taken with, are her two yellow eyes, like a tiger’s, a golden yellow that gleams, living gold, gold which thinks, gold which loves, and is determined to take refuge in your pocket
to Parisians in general:
One of those sights in which most horror is to be encountered is, surely, the general aspect of the Parisian populace–a people fearful to behold, gaunt, yellow, tawny.
It’s the thread of continuity that links Balzac’s more general observations of society with the story of Henri and Paquita. Lust, homosexuality, incest, murder – there are hints of it; though you’d miss it if you weren’t paying close attention. Can’t say much more than that; I think I need to read more Balzac before I can say anything meaningful.
» B for Balzac: this book was read as a part of the A to Z challenge