Yes, dear UBUFAN, I did it again – read another BALZAC book, a novella actually, called THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN EYES, and, although I have been certified, don’t ya know, as a MASTER OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE by as second rate an institution as the large UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA (yes, UBU was a GRADUATE SCHOOL GOPHER), I still had to go on line to resolve my confusion about the predictably calamitous and bloody ending. It turns out (phew) I was right, but had simply refused to credit my own interpretation as too perverse. It all goes to show that we of the 21st century may think of ourselves as so advanced and jaded, but that mankind has been KINKY from the beginning (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I should have guessed from the edition which was from an elegantly printed series of risque works of serious literature, titillation with snob appeal, what direction the book would take. Perverse as the plot twist is (and I won’t play INTERNET SPOILER) there’s certainly nothing pornographic about it, not even the super ugly line drawings which don’t show any skin. BALZAC puts a lot of filler in his little tale – it’s the kind of thing my man DE MAUPASSANT would knock out in eight pages to better effect, but BALZAC’s little treatise on PARIS that begins the book is worth the price of admission.
It also got me to thinking about how NATURALISM and the DECADENT movement, which, given the latter’s love of the artificial, would seem to be natural antipodes, were so intermingled, especially in England, where guys like ZOLA and HARDY were found to be prurient, and my beloved, unknown HUBERT CRACKENTHORPE, who wrote like JAMES JOYCE circa DUBLINERS, could be considered a integral part of the YELLOW BOOK crowd (which also included that wild boy not HENRY JAMES). Maybe movements that come at the same historical moment have more in common than they think – like DISCO and PUNK, perhaps? I’ll let DEBBIE HARRY hash that one out!
Anyway here’s a few of my favorite snippets from The Girl With the Golden Eyes – and despite being a little prolix and disorganized. Balzac’s a prose master even in translation. He also makes a comment on books with "a vulgar reputation," knowing full well he’s written one that will acquire such a reputation:
"Farewell," she said, seizing Henri by the waist and twining round him like a serpent. She pressed him on every side at once, lifted her head to his, and offered him her lips, then snatched a kiss which filled them both with such dizziness that it seemed to Henri as though the earth opened; and Paquita cried: "Enough, depart!" in a voice which told how little she was mistress of herself.
The scene was like a dream to De Marsay, but one of those dreams which, even when they fade away, leave a feeling of supernatural voluptuousness, which a man runs after for the remainder of his life.
There was something somber, mysterious, sweet, tender, constrained and expansive, an intermingling of the awful and celestial, of paradise and hell, which made De Marsay like a drunken man.
Like an eagle darting on its prey, he took her utterly to him, set her on his knees, and felt with an indescribable intoxication the voluptuous pressure of the girl, whose richly developed beauties softly enveloped him.
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.