Tuesday, August 9, 2011

#9: The Girl With the Golden Eyes by Honore de Balzac

The Girl With the Golden Eyes
by Honore de Balzac
-born in France, 1799
-123 Pages
-translated by Charlotte Mandell
-more about Balzac (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Honore de Balzac was born into a bourgeois family, and added the aristocratic "de" to his name in adulthood.
- Soon after graduating from the Sorbonne, he quit law and began his legendary habit of writing feverishly around the clock, fueled by dozens of cups of coffee.
- He not only wrote many successful novels, he also started many failed businesses, including a pineapple farm.
- Balzac cemented his status as the Father of Realism with his 95-volume La Comedie Humaine.
- He married a Polish countess in 1850, with whom he'd conducted a romantic correspondence for 18 years, only to die 5 months later.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
Raw as HonorĂ© de Balzac is famed to be, this daring novella—never before published as a stand-alone book—is perhaps the most outlandish thing he ever wrote. While still concerned with the depiction of the underside of Parisian life, as is most of Balzac’s oeuvre, The Girl with the Golden Eyes considers not the working lives of the poor, but the sex lives of the upper crust.

In a nearly boroque rendering with erotically charged details as well as lush and extravagant language, The Girl with the Golden Eyes tells the story of a rich and ruthless young man in nineteenth century Paris caught up in an amorous entanglement with a mysterious beauty. His control slipping, incest, homosexuality, sexual slavery, and violence combine in what was then, and still remains, a shocking and taboo-breaking work.

My Impressions:
This is, admittedly, my first encounter with Balzac; and more than that, I'm rather unfamiliar with French literature in general, apart from Dumas. (And, just so you know, all those commas--and even the semi-colon--are inspired by Balzac himself.  Boy is he on friendly terms with lists and punctuation!  There was one sentence where I counted 29 commas/semi-colons and 178 words! Wowzers!  For all of that, however, his writing is easy to understand.) Example:
No tryst had ever taken place in so decent a way, or so chaste, or even so cold, in a place made more terrible in its details, before a more hideous divinity--for this mother of hers had stayed in Henri's imagination like something hellish, crouching, cadaverous, vicious, savage, something the fantasies of painters and poets had not yet guessed.
Anyhow, I was saying that this is my first experience with Balzac.  (I say that to offer justification for how incorrect my impressions of him may be!)  He seems to take great pride in the Parisian people, perhaps especially in their faults.  He describes their grotesqueness in the way a dog lover extols the Chinese Crested. The first 29 pages of this novella were devoted to their details, and he wasted no time getting to his point.  The first sentence reads:
One of the most appalling spectacles that exists is undoubtedly the general appearance of the Parisian population, a people horrible to see, gaunt, sallow, weather-beaten.
The thing that I liked the most about this novella was not the story, (which was okay, but took a while to get going and then had a bit too much dramatic flair for my tastes,) but how the writing showed Balzac's own personality.  He is so effusive at times that I could almost hear him animatedly describing his characters, I could almost see him scribbling furiously while simultaneously downing his coffee.  He seems to be passionately in love with writing as an art form, with the romance of story-telling, and with the gritty reality of hidden behavior.  At this point I'm not putting more Balzac on my TBR list, but I am very glad to have had some exposure to him.  Here's one last example of how his personality shone through his writing and actually made me laugh aloud: (emphasis added)
He [...] went to bed, and slept the sleep of bad citizens, which, by an odd coincidence that no songwriter has yet turned to his advantage, also happens to be as profound as the sleep of innocence.
Can't you hear him wondering why there hadn't been a song written about such a profound thought?  


  1. I've been thinking about trying a novella for a while but hadn't found one that interested me enough... this definitely sounds like it would fit the bill!

  2. I just started reading this the other day,and read through all of the discussion of the social stratification of Paris at the beginning. I thought it was pretty wonderful. I loved your review.

  3. I've never read Balzac... think I may just start here, too. Great review!

  4. He really does have a unique voice, and a charisma that shines through his words. What a character!


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