Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

Allegory and Exoticism: Balzac's Allusion to la Liberte Guidant le Peuple in la Fille Aux Yeux D'or

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

Allegory and Exoticism: Balzac's Allusion to la Liberte Guidant le Peuple in la Fille Aux Yeux D'or

Article excerpt

It is easy to see why Balzac's short novel, La Fille aux yeux d'or, is dedicated to painter Eugene Delacroix, since it is filled with exotic imagery, death and half-naked women. The two possibly knew each other as early as 1824, and Balzac cleady draws his inspiration for Paquita, the "jeune creole des Antilles," from Delacroix's exotic female figures (5: 1058). (1) Nevertheless, the exact nature of their friendship remains elusive. Rose Fortassier notes that although Delacroix sometimes wrote disparagingly of Balzac, he at least penned his high regard for Louis Lambert around the time Balzac began writing La Fille auxyeux d'or (5: 1530). Fortassier fails to mention, however, that this letter is actually an unfinished draft and a rare instance of praise in an otherwise highly critical corpus of writing. (2) While Balzac addressed Delacroix in a letter as "Mon cher et excellent Eugene," Delacroix once expressed relief at Balzac's absence by qualifying the writer as "un bavard qui eut rompu cet accord de nonchalance dans lequel je me berce avec plaisir." (3) Clearly, they were not dose. Yet, however lukewarm Delacroix's sentiments, Balzac's ardent admiration for the painter radiates throughout his fiction and correspondence, and he would eventually dedicate La Fille aux yeux d'or to Delacroix in 1843. Moreover, in Les Paysans, Balzac alludes to Delacroix's La Liberte guidant lepeuple (one of four Delacroix masterpieces specifically cited by Balzac) and he evokes the artist's name no fewer than eight times in the Comedie humaine (Monnet 48). (4)

Critics have long appreciated Delacroix's importance when reading La Fille aux yeux d'or, but they have nonetheless overlooked a striking allusion to Delacroix's then controversial La Liberte guidant le peuple (1830) in the bloody denouement of Balzac's novel as the marquise stands wild-eyed and bare-breasted over a dead body. Whether or not this allusion was intentional, I will show that it allows the novel as a whole to resonate with the political and social context of the July Monarchy, even though the story of De Marsay and Paquita takes place some fifteen years earlier during the 'Hundred Days.' (5) More than just a wink to an admirer, the allusion to Delacroix's fleshy and hirsute Liberte actually represents a far-reaching historical commentary on the end of allegory amid rampant materialism in the 1830s.

Existing literature highlights either Balzac's talent for vividly capturing a scenic moment in the grand style of the Romantic painter, or the influence of Delacroix's exoticism in La Fille aux yeux d'or rather than precise allusions to any one painting. For Debarati Sanyal, for instance, Paquita represents an "exotic harem girl out of a Delacroix painting," and both she and Henry Majewski suggest that Delacroix's La Mort de Sardanapale (1827) may have inspired Balzac's lavish oriental boudoir where Paquita Valdes is stabbed to death (100). Critics often argue that Balzac alludes simultaneously to several of Delacroix's paintings, without suggesting that any particular scene in La Fille aux yeux d'or recreates them exactly. "Although Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement is arguably the intertext for the boudoir scenes in the novel," writes Majewski, "one cannot claim that Balzac is 'imitating' the painting. The composition of Balzac's 'scene-tableau' clearly differs from that of the picture[...]" (87). (6) Instead, Majewski finds the violence and dominant color "red" in La Fille aux yeux d'or more consistent with La Mort de Sardanapale (87). (7) Georges Hirschfell, who also compares color schemes in La Fille aux yeux d'or to Delacroix's work, suggests the central figure of La Femme au perroquet (1827) as a possible inspiration for Paquita, while others have also argued for the influence of La Femme aux bas blancs (1825-1832). (8)

La Fille aux yeux d'or supports all of these parallels and because Balzac did not dedicate his novella to Delacroix until 1843 (well after these paintings were first displayed in their respective Salons) it is likely that a variety of Delacroix's oeuvres influenced Balzac's composition. …

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