21 March 2013
Paquita and Oriental Art
The “feminine” in the novella The Girl with the Golden Eyes is most exemplified in Paquita. Her femininity is desired by many of the characters because she exudes all things associated with the Orient – decadence, sensuality, indolence, femininity, and brutality (in her death). These qualities are not part of Western culture as Balzac says, “it is only in the Orient that the human race presents a magnificent feature”. Paquita’s lifestyle and appearance exhibits all the qualities that the Western male desires in the Eastern female. Balzac touches on the Western culture versus Eastern and claims that Parisians can only attain one of two desires - those are “gold or pleasure”, but they cannot have both. When Henri obtains both of these desires in the form of the female Orient (Paquita) he ends up planning to kill her because he cannot tame her (she ends up having another lover). Balzac seems to suggest that the West will never be able to conquer the East because ultimately they will just destroy it. The West longs for an idealized other that they can never have. Despite Paquita and Henri’s passionate affair, Balzac writes the female Orient as a very untouchable and separate figure not meant for the West’s consumption.
According to the novella, Orient women are found in “little happy colonies” and in “oriental fashion and can preserve their beauty”. However, he says “these women rarely show themselves on foot in the streets, they lie hid like rare plants who only unfold their petals at certain hours, and constitute veritable exotic exceptions”. This describes the Orient as untouchable. Likewise, Paquita is barely seen during the day and her beauty is exotic and rare. When Henri sees her he describes her eyes as “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”. The comparison of...