Honoré de Balzac

“I’m surprised, old man,” he said to de Marsay, “that you’re here, on Sunday.”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“An affair?”

“Possibly. . . .”


“I could easily say just the same to you, without compromising my own amour. Anyway a woman who comes to the Tuileries on Sunday is of no consequence, aristocratically speaking.”


“Be quiet, or I won’t tell you anything else. You laugh too loudly, you’ll make people think we overdid it at lunch. Last Thursday, here, on the Feuillants esplanade, I was strolling along without thinking about anything at all. But when I had reached the gate to the Rue de Castiglione through which I planned to leave, I found myself face to face with a woman, or rather a young lady who, if she didn’t exactly throw her arms around my neck, still found herself halted, stopped dead—less, I think, out of human respect than through one of those profound shocks that numb your arms and legs, travel down your spine, and end in the soles of your feet, rooting you to the ground. I have often produced effects of this sort, a kind of animal magnetism that becomes intense when both parties feel interconnected. But, dear friend, I was not drunk, and she was not an ordinary tart. Psychologically speaking, her face seemed to say: ‘What, you’re here, my ideal, the being from my innermost thoughts, my dreams morning and night? How can you be? Why this morning? Why not yesterday? Take me, I’m yours, et cetera!’ ‘Oh good,’ I said to myself, ‘another one!’ So I examined her. Ah! Dear friend, physically speaking, this stranger is the most delightfully feminine woman I have ever met. She belongs to that variety of female the Romans called fulva, flava, a woman of fire. 

The Girl with the Golden Eyes

And what struck me first of all, what I’m still smitten with, are her two yellow eyes, like tiger’s eyes; a golden yellow that gleams, living gold, gold that thinks, gold that loves and wants more than anything to come nestle inside your watch-pocket!”

“But we know all about that, old man!” Paul exclaimed. “She comes here sometimes, she’s the Girl with the Golden Eyes. We gave her that name. She’s a young lady about twenty-two years old, and I’ve seen her here when the Bourbons were here, but with a woman who’s worth 100,000 times more than she is.”

“Shut up, Paul! It’s impossible for any woman whatsoever to surpass this girl who’s like a cat who wants to come rubbing up against your legs, a pale girl with ash blond hair, delicate in her looks, but with fine hairs on the third phalanx of her fingers; and her cheeks are covered with a white down, luminous on a sunny day, which begins at the ears and disappears down her neck.”

“Oh! But the other one, my dear de Marsay! She has black eyes that have never cried, but burn; black eyebrows that meet and give her a look of hardness contradicted by the full contours of her lips, on which no kiss remains—passionate, fresh lips; a Moorish complexion by which a man can be warmed like the sun; but, my word of honor, she looks just like you. . . .”

“You flatter her!”

“An arched waist, the streamlined waist of a racing sloop, which pounces on a merchant vessel with a French impetuosity, overtakes it and makes it go under in no time.”

“Come on, old man, What do I have to do with a woman I’ve never even seen!” de Marsav interrupted.  


Excerpt from Girl with the Golden Eyes translated by Charlotte Mandell courtesy of Melville House Publishing, LLC.

Background illustration by Marcela Gutiérrez