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  • Written by Arthur Japin
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  • Written by Arthur Japin
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On Sale: February 13, 2007
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-307-27967-5
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Lucia works as a servant girl in Italy and is engaged to be married. But after the pox disfigures her face, she flees in shame without telling her lover. Years later, as a reknowned Amsterdam courtesan who never goes out without her veil, Lucia is at the theater when she recognizes her long-lost fiancé, Giacomo Casanova; and she cannot resist the opportunity to encounter him again. Based on a woman who appeared briefly in Casanova’s legendary diaries, Lucia emerges as a brilliant woman who becomes every bit his match. In Lucia’s Eyes is an elegant and moving story of love denied and transformed.

Excerpt

Amsterdam 1758

The evening on which I came to see everything in a new light, I was planning to dine, as I did every Thursday, with Mr. Jamieson, a wholesaler of skins and tobacco, and then perhaps to go dancing with him. It was only after an attack of gout had forced the good merchant to cancel our appointment that I decided to visit my box at the theater.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not used to luxury. Since the calamity, I have been at life's mercy and am very frugal. I've had to be. For a long time I had no idea what the next day would bring: whether I would go hungry, whether anyone would shelter me, whether I would be attacked and forced to move on. Even after I'd finally attained a certain status in Amsterdam, I always limited myself to a bare minimum of finery--only what was expected in the circles I was obliged to move in and the sundries I needed to practice my profession. I never allowed myself extravagance. Nor did I feel the want of any. In the last couple of years, however, I did allow myself one thing: a permanent box seat at the French theater on the Overtoom, which I visited whenever time permitted.

I was on my way there that evening in mid-October. As usual, I had hired a small but respectable boat. There was a chill in the air. In Amsterdam the cold on the canals is worse than in Venice. More piercing and insidious, it sets in months earlier and tends to settle in the bones rather than the lungs. All the same, I prefer a boat to a carriage. The people on the quays tend to ignore those who pass them on the water. More or less unnoticed, I am able to study others at my leisure. On the evening in question I was doing just that, partly for my own amusement and partly for professional reasons.

In the curve of the Herengracht, two gentlemen caught my eye. One of them I already knew: Jan Rijgerbos, a stockbroker. A friendly, cultivated widower, Rijgerbos is fit, well built, and undemanding. His companion was unknown to me. He had a dark complexion and a striking profile. It was the latter feature that immediately attracted my attention. His appearance touched me in a way I could not explain. I asked the boatman to row faster so that we might stay abreast of the two men walking on the quay, and I continued to study the stranger. His face was oval, and a blond wig framed it to advantage. Although not particularly handsome, he soon aroused my desire quite unexpectedly.

This annoyed me.

I am the one who arouses desire.

He was too slight for me anyway, I decided. What's more, dressed as he was according to the latest Paris fashion--in breeches of yellow silk that showed his calves--he cut an absurd figure in such bleak weather. I lost interest and began surveying the other pedestrians. As we passed under the Leidsebrug, however, Rijgerbos and his friend were just crossing it and I managed to catch a snatch of their conversation. They were speaking French: one with difficulty, the other with apparent ease. I liked the sound of the Frenchman's voice and ordered the boatman to stop beneath the arches of the bridge. We waited there in the shadows until the two men were out of sight.

Were it not for the recklessly low neckline I was wearing, or that my thoughts that evening were far from elevated, or that I am scarcely the kind of woman a higher power would squander ten minutes of thought on--were it not for any of these incontrovertible facts, you might imagine that God, or maybe the devil, had arranged the whole thing for His entertainment. A coincidence like this! How rare it is that we are allowed a glimpse of the grand scheme within which all our lives are arranged. All the years of being buffeted by fate had not prepared me for what would follow. All that time I had been constantly on guard. And now, just as I was beginning to think that fortune had finally grown bored with tossing me about, it rose up again, coming to feral attention to seize me by the throat.

This time I cannot but accept that some catastrophes do have a purpose. It does make sense to persevere. I have been furnished with proof of that. Or at least, God willing, I soon will be.

I took my seat as usual shortly after the performance had begun, so as to offend as few spectators as possible. The opera was an old pastoral play that had recently been put to music by a composer from Grenoble. The performers were mainly the theater's regular company, and ovations welcomed the favorites. The lead, a shepherdess, was being played by a soprano who had triumphed in this role all over Europe.

Midway through the first act, Jan Rijgerbos knocked at the door of my box.

"Well, this is a surprise," I said. "I had no idea you liked the theater. I don't recall ever seeing you here before."

He was too well bred to show his discomfort at talking to me, but he did take care to remain out of sight of the audience below. I am used to that--no harm--and I didn't hold it against him.

"I must confess that the music is too mannered to my ear, but what do I know of it? No, I have a guest, a friend from France. He is visiting our city as an agent of the French treasury and insists on attending the theater every evening, as he does in Paris."

Rijgerbos stepped aside to reveal his guest, whom he introduced as Monsieur le Chevalier de Seingalt.

"They sold us our seats in the pit with the assurance that we'd have the best view of the performance," the man said in French, bowing to kiss my hand. "But no one warned us that the evening's most beguiling spectacle would not be onstage."

There is nothing a man can say to a woman that I haven't heard before. Compliments about appearance in particular always depress me, especially on a first meeting. From the outset, their sense of obligation seems to weary them. Dispatched on a mission they have no faith in, they inevitably stumble, like plow horses pressed to perform dressage, and their fatigue in the face of the task is evident from the outset. Some women live for sweet talk. I would rather go without. But how is a man to know that? Most aim to please with little understanding of our pleasure.

I cordially invited the gentlemen to join me in the box. Jan concealed himself behind the curtain, but Seingalt stepped forward unembarrassed in full view of everyone below. The yellow silk of his conspicuous suit seemed to light up in the glow of the downstage candles.

It was only when he was sure all eyes were upon us that he sat down and deliberately slid his chair closer to mine. This could mean only one of two things: Either Jan had told him nothing about me, or he had told him everything and Monsieur le Chevalier was an absolute fire-eater. Either way, I decided to like him.

We listened to the rest of the aria in silence, I all the while aware of Seingalt looking at me. He was trying to make out the outline of my face through the lace I was wearing as a veil. Although I knew he would not succeed, his attempt disturbed me. I had to master my breathing to avoid betraying my excitement. His eyes, large and black under heavy lids, would wander, sometimes down over my body, sometimes up in the hope of catching my expression.

When the big chandeliers were lit for the interval, I moved aside into the shadows. The chevalier began to inform me of his recent arrival from Paris and of his mission to ease France's beleaguered financial position by selling to the Dutch French government bonds that had depreciated because of the war. He was staying at the Star of the East, on the corner of the Nes and the Kuipersteeg. When he said this, he probed once more for an expression on my face, to no avail. Eventually he asked what no one in his position had dared to ask before: whether I would reward his friendly curiosity by allowing him a glimpse of my countenance. He was clearly unused to a woman's refusing him anything, because later he tried again, less politely. Finally he asked forthrightly why I would begrudge him something for which his desire had only deepened as we spoke.

"If you owned a valuable gem," I said, "you wouldn't oblige everyone who asked to gawk at it, would you?"

He smiled, conceding. "No, I would keep it in perfect safety."

"That is just how I keep myself, monsieur."

From the day I first decided to wear a veil, I have found its effect on men to be remarkable. More than anything, men want that which has been withheld. A happy certainty is no match for a mystery denied. Given a choice, a man will always take the unknown.

"This gem of yours must be unique in the world," the savior of France remarked with a pout, letting his gaze glide mischievously down my bare throat, "considering that you have no qualms about exposing other treasures to the idle gawker."

"Give up, sir," I advised. "You have met your match."

I toyed with him a little longer until he fell silent and pretended that the singers, who had returned to the stage, were demanding his attention. Not to dash his hopes entirely, I opened my fan and laid it on the plush before him, a sign well understood all over Europe.

For years I was accustomed to seeing myself in the eyes of others. I judged myself by their reactions to me. The looks they gave me were the key to who I was. Then I hit upon the idea of drawing a curtain over all that.

At first I covered my face only to go out. Constraining myself in this fashion, I found a freedom I could remember only from my earliest childhood. Since putting on the veil, I have lived as if reborn. Unseen by others, I have no need to look at myself. Delivered from the image that had eclipsed my every other sense of reality, I move once again through a world without danger, like a child among protective elders. They allow me more latitude, no longer seeing me as one of them. I don't have to join in their serious discussions. While they sit at table, I imagine myself crawling around on the floor between their legs. Children are aware of the judgment of adults but don't let it weigh on them. That is the lightheartedness I rediscovered in my disguise. And it pleased me so much that in the last few years I have drawn my veil over almost all my waking hours, even at home, sometimes even alone. At work I always wrap myself in it. It's what has made me so successful.

The play takes a dramatic turn. The squire warns the shepherdess: His son may be in love with her, but he will be disinherited if they marry. To preserve her beloved's happiness, she pretends to love another, then abandons her flock to join a convent. Just after she has become a bride of Christ, the lovesick youth comes knocking at the gate. He has discovered the whole scheme, but too late. She allows him one last look at her beauty. Then she dons the wimple and is lost to him forever.

"What desecration!" Seingalt sighed, as the soprano disappeared under her habit. His indignation was genuine and the words just slipped out. "Hiding something so beautiful; that must surely count as a mortal sin!"

"I am happy to leave the judgment of our sins to Him who invented them, monsieur."

He looked at me with a wry smile. "Perhaps He would take the same opportunity to explain why someone like you would choose to hide herself."

Soon after, I closed my fan and put it away. Heroines who sacrifice themselves needlessly should not count on my sympathy. I'm annoyed by silly geese who let their minds overrule their emotions, and glad to see them get what they deserve. Rather than sit through the rest of the act, I asked the gentlemen to excuse me. The pastoral was upsetting, and I come to the opera to be diverted, not disturbed.

It was hardly the first time I had been accused of hiding behind my veil. A frequent misconception, since quite the opposite is true.

I hide the world.

I have lowered a curtain before it.

Through that haze of lace and silk it looks so much softer.


2

I don't remember any boundaries. Pasiano, the estate where I was born, extended out over the hills as far as the eye could see. The doors were always open. I could walk for hours and, whichever way I went, everything was familiar. My parents never worried about me. In the morning, when I raced off after a bird or a rabbit, they weren't afraid to see me disappear. They knew that by midday the smells spreading out over the fields from the kitchens would lure me home for lunch. While still young I befriended the horses in the meadows, and in time they let me ride them, with my hands clinging to their manes and my heels in their flanks. The chicks from the fowl yard were my toys, and the overseer's dogs were my playmates. Together we rolled down the golden slopes and ran through the woods. The streams in the valleys were warm and shallow, and until my tenth birthday the gamekeepers were forbidden to set traps. At Pasiano there was no danger. There were no limits to my happiness. I spent my childhood fearless and unjudged.

I had no reason to believe that things in the world beyond its grounds were any different.

Like everyone else, I learned to feel before I learned to think. It was only after people had begun to teach me that I began to distinguish things and recognize facts. But I never put what I was taught above the things I knew intuitively. Even now, I am reluctant to admit disagreeable realities. Self-delusion has the benefit of letting us believe that everything is still possible. I have a talent for that. It makes me feel less afraid. Were the devil staring me straight in the face, I would still convince myself that my visitor was an angel. I'm sure I could even set Lucifer to doubting.

I believe in dreams. I understand them, feel at home in them. For my first fourteen years, I lived one. That doesn't mean I won't see the truth. I actually see it much too clearly.


From the Hardcover edition.
Arthur Japin

About Arthur Japin

Arthur Japin - In Lucia's Eyes

Photo © Tessa Posthuma de Boer

Arthur Japin, born in Haarlem in 1956, studied theater in London and Amsterdam and spent years acting on and writing for the stage, the screen, and television. He has sung with the Dutch National Opera and recently hosted his own television show. Japin’s first novel, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, was made into an opera by the British composer Jonathan Dove in 2007. Japin has won many major literary prizes, including the 2004 Libris Literary Prize for In Lucia’s Eyes. Both of these titles have been adapted as stage plays and are set to become major motion pictures. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He has taught at New York University and divides his time between Utrecht and the Dordogne.

Arthur Japin’s The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi is available in Vintage paperback.
Praise

Praise

“Enthralling . . . Packed with the color of 18th-century life . . . A complex examination of thwarted love . . . A marvelous reversal of hunter and prey, with a soupcon of Dangerous Liaisons . . . Lucia’s slightly arch voice throbs with as much searching intelligence as sexual passion . . . What makes In Lucia’s Eyes so fascinating is its melding of disparate veins: It’s a painful story that arrives at profound insights about the nature of love, but it’s spiked with bodice-ripper suspense and humor; it’s an intensely private testimony of one woman’s peculiar survival, but it’s laced with a fascinating survey of 18th-century intellectual history. Brace yourself with all the skepticism you want, you’ll still be seduced.”–Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World“An irrisistible subject . . . Lucia is a prostitute with a 24-karat intellect. By the end of a novel that consistently pits reason against emotion, she has found the means to satisfy each.”–Kathryn Harrison, New York Times Book Review“Japin has done his historical homework . . . A mesmerizing look into a Europe of long ago.”–Condé Nast Traveler“A dark intrigue . . . Vivid . . . Startlingly poignant . . . unfolding in intricately plotted flashbacks and divan-rattling love scenes . . . Through Lucia, we’re able to discern firsthand the secrets of Casanova’s success.”–Megan O’Grady, Vogue"Inspired by a character in Giacomo Casanova's History of My Life–a once beautiful girl disfigured by small pox whom the great seducer meets again in the brothels of Amsterdam–Arthur Japin spins an enthralling tale on the mystery of first love and its endurance in the face of a lifetime of hardships."–Andrea Di Robilant, author of A Venetian Affair"To see the world through Lucia's eyes is to see it in the fullness of wonders and dangers most never notice."–Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Enthralling. . . . Packed with the color of eighteenth-century life. . . . A marvelous reversal of hunter and prey.” —The Washington Post Book World

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of In Lucia’s Eyes, Arthur Japin’s fascinating rendering of the woman whom Giacomo Casanova, the legendary eighteenth-century lover, first loved. 

About the Guide

According to brief references in his autobiography, the adult Casanova happens upon his lost adolescent love, Lucia, in an Amsterdam brothel where he is shocked to find that she has become, in his own words, “repulsive.”* Japin imagines this chance meeting of the former sweethearts through the eyes of the young woman herself, constructing Lucia’s own autobiography almost as a counterpart to Casanova’s celebrated memoirs. In Japin’s hands, the story of Lucia’s tragic life becomes a complex exploration of the meaning of love and human nature, as well as an unflinchingly honest portrait of Dutch prostitution in the eighteenth century.

The beautiful and innocent Lucia falls in love with the dashing young Casanova, whom she meets at her childhood home in rural northern Italy. When Casanova leaves for Venice to pursue his diplomatic career, promising to return in the spring to marry Lucia, tragedy strikes: Lucia becomes ill with smallpox. She survives the ordeal but her face is permanently scarred and ugly. Knowing that Casanova cannot pursue his career in Venice with an unsightly wife, she chooses to give him up—instructing her mother to tell him that in his absence she ran off with a courier. The rejected Casanova departs, and Lucia, in desperation, flees her home forever to make her way alone. In Bologna, Lucia develops her new identity, Galathée de Pompignac, and becomes a secretary to Zélide, a French female archaeologist. As they travel together through Italy and France, Lucia’s education is furthered by the ideas of the Europe’s nascent Age of Enlightenment. However, after Zélide’s untimely death, Lucia moves on to Amsterdam where it is not long before her destitution drives her to the sordid life of a prostitute. Years later, after Lucia’s position has finally improved and she has become a highly-desired courtesan, Lucia’s emotional foundation is shaken to its core by a chance encounter with the love of her youth: Casanova. The reunion of the former lovers reveals the true meaning of love and survival for Lucia and, ultimately, brings her a chance for a new life.

* See Japin’s Postscript to the novel [p. 233].

About the Author

Arthur Japin was born in Haarlem, The Netherlands in 1956. He studied theater in Amsterdam and London and spent many years acting on stage, screen, and television. His first novel, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, appeared in thirteen languages and is now being made into an opera and a film. He lives in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Discussion Guides

1. How do Lucia’s early relationships shape the person she becomes? How do her feelings toward her parents change, and why? What does the Countess of Montereale give Lucia that her own mother cannot?

2. What is the significance to Lucia of the story of her feebleminded cousin Geppo [pp. 147–9]?

3. Lucia states in the beginning of the novel that she is annoyed to be aroused by the figure of Monsieur le Chevalier de Seingalt because she is “the one who arouses desire” [p. 6]. How does this early insight into Lucia’s personality affect the reader’s opinion of her as her story unfolds? Lucia seems to believe that even before her illness she was a “carnal” being, as evidenced by her “satisfaction” with her submission to the Count of Montereale [pp. 99–100]. Does Japin create a sense of inevitability in Lucia’s fate, even before her unfortunate illness?

4. Monsieur de Pompignac taught Lucia that intellectual reasoning and knowledge are paramount. Lucia learned her lessons well. While overcoming smallpox, Lucia concludes: “If my reason could save me from this moment, there was nothing from which it could not deliver me” [p. 93]. However, Zélide tells Lucia, “Reason is but the shell of consciousness, beneath which emotion is far more knowing” [p. 117]. Does Lucia reconcile Zélide’s teachings with those of Monsieur de Pompignac? Is the conflict of reason versus emotion ever reconcilable for her? Which serves Lucia better in her life: reason or emotion?

5. Lucia claims to have faith in self-delusion. She says, “Self-delusion has the benefit of letting us believe that everything is still possible. I have a talent for that” [p. 14]. She also says, “Truth is more than the things you see; that is why its value is only relative. I am very careful with it” [p. 16]. And she goes so far as to say, “The only thing that can change reality is the mind. . . . If one would change things, one needn’t touch them; one need only see them differently” [p. 46]. In what ways does Lucia delude herself? When does she choose the truth over self-delusion?

6. Lucia argues that she does not hide behind her veil. “I hide the world. . . . Through that haze of lace and silk it looks so much softer” [p. 12]. Is she being truthful when she makes this claim? What event motivates Lucia to wear a veil initially? What impels her to wear it permanently?

7. Lucia states, “At last, I had stopped imagining myself in the gaze of others. . . . And so the mask I had put on to distance myself actually brought me closer to other people” [p. 198]. How does wearing a veil bring Lucia closer to others? How does Lucia’s veil affect others’ perception of her? Does it affect how she perceives herself?

8. Does the Venice that Lucia visits with Zélide [p. 128] measure up to the image of that city impressed upon her by the Countess of Montereale [pp. 36–38]? Likewise, does the Amsterdam that Lucia inhabits [p. 163] measure up to the image of that city impressed upon her by Monsieur de Pompignac [p. 142]? How does Japin develop his portraits of these two cities through Lucia’s eyes?

9. Of Amsterdam society Lucia says, “Tolerance is not the equal of acceptance. Indeed, the two are more nearly opposites, the former sometimes serving as a subtle means of repression” [p. 163]. In the book, appearances and looks are very focal to the urban societies of eighteenth-century Europe. Is American society in the twenty-first century any different than Amsterdam with respect to its treatment of scarred or unsightly people? How might contemporary Western society respond to a veiled woman?

10. Lucia says:

Oddly, it is the advance of science in this century that has torn many souls apart from within. Here the simpleminded . . . trusting only to what they feel, are at some advantage. Their concern is as ever for the things that affect their daily life; as for mysteries, only those they encounter within it matter. They respond to these things impulsively, as they have for generations, and whatever they can’t reckon in this way they leave in the hands of Providence. The new discoveries, however, contradict these emotions; even the existence of God no longer seems a certainty. Those who immerse themselves in these revelations have grown confused [p. 48].

As an explanation of her departure from Europe to America, Lucia elaborates on this “confusion” of her contemporaries:

Perhaps this is what compels me to part from Europe. That land is too old. It has been wounded too many times, the earth plowed too often and too deeply. . . . Time and again, the Europeans have learned that following their natures leads only to chaos, and they no longer dare to trust their inclinations. Instead they have delivered themselves up to the savior of reason. . . . Giacomo is that way, going so far as to wish to rationalize his happiness. This you must forgive him. One can never completely escape the confusion of one’s age, and I am no exception. For a long time, I too tried to carry the yoke of reason, but it was too heavy for me. I rejected it [pp. 230—231].

From Lucia’s point of view, the Age of Enlightenment resulted in confusion rather than progress. How does Casanova reflect this confusion? Can Lucia reject the confusion of her age entirely, or has she been shaped by it herself? Has Lucia’s education, her exposure to scholarship and reason in the house of the Morandi Manzolinis [pp. 103–108], benefited her in any way that she is not acknowledging? How might Lucia have fared differently if she had been schooled in religion and faith and never exposed to science and knowledge?

11. Lucia says of men, “Most aim to please with little understanding of our pleasure. . . . More than anything, men want that which has been withheld. A happy certainty is no match for a mystery denied. Given a choice, a man will always take the unknown [pp. 8–10].” What is Lucia’s opinion about men? Do these views change or remain the same at different stages in her life?

12. At what point does Lucia realize that the Chevalier de Seingalt is Casanova? What does he do or say that causes her to realize that the adult Casanova is a different person than the young man whom she loved and who loved her? Why does this realization make her finally enter into the wager he proposes?

13. How are Lucia’s emotional and physical relations with the adult Casanova different from her relations with other men? What has Giacomo Casanova learned as a seducer of women? Is he more artful than Lucia when it comes to seduction? How does viewing Casanova through Lucia’s eyes alter the reader’s preconceptions of Casanova?

14. After her illness, Lucia deduces that she must abandon Casanova because staying with him would have “produced two unhappy people,” whereas leaving him would have produced “only one” [p. 97]. After meeting de Seingalt years later, she recalculates with hindsight: “Would the tender Giacomo of Pasiano have ever changed into the cynical Jacques de Seingalt if I had listened to my girlish heart and not subdued my fierce desire with clear-eyed foresight? What if I had dared to show him myself ravaged, trusting to our love, letting life and nature run their course instead of sacrificing myself like some inane operatic heroine? In that case, I alone would have been disfigured; now we both were” [p. 158]. With the benefit of hindsight, might Lucia have trusted to their love if she had the chance to do it again? Should she have? How might Lucia’s life have turned out differently if Casanova had rejected her? Is Casanova in fact “disfigured” by Lucia’s youthful rejection of him?

15. Casanova states the lesson of his own life: “It is unpardonable sin not to take what love puts before you” [p. 223]. What does Lucia think of this “lesson?” Why does Lucia not view this as her own life’s lesson?

16. After their wager is over, and Galathée removes her veil to become Lucia again for Casanova, she says of her appearance “at that moment it wasn’t a source of shame. . . . Suddenly I saw, like some saintly vision, the lesson Fate had been trying to teach me” [p. 217]. What did Lucia learn in that moment? Did this revelation make her suffering worthwhile in her view?

17. What in Seingalt’s final letter to Lucia makes her change her mind and leave with Jamieson?

Suggested Readings

Giacomo Casanova, History of My Life; Liza Dalby, The Tale of Murasaki; Anchee Min, Red Azalea; Alan Lightman, Reunion; Ann Packer, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier; Sándor Márai, Casanova in Balzano and Embers; Susan Minot, Rapture; Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha; Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring; Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liasons Dangereuses; Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma; Søren Kierkegaard, The Seducer’s Diary.

  • In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin
  • February 13, 2007
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $13.95
  • 9781400096121

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