“Dévoiler un amour secret”: Gestures of Adulterous Desire in Byron’s Don Juan Canto I and Balzac’s La Femme de trente ans

This article proposes that in his 1842 novel La Femme de trente ans, Honoré de Balzac draws on Lord Byron’s depiction of self-deceptive character pathology in Don Juan Canto I, using the British poet’s Spanish seduction scene as a template for his own portrayal of the opening moves of an adulterous liaison. Byron’s Donna Julia and Balzac’s Julie d’Aiglemont display the same disconnection between conscious thought and unconscious gesture, the one repudiating and the other inviting adulterous intimacy. However, although the French novel contains noticeable traces of the English poem, Balzac characteristically deviates in several crucial features, his astute grasp of Don Juan enabling him to make a series of adaptive amplifications which accentuate his heroine’s sexual iniquity.

Emily Paterson-Morgan