Two figures stood out in striking contrast from the mass of boarders and regulars. Although Mademoiselle Victorine Taillefer had a sickly pallor like that of girls afflicted with greensickness, and blended in with the general atmosphere of wretchedness which formed the background to this picture, through her habitual melancholy, her pained demeanour and her weak and fragile air, yet her face did not look old, her movements and her voice were still full of life. In her youthful misfortune she resembled a shrub whose leaves have yellowed from being freshly planted in the wrong sort of soil. Her tawny fair hair, the complexion to go with it, her excessive slimness, expressed the kind of grace that modern poets have found in medieval statues. Her dark-flecked grey eyes expressed Christian mildness and resignation. Her simple, inexpensive clothes revealed a youthful figure. She was pretty in contrast to those around her. If she had been happy she would have been beautiful: happiness is the inner poetry of women, just as fine clothes are the mask of beauty. If the delighted excitement of a ball had made these pale features glow; if the comforts of an elegant life had filled out and coloured those already sunken cheeks; if love had brought back a sparkle to those sad eyes, Victorine could have competed with the loveliest of girls. She lacked what gives new life to any woman: dainty clothes and love letters.What this brought to mind was the midrash, brought down in the gemara and discussed on parshablog here, that Esther was yerakrokas, but Hashem extended her a chut shel chessed. As discussed in that post, this does not mean that Esther's was a bizarre green color, like a space alien, but rather that she had a sallow complexion. And Hashem extended her grace, such that she looked beautiful. We see from Pere Goriot, a non-midrashic source, this same idea of some inner force of excitement and grace overcoming a sickly pallor.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I've been reading through Père Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac, in translation by A. J. Krailsheimer, and a particular passage struck me: