In Lucia's Eyes

In Lucia's Eyes

3.6 11
by Arthur Japin

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“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
Kathryn Harrison
No matter what the rest of her is like, 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.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Set in the mid-18th century, Dutch author Japin's elegant second novel (after The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi) richly imagines the plight of Casanova's first youthful heartbreak. Lucia is 14 and a servant girl in a noble house in Pasiano, Italy, when she first meets the young seminarian visitor Giacomo Casanova, who is as virginal as she. They fall into a frolicsome love affair until Lucia contracts the dreaded smallpox. Horribly disfigured from the disease, she concocts a story to turn Giacomo away and flees her home to embrace adventures across Europe, in turn working as a servant, a secretary to an enlightened woman philosopher, and a prostitute, who "learned to accept what other women found intolerable." Years later, having reinvented herself as Galathee, a well-heeled madam in Amsterdam, she finds a mysterious liberation in the use of a veil to attract her clients and meets Casanova again, now the practiced seducer le Chevalier de Seingalt. Their mature affair is conducted in the form of a cynical wager, and they dance rhetorically around the tender feelings of their youth. Despite the awkward conceit of the prostitute's veil and the sometimes stilted language of this translation, Japin has incorporated Casanova's Story of My Life to beguiling effect. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An incident only fleetingly described in Giacomo Casanova's voluminous Memoirs is deftly expanded in this intriguing second novel from the Dutch former actor and author. As he did in his justly praised debut historical The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi (2000), Japin expertly assembles carefully researched materials to depict the itinerant life of the eponymous Lucia-the daughter of a wealthy Italian family's servants, and the one woman who may have overmatched the Great Lover himself. In a rambling tale narrated by Lucia herself, we learn of her brief engagement (at age 14) to 17-year-old seminarian Giacomo; the disfigurement by smallpox that sent her fleeing from her lover and from the only home she had known; and her varied adventures as a housemaid, physician's anatomical model, companion and de facto protege to the learned bluestocking known as Zelide, prostitute, and eventually one of Amsterdam's most notorious and successful courtesans. In the latter incarnation, she is Galathee de Pompignac (the surname borrowed from the beloved childhood tutor), a mistress of the arts of love who conceals her ravaged face behind a veil-to spectacularly successful effect ("Since putting on the veil, I have lived as if reborn"). When "Gala" encounters the now-notorious Casanova again, she engages his wits as well as his lust, issuing a challenge (reminiscent of Laclos's classic Les liaisons dangereuses) that simultaneously heightens their present intimacy and assures their eventual incompatibility. Japin's Lucia is a formidably learned and strong-willed woman, whose power of reasoning and conversational eloquence consistently fascinate. But the novel's surface brilliance becomes intermittentlyoppressive: It feels a bit too much like a gorgeously articulated stunt to be fully convincing. Nevertheless, the period detail Japin has mastered, and his rich portrayal of an embattled, resourceful woman's exterior and inner worlds make this ever so slightly remote tale very much worth reading. An entertainment that's also an enlightenment.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
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Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.59(d)

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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.


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.

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Meet the Author

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

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In Lucia's Eyes 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book without any knowledge of it existing and I relied on the reviews. From what I had read this book was very good, and it left you on your toes every page. These notes were very true! It was so intresting to learn about the late eighteenth century era, and it makes me want to know more about the people and especailly Lucia! I was blown away by so many parts of the book and how surprising they were. I hope Arthur Japin writes another book taking place in this era bacause it was great! I recomend this to any age and any person intrested in learning about how life was back in the late eighteenth century! -CCR
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is truly one of the best books I've ever read. Understanding that it's a novel, the author did extensive research on this woman and he's basically telling the story of Casanova's first and only love. The language of this book is really beautiful and the writing style captivating. The story is facinating and what it taught me as a person is more than valuable. I suggest it to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautiful writing, fascinating story... I simply loved this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
eccentricallywitty More than 1 year ago
I often reread this book when the world has gone cold, when the air has gone still, and miraculously (as all good books do) it brings warmth, and breeze. The book is not a comfort read, rather, a book so beautifully written, with such a multilayered and complex central character that her journey, both philosophically, theologically, and romantically sweeps you into a room of thought and self-reflection. very rarely does a book make you look at things in a different way, make you braver, and for lack of better words, make you treasure its prose.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
In Pasiano, Italy fourteen years old virginal servant Lucia works in a noble house. There she meets seventeen years old just as virginal seminarian student Giacomo Casanova. The youngsters fall in love until she Lucia catches smallpox that scars her face terribly. Unable to face her lover, she runs off Giacomo before fleeing across Europe............... She earns her way doing various jobs especially as a prostitute to those every other fallen woman rejected. Eventually she becomes Madam Galathee de Pompignac running a popular brothel in Amsterdam and using a sexy veil to hide her visage while also making her mysterious to her clients. Casanova, renowned as the seducer le Chevalier de Seingalt, meets his first love and they wager a war of words, wit, and a challenge to determine whose gender is the stronger...................... This fascinating historical tale provides a different look at Casanova through the eyes of his first love. Her trials and tribulations turn her into a strong intelligent woman during an era when females were not expected to show any wit. The period is vividly described, though at times the window into the mid eighteenth century overwhelms the battle of the sexes. Still Arthur Japin provides a solid gender war that humanizes the legendary lover as he competes in a fierce skirmish of the mind and the body against his greatest opponent, his first love............ Harriet klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really? 10 dollars and thats all we get? I'm very upset. Just hope it's worth it.