esposearch - ideal online careers

Honor de Balzac’s “A Passion in the Desert”


Art is an essential part of human life. Literature is a part of art. Literature entertains people, gives them some information, or offers them some ideas to think over. Literature is very important for modern people, it ennobles, especially classic literature. It is impossible to imagine present life without literature. Some people understand this world better through literature, they try to imagine themselves in the place of this or that hero and maybe to avoid some mistakes in the future. Every country has its own greatest writers with their immortal literary works.

Main body

We are going to discuss Honor de Balzac, a famous French writer, and his short story “A Passion in the Desert” in particular. This short story is written in 1830, almost at the very beginning of his writing career. It is not the literary work that made him popular, but still, it is the story that deserves our attention.

There are a lot of books about the life and works of Honor de Balzac. Graham Robb in his book about Balzac’s life writes:

Balzac himself was always delighted with his initial coordinates. Born in 1799 with what he called a centenarian’s constitution, he had the best possible chance of seeing three centuries. The year was also historically appropriate. Bonaparte was about to make himself First Consul. Balzac too would create an Empire, a fictional world so real that Oscar Wilde would be able to describe him only half-humorously as the inventor of the nineteenth century (3).

The literary career of the writer began approximately in 1820 when he under different pseudonyms began to print his keen novels and described dispositions of society. Honor de Balzac died on August, 18 in 1850 in Paris. He left after himself a lot of novels, stories, short stories, philosophical etudes, and plays, five of which were published.

“A Passion in the Desert” is an extremely imaginative story with the exoticism and mystery of the setting and characters. The author managed to place so many aspects in this short story. He managed to combine love and hate, alienation and isolation with real friendship, devotion with betrayal, animals, and humans, death at the end, and understanding of the mistakes. All these aspects are combined in this short story so naturally, so realistic, that sometimes during the reading you can catch yourself on the thought that it is not a fairytale, that it could be.

The story begins with the woman’s opinion about the show where she saw taming wild beasts, that it is an ineffectual attempt. She says that, “The whole show is dreadful; working with his hyena can he have tamed these animals to such a point as to be certain of their affection for?” (Balzac, 2008)

The beginning shows us the narrator’s attitude to animal taming. But the story shows us reverse, that not only the taming is possible, but even friendship and passion between animal and human. Patrick Smith in his book describes Balzac’s story in this way:

The story-within-a-story is about a Frenchman in the war. He is taken hostage by the enemy, but manages to escape after a few days and awakes to the harsh desert teat. After days of wandering, he takes shelter in an oasis and realizes that he is sharing the sanctuary with a wild beast, which turns out to be a panther with bloodstained teeth. The Frenchman, though, finds the animal to be friendly and playful. The two become close, their friendship the only bright spot in an otherwise endless string of days in the desert. Though he has come to trust the panther, the man keeps his knife by his side, and when the panther makes a lunge at him, he kills the beast in self-defense (Balzac, 2000).

The first meeting of the man and the panther was horrifying, “a profound terror, increased still further by the darkness, the silence, and his waking images froze his heart within him. He almost felt his hair stand on end when he perceived through the shadows two faint yellow lights, vivid brilliance of the night aided him gradually to distinguish the objects around him in the cave, and he beheld a huge animal lying but two steps from him.” (Balzac, 2000)

The Frenchman thought about different kinds of how to kill the sleepy animal. The gun does not suit as shot could miss the mark, then he thought about the knife, and he tried to kill the panther but could not, and, “he preferred the chances of a fair fight, and made up his mind to wait till morning” (Balzac, 2000).

The soldier was ready to start fighting any minute, but the panther surprised him, “the animal waved her tail voluptuously, and her eyes grew gentle; and when for the third time the Frenchman accomplished this interesting flattery, she gave forth one of those purrings by which our cats express their pleasure” (Balzac, 2000). He understood that there was no direct danger. The panther played with him. They looked at each other so passionate as if they understood each other, “the man and the panther looked at one another with a look full of meaning” (Balzac, 2000). It was a look of a human and an animal who knew each other for many years.

The soldier found a real friend in the animal; he regarded it as a human being, “she has a soul” (Balzac, 2000), he once said. But still, he did not trust the panther, every time playing with the panther he held a knife in his hand, he was afraid of her attack, even though there was a passion between him and the animal; on the question of how their passion ended he answered that it “ended as all great passions do end – by a misunderstanding” (Balzac, 2000).

The soldier explains that situation in such a way:

I don’t know if I hurt her, but she turned around, as if enraged, and with her sharp teeth caught hold of my leg–gently, I daresay; but I, thinking she would devour me, plunged my dagger into her throat. She rolled over, giving a cry that froze my heart; and I saw her dying, still looking at me without anger. I would have given all the world–my cross even, which I lied not then–to have brought her to life again. It was as though I had murdered a real person; and the soldiers who had seen my flag, and were come to my assistance, found me in tears (Balzac, 2000).

Balzac finishes his story with the words of the soldier, “In the desert, you see there is everything and nothing… it is God without mankind” (Balzac, 2000). What did he want to say by those words? They may be understood like love is not subject to reason, and there is no doubt that the desert is not subject to civilization.

These words may be understood in different ways. The desert is the place where everything is unusual, this is a place with different laws of life, the same happens inside every person. Every person is a puzzle and it is impossible to solve it. It is impossible to look inside the person and to get to know her thoughts and intentions. The same happened with the soldier. He had a friend, a real friend, as he thought but still, he could not see the soul of the panther.

It may be said that he saw everything, especially the friend, but in reality, he saw nothing. He did not see the panther’s intentions to play, he did not see the panther’s thoughts and soul, so it may be said that he saw nothing. And as a result, he was left without a friend, a friend who trusted him, who even was not angry with him, as she believed. The soldier says, “I, thinking she would devour me, plunged my dagger into her throat. She rolled over, giving a cry that froze my heart; and I saw her dying, still looking at me without anger” (Balzac, 2000).

The Frenchman understood his mistake, but it was too late. He could not change what he had done. He felt very lonely at the moment; he understood that he had lost the only devoted friend, and it was he, who killed him. There was nobody else in that desert except him.

A lot of writers turned to love and devotion in their work. Love and devotion is a very difficult topic to talk about. Different people understand these meanings in different ways. But there is no doubt that only animals know the real value of these words and their price. The animal will never betray you. The feelings of animals are real; they cannot pretend to be the others.

Works Cited

Balzac, Honor. A Passion in the Desert. Book Jungle, 2008.

Robb, Graham. Balzac: A Life. New York: Norton, 2000.

Smith, Patrick A. Thematic Guide to Popular Short Stories. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.


About the author

we will assist you 24/7

Quick Contact

Keep current with the ESPOSEARCH Blog. Let’s get it written!

EspoSearch Ⓒ 2022 - All Rights Are Reserved