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In Lucia’s Eyes Reader’s Guide

By Arthur Japin

In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin

READERS GUIDE

“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. 

Introduction

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].

Questions and Topics for Discussion

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?

About this 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.

Suggested Reading

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.
 
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