Sunday, 7 April 2013

Short Story Sunday - Honore de Balzac

Honore de Balzac - In the Desert

I am taking part in Zoladdiction this month and I have decided to make April the month of all things French. So, for this week's short story I read a marvellous tale by Honore de Balzac (another French classic writer that I had not previously read).

In the Desert or A Passion in the Desert as I also saw it translated, is a tale about a Provencal soldier in North Africa during Napoleon's French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798 - 1801). The soldier is captured by North African soldiers and marched through the desert by his captors. One night, he manages to escape, but he is so desperate to get as far away as possible from the enemy that he pushes the horse he has stolen to exhaustion. The stolen horse collapses and dies and the soldier is left alone in the desert. After wandering for a while, lost in the sands, he comes across a small oasis with: water, date palms and a small cave for shelter. For a short while the soldier is somewhat relieved as he has been rescued from certain death from thirst and exposure, but soon he begins to almost go mad from the solitary situation in which he finds himself.

The soldier tries to make the best of the situation and attempts to improve his shelter by using palm leaves as a mat for sleeping; however, in the night he wakes up and realises that a large animal is in the cave with him. As dawn arrives the soldier sees that his fellow cave dweller is a fully grown, female panther.

The rest of the story details the relationship between the panther and the soldier and how slowly they begin to trust each other and eventually end up loving one another. Their "love story" ends through a misunderstanding: the panther suddenly bites the soldier's leg (probably rather gently as she does him no harm) and the soldier reacts instinctively plunging his dagger in her throat and killing her.

The soldier is rescued shortly after the panther's death and returns to France.

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