La Torpille

April 2, 2009


La Torpille is the nickname of Esther Gobseck, the principal whore of  A Harlot High & Low (Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes) by Balzac.  Translated, it’s The Torpedo, an example of which – it’s a fish – you can see at the left above.  Touch it, and you get an electric shock.

Later, naval mines were called torpedoes – touch them, and you are blown up!  (Now torpedoes are self-propelled.)  In the case of Esther, any man who saw her, let alone touched her! was stunned, knocked out, and totally in thrall to her.  The elderly, ultra-rich, super-cynical banker, Nucingen, sees her by chance out for a walk alone in a Paris wood and is totally felled by love.  He who loves only bank accounts!

What might these women have looked like?  These images of fashionable, but respectable women from the 1820s give us a hint.

marchesa_marianna_florenzi_by_heinrich_maria_von_hess_1824 1823-ball-gown-diaphanous-overskirt