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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

He bids Elvire see herself as part of it as the true Helen


But

no heavenly spark can be detected in Fifine; and he is reduced to seeking a virtue for her, a justification for himself, in that very fact. If she has no virtue, she also pretends to none. If she gives nothing to society, she asks nothing of it. His fancy raises up a procession of such women as the world has crowned: a Helen, a Cleopatra, some Christian saint; he bids Elvire see herself as part of it--as the true Helen, who, according to the legend, never quitted Greece, contemplated her own phantom within the walls of Troy--and be satisfied that she is "best" of all. "All alike are wanting in one grace which Fifine possesses: that of self-effacement. Helen and Cleopatra demand unquestioning homage for their own mental as well as bodily charms; the saint demands it for the principle she sets forth. His love demands that he shall see into her heart; his wife that he shall believe the impossible as regards her own powers of devotion. Fifine says,'You come to look at my outside, my foreign face and figure my outlandish limbs. Pay for the sight if it has pleased you, and give me credit for nothing beyond what you see.' So simply honest an appeal must touch his heart."

Don Juan well knows what his wife thinks of all this, and he says it for her. "Fifine attracts him for no such out of the way reason. Her charm is that she is something new, and something which does not belong to him. He is the soul of inconstancy; and if he had the sun for his own,

he would hanker after other light, were it that of a tallow-candle or a squib." But he assures her that this reasoning is unsound, and his amusing himself with a lower thing does not prove that he has become indifferent to the higher. He shows this by reminding her of a picture of Raphael's, which he was mad to possess; which now that he possesses it, he often neglects for a picture-book of Dore's; but which, if threatened with destruction, he would save at the sacrifice of a million Dores, perhaps of his own life. And now he turns back to her phantom self, as present in his own mind; describes it in terms of exquisite grace and purity; and declares hers the one face which fits into his heart, and makes whole what would be half without it.

Elvire is conciliated; but her husband will not leave well alone. He has established her full claim to his admiration: but he is going to prove that so far as her physical charms are concerned, she owes it to his very attachment: "for those charms are not attested by her looking-glass. He discovers them by the eye of love--in other words--by the artist soul within him."

All beauty, Don Juan farther explains, is in the imagination of him who feels it, be he lover or artist; be the beauty he descries the attribute of a living face, of a portrait, or of some special arrangement of sound. The feeling is inspired by its outward objects, but it cannot be retraced to them. It is a fancy created by fact, as flame by fuel; no more identical with it. The fancy is not on that account a delusion. It is the vision of ideal truth: the recognition by an inner sense of that which does not exist for the outer. That is why hearts choose each other by help of the face, and why they choose so diversely. The eye of love, which again is the eye of art, reads soul into the features, however incomplete their expression of it may be. It reconstructs the ideal type which nature has failed to carry out.


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