Het oog van de engel
Shines like a stone with different facets
Noordervliet sets her novel in the time around the French Revolution. The beautiful young woman from Haarlem, Elisabeth Lestevenon, her father who is a printer and his other deaf-mute daughter, Maaike, flee to France as those supporting the Prince get dangerously close. On their arrival their father dies leaving the sisters to fend for themselves. Elisabeth is an unusual woman. She hungers for knowledge (which was, in those days, the prerogative of men) without being able to suppress her lustful cravings. As her left eye is larger than her right, she has a strange expression. In this way Noordervliet strikes a pact with the reader in a masterful manner so that her heroine sees the world ‘through different eyes’.
As the story proceeds, Elisabeth’s health becomes gradually impaired and the eye begins to bulge out more and more, a sign of the degradation she is suffering. This novel deals with the impossibility of dividing soul and body in this life and with the impossibility of distinguishing categorically between good and evil. Elisabeth has an affair with the quack Doppet who uses her for his somnambulistic séances with which he tours the country. dressed as an angel, with her larger eye as an attraction which instills fear in their audiences, she tells the masses rolling up to hear of the ideals of Liberté, égalité et Fraternité. But when the populace finally revolts, she realises that the masses have no conscience or memory. When Doppet has left her in the lurch, a weakened woman, and profits from the Revolution by keeping his function as magistrate, he visits her one more time on a lightning visit and divests her of her left eye plus the stinking ulcer behind it, a scene that is so real that a shudder goes through you as you read it. In their last snatches of conversation, Elisabeth tells Doppet that it is a Sisyphean task to think about personal morality outside of every system of beliefs and without threatening the happiness of others. When he asks her whether she has managed to roll the stone to the top of the hill she replies: “Just a short while and I will have made it.” A short while afterwards she dies.
Noordervliet strikes a good balance between the general (body and soul, philosophy and terrestrial reality) and the particular (the story of the individual human beings Elisabeth and Doppet). For this reason too, reading Het oog van de engel is a rewarding and worthwhile experience.