The House of the Spirits
Chapter 8, The Count
Blanca and Jean de Satigny never consummate their marriage. On their wedding night, Jean tells Blanca that he has "no particular inclination for married life" and will never request that she have sex with him. Blanca is greatly relieved, and they settle into a friendly relationship. After their honeymoon, they move to the far North of the country, buy an old abandoned villa, and set up house. Blanca does not like it much there and has little to do. She spends her time corresponding with her mother, Clara, and communicating with her unborn child. She does not mention Jean's increasingly strange habits, which begin with snorting cocaine, smoking opium, hiring extremely unqualified Indians as household servants, setting up an elaborate photography studio Blanca is never allowed to enter, and going to the casino. The only part of all this which disturbs Blanca is his refusal to allow her to know anything about their finances, but this she also agrees to overlook. Jean soon embarks on a new business enterprise: covertly unearthing and exporting Indian antiquities. Blanca is not perturbed by this either, until he starts bringing Indian mummies into the house. Despite her mother's assurances that the dead are far less dangerous than the living, Blanca is sure that the house is being haunted by the mummies. When she mentions this to Jean, his violent denial of any such thing makes her suspicious. One night, she sneaks out when she thinks she hears the haunting and traces the activity to Jean's photography laboratory. The next day, Blanca manages to get everyone out of the house, and she breaks into the studio. There, to her great surprise, she discovers that the nocturnal noises came not from mummies but from Jean and the Indians he employs, engaging in "distressing erotic scenes" which they memorialize in photographs. Blanca does not want her daughter exposed to this sort of thing and so, nine months pregnant, she packs a bag and sneaks out to catch a train to the city.
Although other hints of sexual deviance in The House of the Spirits have been non-judgmental, Jean de Satigny's perversion is considered dangerous to Blanca's unborn child. This apparent contradiction suggests either that Blanca's pronouncement that she fears for her daughter is only an excuse to leave Jean as she has wanted to do from the moment they marry. Jean's exact sexual practices are never revealed. We know only that they involve costumes, photographs, and Indian men. Until she discovers what lies in the photography studio, Blanca seems happy enough with her friendly, non-sexual relationship with Jean. However, building up to her discovery of the photography studio is her increasing awareness of his illegal business dealings and his drug use.
Like other elements of the novel, Jean's traffic in contraband Indian artifacts reflects actual events in many Latin American countries. Magical Realism is a literary movement based on combining artistic creation with social commentary. Often, the exaggeration and fantasy aspects of magical realism allow social commentary to be expressed in places and at times where it could otherwise have been censored. Although denunciation of illegal trade by a French immigrant is not likely to have been a subject of censor, the tactic is employed with more sensitive material elsewhere. Precisely the fact that trafficking, sexual perversion, and state-sanctioned murder are presented and condemned via the same literary devices, may allow the critique of state-sanctioned murder to pass through censorship. In this way, The House of the Sprits addresses issues of censorship in its form as well as its content.
While other characters either accept events as they come and turn them each to their own advantage, like Clara, or else allow nothing to stand in the way of what they want, like Alba, Blanca stalls somewhere between the two positions. She neither breaks off her relationship with Pedro Tercero nor does she run away with him. She refuses, then accepts, and then leaves her marriage with Jean de Satigny. This mode of action receives equal regard as the other two. Blanca's actions may be difficult to understand and may cause her and others momentary suffering, but ultimately they bring happy resolve. This is in many ways the message of the novel: action must be taken, resolves must be made, pain and suffering must be endured and resisted, but ultimately the world moves forward and, even if in unexpected ways, problems are resolved.
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