Sunday, May 31, 2009

Balzac: "la femme de trente ans..." (I)


"Balzac a découvert la femme de trente ans comme
Marx a découvert le prolétariat."
(Pierre Barbéris)

Between two and three o'clock in the morning Julie sat up, sombre and
moody, beside her sleeping husband, in the room dimly lighted by the
flickering lamp. Deep silence prevailed. Her agony of remorse had
lasted near an hour; how bitter her tears had been none perhaps can
realize save women who have known such an experience as hers. Only
such natures as Julie's can feel her loathing for a calculated caress,
the horror of a loveless kiss, of the heart's apostasy followed by
dolorous prostitution. She despised herself; she cursed marriage. She
could have longed for death; perhaps if it had not been for a cry from
her child, she would have sprung from the window and dashed herself
upon the pavement. M. d'Aiglemont slept on peacefully at her side; his
wife's hot dropping tears did not waken him.

But next morning Julie could be gay. She made a great effort to look
happy, to hide, not her melancholy, as heretofore, but an insuperable
loathing. From that day she no longer regarded herself as a blameless
wife. Had she not been false to herself? Why should she not play a
double part in the future, and display astounding depths of cunning in
deceiving her husband? In her there lay a hitherto undiscovered latent
depravity, lacking only opportunity, and her marriage was the cause.

Even now she had asked herself why she should struggle with love,
when, with her heart and her whole nature in revolt, she gave herself
to the husband whom she loved no longer. Perhaps, who knows? some
piece of fallacious reasoning, some bit of special pleading, lies at
the root of all sins, of all crimes. How shall society exist unless
every individual of which it is composed will make the necessary
sacrifices of inclination demanded by its laws? If you accept the
benefits of civilized society, do you not by implication engage to
observe the conditions, the conditions of its very existence? And yet,
starving wretches, compelled to respect the laws of property, are not
less to be pitied than women whose natural instincts and sensitiveness
are turned to so many avenues of pain.

Balzac, A Woman of Thirty (translated by Ellen Marriage)

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