Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Balzac: Catechism of Marriage

Marriage is a science.

A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy, and dissected
at least one woman.

The fate of the home depends on the first night.

A woman deprived of her free will can never have the credit of making
a sacrifice.

In love, putting aside all consideration of the soul, the heart of a
woman is like a lyre which does not reveal its secret, excepting to
him who is a skillful player.

Independently of any gesture of repulsion, there exists in the soul of
all women a sentiment which tends, sooner or later, to proscribe all
pleasure devoid of passionate feeling.

The interest of a husband as much as his honor forbids him to indulge
a pleasure which he has not had the skill to make his wife desire.

Pleasure being caused by the union of sensation and sentiment, we can
say without fear of contradiction that pleasures are a sort of
material ideas.

As ideas are capable of infinite combination, it ought to be the same
with pleasures.

In the life of man there are no two moments of pleasure exactly alike,
any more than there are two leaves of identical shape upon the same

If there are differences between one moment of pleasure and another, a
man can always be happy with the same woman.

To seize adroitly upon the varieties of pleasure, to develop them, to
impart to them a new style, an original expression, constitutes the
genius of a husband.

Between two beings who do not love each other this genius is
licentiousness; but the caresses over which love presides are always

The married woman who is the most chaste may be also the most

The most virtuous woman can be forward without knowing it.

When two human beings are united by pleasure, all social
conventionalities are put aside. This situation conceals a reef on
which many vessels are wrecked. A husband is lost, if he once forgets
there is a modesty which is quite independent of coverings. Conjugal
love ought never either to put on or to take away the bandage of its
eyes, excepting at the due season.

Power does not consist in striking with force or with frequency, but
in striking true.

To call a desire into being, to nourish it, to develop it, to bring it
to full growth, to excite it, to satisfy it, is a complete poem of

The progression of pleasures is from the distich to the quatrain, from
the quatrain to the sonnet, from the sonnet to the ballad, from the
ballad to the ode, from the ode to the cantata, from the cantata to
the dithyramb. The husband who commences with dithyramb is a fool.

Each night ought to have its _menu_.

Marriage must incessantly contend with a monster which devours
everything, that is, familiarity.

If a man cannot distinguish the difference between the pleasures of
two consecutive nights, he has married too early.

It is easier to be a lover than a husband, for the same reason that it
is more difficult to be witty every day, than to say bright things
from time to time.

A husband ought never to be the first to go to sleep and the last to

The man who enters his wife's dressing-room is either a philosopher or
an imbecile.

The husband who leaves nothing to desire is a lost man.

The married woman is a slave whom one must know how to set upon a

A man must not flatter himself that he knows his wife, and is making
her happy unless he sees her often at his knees.

Gardel: Por una cabeza

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

μάνος χατζιδάκις/στη μνήμη μιας παλιάς φωτογραφίας

Balzac on love and marriage

"You remind me of a hive of honey-bees! But go your way, you'll be a
dupe all your life. Ha, ha! you wish to marry to have a wife! In other
words, you wish to solve satisfactorily to your own profit the most
difficult problem invented by those bourgeois morals which were created
by the French Revolution; and, what is more, you mean to begin your
attempt by a life of retirement. Do you think your wife won't crave the
life you say you despise? Will _she_ be disgusted with it, as you are?
If you won't accept the noble conjugality just formulated for your
benefit by your friend de Marsay, listen, at any rate, to his final
advice. Remain a bachelor for the next thirteen years; amuse yourself
like a lost soul; then, at forty, on your first attack of gout, marry a
widow of thirty-six. Then you may possibly be happy. If you now take a
young girl to wife, you'll die a madman."

"Ah ca! tell me why!" cried Paul, somewhat piqued.

"My dear fellow," replied de Marsay, "Boileau's satire against women is
a tissue of poetical commonplaces. Why shouldn't women have defects? Why
condemn them for having the most obvious thing in human nature? To my
mind, the problem of marriage is not at all at the point where Boileau
puts it. Do you suppose that marriage is the same thing as love, and
that being a man suffices to make a wife love you? Have you gathered
nothing in your boudoir experience but pleasant memories? I tell you
that everything in our bachelor life leads to fatal errors in the
married man unless he is a profound observer of the human heart. In the
happy days of his youth a man, by the caprice of our customs, is always
lucky; he triumphs over women who are all ready to be triumphed over
and who obey their own desires. One thing after another--the obstacles
created by the laws, the sentiments and natural defences of women--all
engender a mutuality of sensations which deceives superficial persons as
to their future relations in marriage, where obstacles no longer exist,
where the wife submits to love instead of permitting it, and frequently
repulses pleasure instead of desiring it. Then, the whole aspect of a
man's life changes. The bachelor, who is free and without a care, need
never fear repulsion; in marriage, repulsion is almost certain and
irreparable. It may be possible for a lover to make a woman reverse an
unfavorable decision, but such a change, my dear Paul, is the Waterloo
of husbands. Like Napoleon, the husband is thenceforth condemned to
victories which, in spite of their number, do not prevent the first
defeat from crushing him. The woman, so flattered by the perseverance,
so delighted with the ardor of a lover, calls the same things brutality
in a husband. You, who talk of marrying, and who will marry, have you
ever meditated on the Civil Code? I myself have never muddied my feet
in that hovel of commentators, that garret of gossip, called the
Law-school. I have never so much as opened the Code; but I see its
application on the vitals of society. The Code, my dear Paul, makes
woman a ward; it considers her a child, a minor. Now how must we govern
children? By fear. In that one word, Paul, is the curb of the
beast. Now, feel your own pulse! Have you the strength to play the
tyrant,--you, so gentle, so kind a friend, so confiding; you, at whom
I have laughed, but whom I love, and love enough to reveal to you my
science? For this is science. Yes, it proceeds from a science which
the Germans are already calling Anthropology. Ah! if I had not already
solved the mystery of life by pleasure, if I had not a profound
antipathy for those who think instead of act, if I did not despise the
ninnies who are silly enough to believe in the truth of a book, when
the sands of the African deserts are made of the ashes of I know not
how many unknown and pulverized Londons, Romes, Venices, and Parises, I
would write a book on modern marriages made under the influence of the
Christian system, and I'd stick a lantern on that heap of sharp stones
among which lie the votaries of the social 'multiplicamini.' But the
question is, Does humanity require even an hour of my time? And besides,
isn't the more reasonable use of ink that of snaring hearts by writing
love-letters?--Well, shall you bring the Comtesse de Manerville here,
and let us see her?"

"Perhaps," said Paul. 
Balzac, The Marriage Contract, 
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley

Sunday, October 3, 2010

About physiology and marriage


Physiology, what must I consider your meaning?

Is not your object to prove that marriage unites for life two beings
who do not know each other?

That life consists in passion, and that no passion survives marriage?

That marriage is an institution necessary for the preservation of
society, but that it is contrary to the laws of nature?

That divorce, this admirable release from the misfortunes of marriage,
should with one voice be reinstated?

That, in spite of all its inconveniences, marriage is the foundation
on which property is based?

That it furnishes invaluable pledges for the security of government?

That there is something touching in the association of two human
beings for the purpose of supporting the pains of life?

That there is something ridiculous in the wish that one and the same
thoughts should control two wills?

That the wife is treated as a slave?

That there has never been a marriage entirely happy?

That marriage is filled with crimes and that the known murders are not
the worst?

That fidelity is impossible, at least to the man?

That an investigation if it could be undertaken would prove that in
the transmission of patrimonial property there was more risk than

That adultery does more harm than marriage does good?

That infidelity in a woman may be traced back to the earliest ages of
society, and that marriage still survives this perpetuation of

That the laws of love so strongly link together two human beings that
no human law can put them asunder?

That while there are marriages recorded on the public registers, there
are others over which nature herself has presided, and they have been
dictated either by the mutual memory of thought, or by an utter
difference of mental disposition, or by corporeal affinity in the
parties named; that it is thus that heaven and earth are constantly at

That there are many husbands fine in figure and of superior intellect
whose wives have lovers exceedingly ugly, insignificant in appearance
or stupid in mind?

All these questions furnish material for books; but the books have
been written and the questions are constantly reappearing.

Physiology, what must I take you to mean? 
Produced by Dagny and John Bickers

Saturday, October 2, 2010

About married women

The most important and decisive step in a woman's life is the very
one that she invariably regards as the most insignificant. After her
marriage she is no longer her own mistress, she is the queen and
the bond-slave of the domestic hearth. The sanctity of womanhood is
incompatible with social liberty and social claims; and for a woman
emancipation means corruption. If you give a stranger the right of entry
into the sanctuary of home, do you not put yourself at his mercy? How
then if she herself bids him enter it? Is not this an offence, or, to
speak more accurately, a first step towards an offence? You must
either accept this theory with all its consequences, or absolve illicit
passion. French society hitherto has chosen the third and middle course
of looking on and laughing when offences come, apparently upon the
Spartan principle of condoning the theft and punishing clumsiness.
And this system, it may be, is a very wise one. 'Tis a most appalling
punishment to have all your neighbors pointing the finger of scorn
at you, a punishment that a woman feels in her very heart. Women are
tenacious, and all of them should be tenacious of respect; without
esteem they cannot exist, esteem is the first demand that they make
of love. The most corrupt among them feels that she must, in the first
place, pledge the future to buy absolution for the past, and strives
to make her lover understand that only for irresistible bliss can she
barter the respect which the world henceforth will refuse to her.

Some such reflections cross the mind of any woman who for the first time
and alone receives a visit from a young man; and this especially when,
like Charles de Vandenesse, the visitor is handsome or clever. And
similarly there are not many young men who would fail to base some
secret wish on one of the thousand and one ideas which justify the
instinct that attracts them to a beautiful, witty, and unhappy woman
like the Marquise d'Aiglemont.

Mme. d'Aiglemont, therefore, felt troubled when M. de Vandenesse was
announced; and as for him, he was almost confused in spite of the
assurance which is like a matter of costume for a diplomatist. But not
for long. The Marquise took refuge at once in the friendliness of manner
which women use as a defence against the misinterpretations of fatuity,
a manner which admits of no afterthought, while it paves the way to
sentiment (to make use of a figure of speech), tempering the transition
through the ordinary forms of politeness. In this ambiguous position,
where the four roads leading respectively to Indifference, Respect,
Wonder, and Passion meet, a woman may stay as long as she pleases, but
only at thirty years does she understand all the possibilities of the
situation. Laughter, tenderness, and jest are all permitted to her at
the crossing of the ways; she has acquired the tact by which she finds
all the responsive chords in a man's nature, and skill in judging the
sounds which she draws forth. Her silence is as dangerous as her speech.
You will never read her at that age, nor discover if she is frank or
false, nor how far she is serious in her admissions or merely laughing
at you. She gives you the right to engage in a game of fence with her,
and suddenly by a glance, a gesture of proved potency, she closes the
combat and turns from you with your secret in her keeping, free to offer
you up in a jest, free to interest herself in you, safe alike in her
weakness and your strength. 
Honore De Balzac 
Translated by Ellen Marriage