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 
A WOMAN OF THIRTY 
Translated by Ellen Marriage 

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