Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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
 

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