PETTY TROUBLES OF MARRIED LIFE
HONORE DE BALZAC
If, reader, you have grasped the intent of this book,—and
infinite honor is done you by the supposition: the profoundest
author does not always comprehend, I may say never comprehends,
the different meanings of his book, nor its bearing, nor the good
nor the harm it may do—if, then, you have bestowed some attention
upon these little scenes of married life, you have perhaps noticed
"What color?" some grocer will doubtless ask; "books are bound in
yellow, blue, green, pearl-gray, white—"
Alas! books possess another color, they are dyed by the author,
and certain writers borrow their dye. Some books let their color
come off on to others. More than this. Books are dark or fair,
light brown or red. They have a sex, too! I know of male books,
and female books, of books which, sad to say, have no sex, which
we hope is not the case with this one, supposing that you do this
collection of nosographic sketches the honor of calling it a book.
Thus far, the troubles we have described have been exclusively
inflicted by the wife upon the husband. You have therefore seen
only the masculine side of the book. And if the author really has
the sense of hearing for which we give him credit, he has already
caught more than one indignant exclamation or remonstrance:
"He tells us of nothing but vexations suffered by our husbands, as
if we didn't have our petty troubles, too!"
Oh, women! You have been heard, for if you do not always make
yourselves understood, you are always sure to make yourselves
It would therefore be signally unjust to lay upon you alone the
reproaches that every being brought under the yoke (conjugium)
has the right to heap upon that necessary, sacred, useful,
eminently conservative institution,—one, however, that is often
somewhat of an encumbrance, and tight about the joints, though
sometimes it is also too loose there.
I will go further! Such partiality would be a piece of idiocy.
A man,—not a writer, for in a writer there are many men,—an
author, rather, should resemble Janus, see behind and before,
become a spy, examine an idea in all its phases, delve alternately
into the soul of Alceste and into that of Philaenete, know
everything though he does not tell it, never be tiresome, and—
We will not conclude this programme, for we should tell the whole,
and that would be frightful for those who reflect upon the present
condition of literature.
Furthermore, an author who speaks for himself in the middle of his
book, resembles the old fellow in "The Speaking Picture," when he
puts his face in the hole cut in the painting. The author does not
forget that in the Chamber, no one can take the floor between two
votes. Enough, therefore!
Here follows the female portion of the book: for, to resemble
marriage perfectly, it ought to be more or less hermaphroditic.
PETTY TROUBLES OF MARRIED LIFE
HUSBANDS DURING THE SECOND MONTH.
Two young married women, Caroline and Stephanie, who had been early
friends at M'lle Machefer's boarding school, one of the most
celebrated educational institutions in the Faubourg St. Honore, met at
a ball given by Madame de Fischtaminel, and the following conversation
took place in a window-seat in the boudoir.
It was so hot that a man had acted upon the idea of going to breathe
the fresh night air, some time before the two young women. He had
placed himself in the angle of the balcony, and, as there were many
flowers before the window, the two friends thought themselves alone.
This man was the author's best friend.
One of the two ladies, standing at the corner of the embrasure, kept
watch by looking at the boudoir and the parlors. The other had so
placed herself as not to be in the draft, which was nevertheless
tempered by the muslin and silk curtains.
The boudoir was empty, the ball was just beginning, the gaming-tables
were open, offering their green cloths and their packs of cards still
compressed in the frail case placed upon them by the customs office.
The second quadrille was in progress.
All who go to balls will remember that phase of large parties when the
guests are not yet all arrived, but when the rooms are already filled
—a moment which gives the mistress of the house a transitory pang of
terror. This moment is, other points of comparison apart, like that
which decides a victory or the loss of a battle.
You will understand, therefore, how what was meant to be a secret now
obtains the honors of publicity.
A double sigh.
"Have you forgotten our agreement?"
"Why haven't you been to see me, then?"
"I am never left alone. Even here we shall hardly have time to talk."
"Ah! if Adolphe were to get into such habits as that!" exclaimed
"You saw us, Armand and me, when he paid me what is called, I don't
know why, his court."
"Yes, I admired him, I thought you very happy, you had found your
ideal, a fine, good-sized man, always well dressed, with yellow
gloves, his beard well shaven, patent leather boots, a clean shirt,
exquisitely neat, and so attentive—"
"Yes, yes, go on."
"In short, quite an elegant man: his voice was femininely sweet, and
then such gentleness! And his promises of happiness and liberty! His
sentences were veneered with rosewood. He stocked his conversation
with shawls and laces. In his smallest expression you heard the
rumbling of a coach and four. Your wedding presents were magnificent.
Armand seemed to me like a husband of velvet, of a robe of birds'
feathers in which you were to be wrapped."
"Caroline, my husband uses tobacco."
"So does mine; that is, he smokes."
"But mine, dear, uses it as they say Napoleon did: in short, he chews,
and I hold tobacco in horror. The monster found it out, and went
without out it for seven months."
"All men have their habits. They absolutely must use something."
"You have no idea of the tortures I endure. At night I am awakened
with a start by one of my own sneezes. As I go to sleep my motions
bring the grains of snuff scattered over the pillow under my nose, I
inhale, and explode like a mine. It seems that Armand, the wretch, is
used to these surprises, and doesn't wake up. I find tobacco
everywhere, and I certainly didn't marry the customs office."
"But, my dear child, what does this trifling inconvenience amount to,
if your husband is kind and possesses a good disposition?"
"He is as cold as marble, as particular as an old bachelor, as
communicative as a sentinel; and he's one of those men who say yes to
everything, but who never do anything but what they want to."
"Deny him, once."
"I've tried it."
"What came of it?"
"He threatened to reduce my allowance, and to keep back a sum big
enough for him to get along without me."
"Poor Stephanie! He's not a man, he's a monster."
"A calm and methodical monster, who wears a scratch, and who, every
"Well, every night—"
"Wait a minute!—who takes a tumbler every night, and puts seven false
teeth in it."
"What a trap your marriage was! At any rate, Armand is rich."
"Good heavens! Why, you seem to me on the point of becoming very
unhappy—or very happy."
"Well, dear, how is it with you?"
"Oh, as for me, I have nothing as yet but a pin that pricks me: but it
"Poor creature! You don't know your own happiness: come, what is it?"
Here the young woman whispered in the other's ear, so that it was
impossible to catch a single word. The conversation recommenced, or
rather finished by a sort of inference.
"So, your Adolphe is jealous?"
"Jealous of whom? We never leave each other, and that, in itself, is
an annoyance. I can't stand it. I don't dare to gape. I am expected to
be forever enacting the woman in love. It's fatiguing."
"What are you going to do?"
"Resign myself. What are you?
"Fight the customs office."
This little trouble tends to prove that in the matter of personal
deception, the two sexes can well cry quits.
I. CHODOREILLE THE GREAT.
A young man has forsaken his natal city in the depths of one of the
departments, rather clearly marked by M. Charles Dupin. He felt that
glory of some sort awaited him: suppose that of a painter, a novelist,
a journalist, a poet, a great statesman.
Young Adolphe de Chodoreille—that we may be perfectly understood
—wished to be talked about, to become celebrated, to be somebody.
This, therefore, is addressed to the mass of aspiring individuals
brought to Paris by all sorts of vehicles, whether moral or material,
and who rush upon the city one fine morning with the hydrophobic
purpose of overturning everybody's reputation, and of building
themselves a pedestal with the ruins they are to make,—until
disenchantment follows. As our intention is to specify this
peculiarity so characteristic of our epoch, let us take from among
the various personages the one whom the author has elsewhere called
A Distinguished Provencal.
Adolphe has discovered that the most admirable trade is that which
consists in buying a bottle of ink, a bunch of quills, and a ream of
paper, at a stationer's for twelve francs and a half, and in selling
the two thousand sheets in the ream over again, for something like
fifty thousand francs, after having, of course, written upon each leaf
fifty lines replete with style and imagination.
This problem,—twelve francs and a half metamorphosed into fifty
thousand francs, at the rate of five sous a line—urges numerous
families who might advantageously employ their members in the
retirement of the provinces, to thrust them into the vortex of Paris.
The young man who is the object of this exportation, invariably passes
in his natal town for a man of as much imagination as the most famous
author. He has always studied well, he writes very nice poetry, he is
considered a fellow of parts: he is besides often guilty of a charming
tale published in the local paper, which obtains the admiration of the
His poor parents will never know what their son has come to Paris to
learn at great cost, namely: That it is difficult to be a writer and
to understand the French language short of a dozen years of heculean
labor: That a man must have explored every sphere of social life, to
become a genuine novelist, inasmuch as the novel is the private
history of nations: That the great story-tellers, Aesop, Lucian,
Boccaccio, Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, La Fontaine, Lesage, Sterne,
Voltaire, Walter Scott, the unknown Arabians of the Thousand and One
Nights, were all men of genius as well as giants of erudition.
Their Adolphe serves his literary apprenticeship in two or three
coffee-houses, becomes a member of the Society of Men of Letters,
attacks, with or without reason, men of talent who don't read his
articles, assumes a milder tone on seeing the powerlessness of his
criticisms, offers novelettes to the papers which toss them from one
to the other as if they were shuttlecocks: and, after five or six
years of exercises more or less fatiguing, of dreadful privations
which seriously tax his parents, he attains a certain position.
This position may be described as follows: Thanks to a sort of
reciprocal support extended to each other, and which an ingenious
writer has called "Mutual Admiration," Adolphe often sees his name
cited among the names of celebrities, either in the prospectuses of
the book-trade, or in the lists of newspapers about to appear.
Publishers print the title of one of his works under the deceitful
heading "IN PRESS," which might be called the typographical menagerie
of bears.[*] Chodoreille is sometimes mentioned among the promising
young men of the literary world.
[*] A bear (ours) is a play which has been refused by a multitude of
theatres, but which is finally represented at a time when some
manager or other feels the need of one. The word has necessarily
passed from the language of the stage into the jargon of
journalism, and is applied to novels which wander the streets in
search of a publisher.
For eleven years Adolphe Chodoreille remains in the ranks of the
promising young men: he finally obtains a free entrance to the
theatres, thanks to some dirty work or certain articles of dramatic
criticism: he tries to pass for a good fellow; and as he loses his
illusions respecting glory and the world of Paris, he gets into debt
and his years begin to tell upon him.
A paper which finds itself in a tight place asks him for one of his
bears revised by his friends. This has been retouched and revamped
every five years, so that it smells of the pomatum of each prevailing
and then forgotten fashion. To Adolphe it becomes what the famous cap,
which he was constantly staking, was to Corporal Trim, for during five
years "Anything for a Woman" (the title decided upon) "will be one of
the most entertaining productions of our epoch."
After eleven years, Chodoreille is regarded as having written some
respectable things, five or six tales published in the dismal
magazines, in ladies' newspapers, or in works intended for children of
As he is a bachelor, and possesses a coat and a pair of black
cassimere trousers, and when he pleases may thus assume the appearance
of an elegant diplomat, and as he is not without a certain intelligent
air, he is admitted to several more or less literary salons: he bows
to the five or six academicians who possess genius, influence or
talent, he visits two or three of our great poets, he allows himself,
in coffee-rooms, to call the two or three justly celebrated women of
our epoch by their Christian names; he is on the best of terms with
the blue stockings of the second grade,—who ought to be called
socks,—and he shakes hands and takes glasses of absinthe with the
stars of the smaller newspapers.
Such is the history of every species of ordinary men—men who have
been denied what they call good luck. This good luck is nothing less
than unyielding will, incessant labor, contempt for an easily won
celebrity, immense learning, and that patience which, according to
Buffon, is the whole of genius, but which certainly is the half of it.
You do not yet see any indication of a petty trouble for Caroline. You
imagine that this history of five hundred young men engaged at this
moment in wearing smooth the paving stones of Paris, was written as a
sort of warning to the families of the eighty-six departments of
France: but read these two letters which lately passed between two
girls differently married, and you will see that it was as necessary
as the narrative by which every true melodrama was until lately
expected to open. You will divine the skillful manoeuvres of the
Parisian peacock spreading his tail in the recesses of his native
village, and polishing up, for matrimonial purposes, the rays of his
glory, which, like those of the sun, are only warm and brilliant at a
From Madame Claire de la Roulandiere, nee Jugault, to Madame Adolphe
de Chodoreille, nee Heurtaut.
"You have not yet written to me, and it's real unkind in you. Don't
you remember that the happier was to write first and to console her
who remained in the country?
"Since your departure for Paris, I have married Monsieur de la
Roulandiere, the president of the tribunal. You know him, and you can
judge whether I am happy or not, with my heart saturated, as it is,
with our ideas. I was not ignorant what my lot would be: I live with
the ex-president, my husband's uncle, and with my mother-in-law, who
has preserved nothing of the ancient parliamentary society of Aix but
its pride and its severity of manners. I am seldom alone, I never go
out unless accompanied by my mother-in-law or my husband. We receive
the heavy people of the city in the evening. They play whist at two
sous a point, and I listen to conversations of this nature:
"'Monsieur Vitremont is dead, and leaves two hundred and eighty
thousand francs,' says the associate judge, a young man of
forty-seven, who is as entertaining as a northwest wind.
"'Are you quite sure of that?'
"The that refers to the two hundred and eighty thousand francs. A
little judge then holds forth, he runs over the investments, the
others discuss their value, and it is definitely settled that if he
has not left two hundred and eighty thousand, he left something near
"Then comes a universal concert of eulogy heaped upon the dead man's
body, for having kept his bread under lock and key, for having
shrewdly invested his little savings accumulated sou by sou, in order,
probably, that the whole city and those who expect legacies may
applaud and exclaim in admiration, 'He leaves two hundred and eighty
thousand francs!' Now everybody has rich relations of whom they say
'Will he leave anything like it?' and thus they discuss the quick as
they have discussed the dead.
"They talk of nothing but the prospects of fortune, the prospects of a
vacancy in office, the prospects of the harvest.
"When we were children, and used to look at those pretty little white
mice, in the cobbler's window in the rue St. Maclou, that turned and
turned the circular cage in which they were imprisoned, how far I was
from thinking that they would one day be a faithful image of my life!
"Think of it, my being in this condition!—I who fluttered my wings so
much more than you, I whose imagination was so vagabond! My sins have
been greater than yours, and I am the more severely punished. I have
bidden farewell to my dreams: I am Madame la Presidente in all my
glory, and I resign myself to giving my arm for forty years to my big
awkward Roulandiere, to living meanly in every way, and to having
forever before me two heavy brows and two wall-eyes pierced in a
yellow face, which is destined never to know what it is to smile.
"But you, Caroline dear, you who, between ourselves, were admitted
among the big girls while I still gamboled among the little ones, you
whose only sin was pride, you,—at the age of twenty-seven, and with a
dowry of two hundred thousand francs,—capture and captivate a truly
great man, one of the wittiest men in Paris, one of the two talented
men that our village has produced.—What luck!
"You now circulate in the most brilliant society of Paris. Thanks to
the sublime privileges of genius. You may appear in all the salons of
the Faubourg St. Germain, and be cordially received. You have the
exquisite enjoyment of the company of the two or three celebrated
women of our age, where so many good things are said, where the happy
speeches which arrive out here like Congreve rockets, are first fired
off. You go to the Baron Schinner's of whom Adolphe so often spoke to
us, whom all the great artists and foreigners of celebrity visit. In
short, before long, you will be one of the queens of Paris, if you
wish. You can receive, too, and have at your house the lions of
literature, fashion and finance, whether male or female, for Adolphe
spoke in such terms about his illustrious friendships and his intimacy
with the favorites of the hour, that I imagine you giving and
"With your ten thousand francs a year, and the legacy from your Aunt
Carabas, added to the twenty thousand francs that your husband earns,
you must keep a carriage; and since you go to all the theatres without
paying, since journalists are the heroes of all the inaugurations so
ruinous for those who keep up with the movement of Paris, and since
they are constantly invited to dinner, you live as if you had an
income of sixty thousand francs a year! Happy Caroline! I don't wonder
you forget me!
"I can understand how it is that you have not a moment to yourself.
Your bliss is the cause of your silence, so I pardon you. Still, if,
fatigued with so many pleasures, you one day, upon the summit of your
grandeur, think of your poor Claire, write to me, tell me what a
marriage with a great man is, describe those great Parisian ladies,
especially those who write. Oh! I should so much like to know what
they are made of! Finally don't forget anything, unless you forget
that you are loved, as ever, by your poor
From Madame Adolphe de Chodoreille to Madame la Presidente de la
Roulandiere, at Viviers.
"Ah! my poor Claire, could you have known how many wretched little
griefs your innocent letter would awaken, you never would have written
it. Certainly no friend, and not even an enemy, on seeing a woman with
a thousand mosquito-bites and a plaster over them, would amuse herself
by tearing it off and counting the stings.
"I will begin by telling you that for a woman of twenty-seven, with a
face still passable, but with a form a little too much like that of
the Emperor Nicholas for the humble part I play, I am happy! Let me
tell you why: Adolphe, rejoicing in the deceptions which have fallen
upon me like a hail-storm, smoothes over the wounds in my self-love by
so much affection, so many attentions, and such charming things, that,
in good truth, women—so far as they are simply women—would be glad
to find in the man they marry defects so advantageous. But all men of
letters (Adolphe, alas! is barely a man of letters), who are beings
not a bit less irritable, nervous, fickle and eccentric than women,
are far from possessing such solid qualities as those of Adolphe, and
I hope they have not all been as unfortunate as he.
"Ah! Claire, we love each other well enough for me to tell you the
simple truth. I have saved my husband, dear, from profound but
skillfully concealed poverty. Far from receiving twenty thousand
francs a year, he has not earned that sum in the entire fifteen years
that he has been at Paris. We occupy a third story in the rue Joubert,
and pay twelve hundred francs for it; we have some eighty-five hundred
francs left, with which I endeavor to keep house honorably.
"I have brought Adolphe luck; for since our marriage, he has obtained
the control of a feuilleton which is worth four hundred francs a month
to him, though it takes but a small portion of his time. He owes this
situation to an investment. We employed the seventy thousand francs
left me by my Aunt Carabas in giving security for a newspaper; on this
we get nine per cent, and we have stock besides. Since this
transaction, which was concluded some ten months ago, our income has
doubled, and we now possess a competence, I can complain of my
marriage in a pecuniary point of view no more than as regards my
affections. My vanity alone has suffered, and my ambition has been
swamped. You will understand the various petty troubles which have
assailed me, by a single specimen.
"Adolphe, you remember, appeared to us on intimate terms with the
famous Baroness Schinner, so renowned for her wit, her influence, her
wealth and her connection with celebrated men. I supposed that he was
welcomed at her house as a friend: my husband presented me, and I was
coldly received. I saw that her rooms were furnished with extravagant
luxury; and instead of Madame Schinner's returning my call, I received
a card, twenty days afterward, and at an insolently improper hour.
"On arriving at Paris, I went to walk upon the boulevard, proud of my
anonymous great man. He nudged me with his elbow, and said, pointing
out a fat little ill-dressed man, 'There's so and so!' He mentioned
one of the seven or eight illustrious men in France. I got ready my
look of admiration, and I saw Adolphe rapturously doffing his hat to
the truly great man, who replied by the curt little nod that you
vouchsafe a person with whom you have doubtless exchanged hardly four
words in ten years. Adolphe had begged a look for my sake. 'Doesn't he
know you?' I said to my husband. 'Oh, yes, but he probably took me for
somebody else,' replied he.
"And so of poets, so of celebrated musicians, so of statesmen. But, as
a compensation, we stop and talk for ten minutes in front of some
arcade or other, with Messieurs Armand du Cantal, George Beaunoir,
Felix Verdoret, of whom you have never heard. Mesdames Constantine
Ramachard, Anais Crottat, and Lucienne Vouillon threaten me with their
blue friendship. We dine editors totally unknown in our province.
Finally I have had the painful happiness of seeing Adolphe decline an
invitation to an evening party to which I was not bidden.
"Oh! Claire dear, talent is still the rare flower of spontaneous
growth, that no greenhouse culture can produce. I do not deceive
myself: Adolphe is an ordinary man, known, estimated as such: he has
no other chance, as he himself says, than to take his place among the
utilities of literature. He was not without wit at Viviers: but to
be a man of wit at Paris, you must possess every kind of wit in
"I esteem Adolphe: for, after some few fibs, he frankly confessed his
position, and, without humiliating himself too deeply, he promised
that I should be happy. He hopes, like numerous other ordinary men, to
obtain some place, that of an assistant librarian, for instance, or
the pecuniary management of a newspaper. Who knows but we may get him
elected deputy for Viviers, in the course of time?
"We live in obscurity; we have five or six friends of either sex whom
we like, and such is the brilliant style of life which your letter
gilded with all the social splendors.
"From time to time I am caught in a squall, or am the butt of some
malicious tongue. Thus, yesterday, at the opera, I heard one of our
most ill-natured wits, Leon de Lora, say to one of our most famous
critics, 'It takes Chodoreille to discover the Caroline poplar on the
banks of the Rhone!' They had heard my husband call me by my Christian
name. At Viviers I was considered handsome. I am tall, well made, and
fat enough to satisfy Adolphe! In this way I learn that the beauty of
women from the country is, at Paris, precisely like the wit of country
"In short, I am absolutely nobody, if that is what you wish to know:
but if you desire to learn how far my philosophy goes, understand that
I am really happy in having found an ordinary man in my pretended
"Farewell, dear Claire! It is still I, you see, who, in spite of my
delusions and the petty troubles of my life, am the most favorably
situated: for Adolphe is young, and a charming fellow.
Claire's reply contained, among other passages, the following: "I hope
that the indescribable happiness which you enjoy, will continue,
thanks to your philosophy." Claire, as any intimate female friend
would have done, consoled herself for her president by insinuations
respecting Adolphe's prospects and future conduct.
II. ANOTHER GLANCE AT CHODOREILLE.
(Letter discovered one day in a casket, while she was making me wait a
long time and trying to get rid of a hanger-on who could not be made
to understand hidden meanings. I caught cold—but I got hold of this
This fatuous note was found on a paper which the notary's clerks had
thought of no importance in the inventory of the estate of M.
Ferdinand de Bourgarel, who was mourned of late by politics, arts and
amours, and in whom is ended the great Provencal house of Borgarelli;
for as is generally known the name Bourgarel is a corruption of
Borgarelli just as the French Girardin is the Florentine Gherardini.
An intelligent reader will find little difficulty in placing this
letter in its proper epoch in the lives of Adolphe and Caroline.
"My dear Friend:
"I thought myself lucky indeed to marry an artist as superior in his
talent as in his personal attributes, equally great in soul and mind,
worldly-wise, and likely to rise by following the public road without
being obliged to wander along crooked, doubtful by-paths. However, you
knew Adolphe; you appreciated his worth. I am loved, he is a father, I
idolize our children. Adolphe is kindness itself to me; I admire and
love him. But, my dear, in this complete happiness lurks a thorn. The
roses upon which I recline have more than one fold. In the heart of a
woman, folds speedily turn to wounds. These wounds soon bleed, the
evil spreads, we suffer, the suffering awakens thoughts, the thoughts
swell and change the course of sentiment.
"Ah, my dear, you shall know all about it, though it is a cruel thing
to say—but we live as much by vanity as by love. To live by love
alone, one must dwell somewhere else than in Paris. What difference
would it make to us whether we had only one white percale gown, if the
man we love did not see other women dressed differently, more
elegantly than we—women who inspire ideas by their ways, by a
multitude of little things which really go to make up great passions?
Vanity, my dear, is cousin-german to jealousy, to that beautiful and
noble jealousy which consists in not allowing one's empire to be
invaded, in reigning undisturbed in a soul, and passing one's life
happily in a heart.
"Ah, well, my woman's vanity is on the rack. Though some troubles may
seem petty indeed, I have learned, unfortunately, that in the home
there are no petty troubles. For everything there is magnified by
incessant contact with sensations, with desires, with ideas. Such then
is the secret of that sadness which you have surprised in me and which
I did not care to explain. It is one of those things in which words go
too far, and where writing holds at least the thought within bounds by
establishing it. The effects of a moral perspective differ so
radically between what is said and what is written! All is so solemn,
so serious on paper! One cannot commit any more imprudences. Is it not
this fact which makes a treasure out of a letter where one gives one's
self over to one's thoughts?
"You doubtless thought me wretched, but I am only wounded. You
discovered me sitting alone by the fire, and no Adolphe. I had just
finished putting the children to bed; they were asleep. Adolphe for
the tenth time had been invited out to a house where I do not go,
where they want Adolphe without his wife. There are drawing-rooms
where he goes without me, just at there are many pleasures in which he
alone is the guest. If he were M. de Navarreins and I a d'Espard,
society would never think of separating us; it would want us always
together. His habits are formed; he does not suspect the humiliation
which weighs upon my heart. Indeed, if he had the slightest inkling of
this small sorrow which I am ashamed to own, he would drop society, he
would become more of a prig than the people who come between us. But
he would hamper his progress, he would make enemies, he would raise up
obstacles by imposing me upon the salons where I would be subject to a
thousand slights. That is why I prefer my sufferings to what would
happen were they discovered.
"Adolphe will succeed! He carries my revenge in his beautiful head,
does this man of genius. One day the world shall pay for all these
slights. But when? Perhaps I shall be forty-five. My beautiful youth
will have passed in my chimney-corner, and with this thought: Adolphe
smiles, he is enjoying the society of fair women, he is playing the
devoted to them, while none of these attentions come my way.
"It may be that these will finally take him from me!
"No one undergoes slight without feeling it, and I feel that I am
slighted, though young, beautiful and virtuous. Now, can I keep from
thinking this way? Can I control my anger at the thought that Adolphe
is dining in the city without me? I take no part in his triumphs; I do
not hear the witty or profound remarks made to others! I could no
longer be content with bourgeois receptions whence he rescued me, upon
finding me distinguee, wealthy, young, beautiful and witty. There
lies the evil, and it is irremediable.
"In a word, for some cause, it is only since I cannot go to a certain
salon that I want to go there. Nothing is more natural of the ways of
a human heart. The ancients were wise in having their gyneceums. The
collisions between the pride of the women, caused by these gatherings,
though it dates back only four centuries, has cost our own day much
disaffection and numerous bitter debates.
"Be that as it may, my dear, Adolphe is always warmly welcomed when he
comes back home. Still, no nature is strong enough to await always
with the same ardor. What a morrow that will be, following the evening
when his welcome is less warm!
"Now do you see the depth of the fold which I mentioned? A fold in the
heart is an abyss, like a crevasse in the Alps—a profundity whose
depth and extent we have never been able to calculate. Thus it is
between two beings, no matter how near they may be drawn to each
other. One never realizes the weight of suffering which oppresses his
friend. This seems such a little thing, yet one's life is affected by
it in all its length, in all its breadth. I have thus argued with
myself; but the more I have argued, the more thoroughly have I
realized the extent of this hidden sorrow. And I can only let the
current carry me whither it will.
"Two voices struggle for supremacy when—by a rarely fortunate chance
—I am alone in my armchair waiting for Adolphe. One, I would wager,
comes from Eugene Delacroix's Faust which I have on my table.
Mephistopheles speaks, that terrible aide who guides the swords so
dexterously. He leaves the engraving, and places himself diabolically
before me, grinning through the hole which the great artist has placed
under his nose, and gazing at me with that eye whence fall rubies,
diamonds, carriages, jewels, laces, silks, and a thousand luxuries to
feed the burning desire within me.
"'Are you not fit for society?' he asks. 'You are the equal of the
fairest duchesses. Your voice is like a siren's, your hands command
respect and love. Ah! that arm!—place bracelets upon it, and how
pleasingly it would rest upon the velvet of a robe! Your locks are
chains which would fetter all men. And you could lay all your triumphs
at Adolphe's feet, show him your power and never use it. Then he would
fear, where now he lives in insolent certainty. Come! To action!
Inhale a few mouthfuls of disdain and you will exhale clouds of
incense. Dare to reign! Are you not next to nothing here in your
chimney-corner? Sooner or later the pretty spouse, the beloved wife
will die, if you continue like this, in a dressing-gown. Come, and you
shall perpetuate your sway through the arts of coquetry! Show yourself
in salons, and your pretty foot shall trample down the love of your
"The other voice comes from my white marble mantel, which rustles like
a garment. I think I see a veritable goddess crowned with white roses,
and bearing a palm-branch in her hand. Two blue eyes smile down on me.
This simple image of virtue says to me:
"'Be content! Remain good always, and make this man happy. That is the
whole of your mission. The sweetness of angels triumphs over all pain.
Faith in themselves has enabled the martyrs to obtain solace even on
the brasiers of their tormentors. Suffer a moment; you shall be happy
in the end.'
"Sometimes Adolphe enters at that moment and I am content. But, my
dear, I have less patience than love. I almost wish to tear in pieces
the woman who can go everywhere, and whose society is sought out by
men and women alike. What profound thought lies in the line of
"'The world, dear Agnes, is a curious thing!'
"You know nothing of this petty trouble, you fortunate Mathilde! You
are well born. You can do a great deal for me. Just think! I can write
you things that I dared not speak about. Your visits mean so much;
come often to see your poor
"Well," said I to the notary's clerk, "do you know what was the nature
of this letter to the late Bourgarel?"
"A note of exchange."
Neither clerk nor notary understood my meaning. Do you?
THE PANGS OF INNOCENCE.
"Yes, dear, in the married state, many things will happen to you which
you are far from expecting: but then others will happen which you
expect still less. For instance—"
The author (may we say the ingenious author?) qui castigat ridendo
mores, and who has undertaken the Petty Troubles of Married Life,
hardly needs to remark, that, for prudence' sake, he here allows a
lady of high distinction to speak, and that he does not assume the
responsibility of her language, though he professes the most sincere
admiration for the charming person to whom he owes his acquaintance
with this petty trouble.
"For instance—" she says.
He nevertheless thinks proper to avow that this person is neither
Madame Foullepointe, nor Madame de Fischtaminel, nor Madame Deschars.
Madame Deschars is too prudish, Madame Foullepointe too absolute in
her household, and she knows it; indeed, what doesn't she know? She is
good-natured, she sees good society, she wishes to have the best:
people overlook the vivacity of her witticisms, as, under louis XIV,
they overlooked the remarks of Madame Cornuel. They overlook a good
many things in her; there are some women who are the spoiled children
of public opinion.
As to Madame de Fischtaminel, who is, in fact, connected with the
affair, as you shall see, she, being unable to recriminate, abstains
from words and recriminates in acts.
We give permission to all to think that the speaker is Caroline
herself, not the silly little Caroline of tender years. But Caroline
when she has become a woman of thirty.
"For instance," she remarks to a young woman whom she is edifying,
"you will have children, God willing."
"Madame," I say, "don't let us mix the deity up in this, unless it is
"You are impertinent," she replies, "you shouldn't interrupt a
"When she is busy with children, I know: but, madame, you ought not to
trifle with the innocence of young ladies. Mademoiselle is going to be
married, and if she were led to count upon the intervention of the
Supreme Being in this affair, she would fall into serious errors. We
should not deceive the young. Mademoiselle is beyond the age when
girls are informed that their little brother was found under a
"You evidently want to get me confused," she replies, smiling and
showing the loveliest teeth in the world. "I am not strong enough to
argue with you, so I beg you to let me go on with Josephine. What was
"That if I get married, I shall have children," returns the young
"Very well. I will not represent things to you worse than they are,
but it is extremely probable that each child will cost you a tooth.
With every baby I have lost a tooth."
"Happily," I remark at this, "this trouble was with you less than
petty, it was positively nothing."—They were side teeth.—"But take
notice, miss, that this vexation has no absolute, unvarying character
as such. The annoyance depends upon the condition of the tooth. If the
baby causes the loss of a decayed tooth, you are fortunate to have a
baby the more and a bad tooth the less. Don't let us confound
blessings with bothers. Ah! if you were to lose one of your
magnificent front teeth, that would be another thing! And yet there is
many a woman that would give the best tooth in her head for a fine,
"Well," resumes Caroline, with animation, "at the risk of destroying
your illusions, poor child, I'll just show you a petty trouble that
counts! Ah, it's atrocious! And I won't leave the subject of dress
which this gentleman considers the only subject we women are equal
I protest by a gesture.
"I had been married about two years," continues Caroline, "and I loved
my husband. I have got over it since and acted differently for his
happiness and mine. I can boast of having one of the happiest homes in
Paris. In short, my dear, I loved the monster, and, even when out in
society, saw no one but him. My husband had already said to me several
times, 'My dear, young women never dress well; your mother liked to
have you look like a stick,—she had her reasons for it. If you care
for my advice, take Madame de Fischtaminel for a model: she is a lady
of taste.' I, unsuspecting creature that I was, saw no perfidy in the
"One evening as we returned from a party, he said, 'Did you notice how
Madame de Fischtaminel was dressed!' 'Yes, very neatly.' And I said to
myself, 'He's always talking about Madame de Fischtaminel; I must
really dress just like her.' I had noticed the stuff and the make of
the dress, and the style of the trimmings. I was as happy as could be,
as I went trotting about town, doing everything I could to obtain the
same articles. I sent for the very same dressmaker.
"'You work for Madame de Fischtaminel,' I said.
"'Well, I will employ you as my dressmaker, but on one condition: you
see I have procured the stuff of which her gown is made, and I want
you to make me one exactly like it.'
"I confess that I did not at first pay any attention to a rather
shrewd smile of the dressmaker, though I saw it and afterwards
accounted for it. 'So like it,' I added, 'that you can't tell them
"Oh," says Caroline, interrupting herself and looking at me, "you men
teach us to live like spiders in the depths of their webs, to see
everything without seeming to look at it, to investigate the meaning
and spirit of words, movements, looks. You say, 'How cunning women
are!' But you should say, 'How deceitful men are!'
"I can't tell you how much care, how many days, how many manoeuvres,
it cost me to become Madame de Fischtaminel's duplicate! But these are
our battles, child," she adds, returning to Josephine. "I could not
find a certain little embroidered neckerchief, a very marvel! I
finally learned that it was made to order. I unearthed the
embroideress, and ordered a kerchief like Madame de Fischtaminel's.
The price was a mere trifle, one hundred and fifty francs! It had been
ordered by a gentleman who had made a present of it to Madame de
Fischtaminel. All my savings were absorbed by it. Now we women of
Paris are all of us very much restricted in the article of dress.
There is not a man worth a hundred thousand francs a year, that loses
ten thousand a winter at whist, who does not consider his wife
extravagant, and is not alarmed at her bills for what he calls 'rags'!
'Let my savings go,' I said. And they went. I had the modest pride of
a woman in love: I would not speak a word to Adolphe of my dress; I
wanted it to be a surprise, goose that I was! Oh, how brutally you men
take away our blessed ignorance!"
This remark is meant for me, for me who had taken nothing from the
lady, neither tooth, nor anything whatever of the things with a name
and without a name that may be taken from a woman.
"I must tell you that my husband took me to Madame de Fischtaminel's,
where I dined quite often. I heard her say to him, 'Why, your wife
looks very well!' She had a patronizing way with me that I put up
with: Adolphe wished that I could have her wit and preponderance in
society. In short, this phoenix of women was my model. I studied and
copied her, I took immense pains not to be myself—oh!—it was a poem
that no one but us women can understand! Finally, the day of my
triumph dawned. My heart beat for joy, as if I were a child, as if I
were what we all are at twenty-two. My husband was going to call for
me for a walk in the Tuileries: he came in, I looked at him radiant
with joy, but he took no notice. Well, I can confess it now, it was
one of those frightful disasters—but I will say nothing about it
—this gentleman here would make fun of me."
I protest by another movement.
"It was," she goes on, for a woman never stops till she has told the
whole of a thing, "as if I had seen an edifice built by a fairy
crumble into ruins. Adolphe manifested not the slightest surprise. We
got into the carriage. Adolphe noticed my sadness, and asked me what
the matter was: I replied as we always do when our hearts are wrung by
these petty vexations, 'Oh, nothing!' Then he took his eye-glass, and
stared at the promenaders on the Champs Elysees, for we were to go the
rounds of the Champs Elysees, before taking our walk at the Tuileries.
Finally, a fit of impatience seized me. I felt a slight attack of
fever, and when I got home, I composed myself to smile. 'You haven't
said a word about my dress!' I muttered. 'Ah, yes, your gown is
somewhat like Madame de Fischtaminel's.' He turned on his heel and
"The next day I pouted a little, as you may readily imagine. Just as
we were finishing breakfast by the fire in my room—I shall never
forget it—the embroideress called to get her money for the
neckerchief. I paid her. She bowed to my husband as if she knew him. I
ran after her on pretext of getting her to receipt the bill, and said:
'You didn't ask him so much for Madame de Fischtaminel's kerchief!'
'I assure you, madame, it's the same price, the gentleman did not beat
me down a mite.' I returned to my room where I found my husband
looking as foolish as—"
She hesitates and then resumes: "As a miller just made a bishop. 'I
understand, love, now, that I shall never be anything more than
somewhat like Madame de Fischtaminel.' 'You refer to her
neckerchief, I suppose: well, I did give it to her,—it was for her
birthday. You see, we were formerly—' 'Ah, you were formerly more
intimate than you are now!' Without replying to this, he added, 'But
it's altogether moral.'
"He took his hat and went out, leaving me with this fine declaration
of the Rights of Man. He did not return and came home late at night. I
remained in my chamber and wept like a Magdalen, in the
chimney-corner. You may laugh at me, if you will," she adds, looking
at me, "but I shed tears over my youthful illusions, and I wept, too,
for spite, at having been taken for a dupe. I remembered the
dressmaker's smile! Ah, that smile reminded me of the smiles of a
number of women, who laughed at seeing me so innocent and unsuspecting
at Madame de Fischtaminel's! I wept sincerely. Until now I had a right
to give my husband credit for many things which he did not possess, but
in the existence of which young married women pertinaciously believe.
"How many great troubles are included in this petty one! You men are a
vulgar set. There is not a woman who does not carry her delicacy so
far as to embroider her past life with the most delightful fibs, while
you—but I have had my revenge."
"Madame," I say, "you are giving this young lady too much
"True," she returns, "I will tell you the sequel some other time."
"Thus, you see, mademoiselle," I say, "you imagine you are buying a
neckerchief and you find a petty trouble round your neck: if you get
it given to you—"
"It's a great trouble," retorts the woman of distinction. "Let us
The moral of this fable is that you must wear your neckerchief without
thinking too much about it. The ancient prophets called this world,
even in their time, a valley of woe. Now, at that period, the
Orientals had, with the permission of the constituted authorities, a
swarm of comely slaves, besides their wives! What shall we call the
valley of the Seine between Calvary and Charenton, where the law
allows but one lawful wife.
THE UNIVERSAL AMADIS.
You will understand at once that I began to gnaw the head of my cane,
to consult the ceiling, to gaze at the fire, to examine Caroline's
foot, and I thus held out till the marriageable young lady was gone.
"You must excuse me," I said, "if I have remained behind, perhaps in
spite of you: but your vengeance would lose by being recounted by and
by, and if it constituted a petty trouble for your husband, I have the
greatest interest in hearing it, and you shall know why."
"Ah," she returned, "that expression, 'it's altogether moral,' which
he gave as an excuse, shocked me to the last degree. It was a great
consolation, truly, to me, to know that I held the place, in his
household, of a piece of furniture, a block; that my kingdom lay among
the kitchen utensils, the accessories of my toilet, and the
physicians' prescriptions; that our conjugal love had been assimilated
to dinner pills, to veal soup and white mustard; that Madame de
Fischtaminel possessed my husband's soul, his admiration, and that she
charmed and satisfied his intellect, while I was a kind of purely
physical necessity! What do you think of a woman's being degraded to
the situation of a soup or a plate of boiled beef, and without
parsley, at that! Oh, I composed a catilinic, that evening—"
"Philippic is better."
"Well, either. I'll say anything you like, for I was perfectly
furious, and I don't remember what I screamed in the desert of my
bedroom. Do you suppose that this opinion that husbands have of their
wives, the parts they give them, is not a singular vexation for us?
Our petty troubles are always pregnant with greater ones. My Adolphe
needed a lesson. You know the Vicomte de Lustrac, a desperate amateur
of women and music, an epicure, one of those ex-beaux of the Empire,
who live upon their earlier successes, and who cultivate themselves
with excessive care, in order to secure a second crop?"
"Yes," I said, "one of those laced, braced, corseted old fellows of
sixty, who work such wonders by the grace of their forms, and who
might give a lesson to the youngest dandies among us."
"Monsieur de Lustrac is as selfish as a king, but gallant and
pretentious, spite of his jet black wig."
"As to his whiskers, he dyes them."
"He goes to ten parties in an evening: he's a butterfly."
"He gives capital dinners and concerts, and patronizes inexperienced
"He takes bustle for pleasure."
"Yes, but he makes off with incredible celerity whenever a misfortune
occurs. Are you in mourning, he avoids you. Are you confined, he
awaits your churching before he visits you. He possesses a mundane
frankness and a social intrepidity which challenge admiration."
"But does it not require courage to appear to be what one really is?"
"Well," she resumed, after we had exchanged our observations on this
point, "this young old man, this universal Amadis, whom we call among
ourselves Chevalier Petit-Bon-Homme-vil-encore, became the object of
my admiration. I made him a few of those advances which never
compromise a woman; I spoke of the good taste exhibited in his latest
waistcoats and in his canes, and he thought me a lady of extreme
amiability. I thought him a chevalier of extreme youth; he called upon
me; I put on a number of little airs, and pretended to be unhappy at
home, and to have deep sorrows. You know what a woman means when she
talks of her sorrows, and complains that she is not understood. The
old ape replied much better than a young man would, and I had the
greatest difficulty in keeping a straight face while I listened to
"'Ah, that's the way with husbands, they pursue the very worst polity,
they respect their wives, and, sooner or later, every woman is enraged
at finding herself respected, and divines the secret education to
which she is entitled. Once married, you ought not to live like a
little school-girl, etc.'
"As he spoke, he leaned over me, he squirmed, he was horrible to see.
He looked like a wooden Nuremberg doll, he stuck out his chin, he
stuck out his chair, he stuck out his hand—in short, after a variety
of marches and countermarches, of declarations that were perfectly
"Yes. Petit-Bon-Homme-vil-encore had abandoned the classicism of his
youth for the romanticism now in fashion: he spoke of the soul, of
angels, of adoration, of submission, he became ethereal, and of the
darkest blue. He took me to the opera, and handed me to my carriage.
This old young man went when I went, his waistcoats multiplied, he
compressed his waist, he excited his horse to a gallop in order to
catch and accompany my carriage to the promenade: he compromised me
with the grace of a young collegian, and was considered madly in love
with me. I was steadfastly cruel, but accepted his arm and his
bouquets. We were talked about. I was delighted, and managed before
long to be surprised by my husband, with the viscount on the sofa in
my boudoir, holding my hands in his, while I listened in a sort of
external ecstasy. It is incredible how much a desire for vengeance
will induce us to put up with! I appeared vexed at the entrance of my
husband, who made a scene on the viscount's departure: 'I assure you,
sir,' said I, after having listened to his reproaches, 'that it's
altogether moral.' My husband saw the point and went no more to
Madame de Fischtaminel's. I received Monsieur de Lustrac no more,
"But," I interrupted, "this Lustrac that you, like many others, take
for a bachelor, is a widower, and childless."
"No man ever buried his wife deeper than he buried his: she will
hardly be found at the day of judgment. He married before the
Revolution, and your altogether moral reminds me of a speech of his
that I shall have to repeat for your benefit. Napoleon appointed
Lustrac to an important office, in a conquered province. Madame de
Lustrac, abandoned for governmental duties, took a private secretary
for her private affairs, though it was altogether moral: but she was
wrong in selecting him without informing her husband. Lustrac met this
secretary in a state of some excitement, in consequence of a lively
discussion in his wife's chamber, and at an exceedingly early hour in
the morning. The city desired nothing better than to laugh at its
governor, and this adventure made such a sensation that Lustrac
himself begged the Emperor to recall him. Napoleon desired his
representatives to be men of morality, and he held that such disasters
as this must inevitably take from a man's consideration. You know that
among the Emperor's unhappy passions, was that of reforming his court
and his government. Lustrac's request was granted, therefore, but
without compensation. When he returned to Paris, he reappeared at his
mansion, with his wife; he took her into society—a step which is
certainly conformable to the most refined habits of the aristocracy
—but then there are always people who want to find out about it.
They inquired the reason of this chivalrous championship. 'So you are
reconciled, you and Madame de Lustrac,' some one said to him in the
lobby of the Emperor's theatre, 'you have pardoned her, have you? So
much the better.' 'Oh,' replied he, with a satisfied air, 'I became
convinced—' 'Ah, that she was innocent, very good.' 'No, I became
convinced that it was altogether physical.'"
"The opinion of your admirer reduced this weighty trouble to what is,
in this case as in yours, a very petty one."
"A petty trouble!" she exclaimed, "and pray for what do you take the
fatigue of coquetting with a de Lustrac, of whom I have made an enemy!
Ah, women often pay dearly enough for the bouquets they receive and
the attentions they accept. Monsieur de Lustrac said of me to Monsieur
de Bourgarel, 'I would not advise you to pay court to that woman; she
is too dear.'"
WITHOUT AN OCCUPATION.
"You ask me, dear mother, whether I am happy with my husband.
Certainly Monsieur de Fischtaminel was not the ideal of my dreams. I
submitted to your will, as you know. His fortune, that supreme
consideration, spoke, indeed, sufficiently loud. With these arguments,
—a marriage, without stooping, with the Count de Fischtaminel, his
having thirty thousand a year, and a home at Paris—you were strongly
armed against your poor daughter. Besides, Monsieur de Fischtaminel is
good looking for a man of thirty-six years; he received the cross of
the Legion of Honor from Napoleon upon the field of battle, he is an
ex-colonel, and had it not been for the Restoration, which put him
upon half-pay, he would be a general. These are certainly extenuating
"Many women consider that I have made a good match, and I am bound to
confess that there is every appearance of happiness,—for the public,
that is. But you will acknowledge that if you had known of the return
of my Uncle Cyrus and of his intention to leave me his money, you
would have given me the privilege of choosing for myself.
"I have nothing to say against Monsieur de Fischtaminel: he does not
gamble, he is indifferent to women, he doesn't like wine, and he has
no expensive fancies: he possesses, as you said, all the negative
qualities which make husbands passable. Then, what is the matter with
him? Well, mother, he has nothing to do. We are together the whole
blessed day! Would you believe that it is during the night, when we
are the most closely united, that I am the most alone? His sleep is my
asylum, my liberty begins when he slumbers. This state of siege will
yet make me sick: I am never alone. If Monsieur de Fischtaminel were
jealous, I should have a resource. There would then be a struggle, a
comedy: but how could the aconite of jealousy have taken root in his
soul? He has never left me since our marriage. He feels no shame in
stretching himself out upon a sofa and remaining there for hours
"Two felons pinioned to the same chain do not find time hang heavy:
for they have their escape to think of. But we have no subject of
conversation; we have long since talked ourselves out. A little while
ago he was so far reduced as to talk politics. But even politics are
exhausted, Napoleon, unfortunately for me, having died at St. Helena,
as is well known.
"Monsieur de Fischtaminel abhors reading. If he sees me with a book,
he comes and says a dozen times an hour—'Nina, dear, haven't you
"I endeavored to persuade this innocent persecutor to ride out every
day on horseback, and I alleged a consideration usually conclusive
with men of forty years,—his health! But he said that after having
been twelve years on horseback, he felt the need of repose.
"My husband, dear mother, is a man who absorbs you, he uses up the
vital fluid of his neighbor, his ennui is gluttonous: he likes to be
amused by those who call upon us, and, after five years of wedlock, no
one ever comes: none visit us but those whose intentions are evidently
dishonorable for him, and who endeavor, unsuccessfully, to amuse him,
in order to earn the right to weary his wife.
"Monsieur de Fischtaminel, mother, opens the door of my chamber, or of
the room to which I have flown for refuge, five or six times an hour,
and comes up to me in an excited way, and says, 'Well, what are you
doing, my belle?' (the expression in fashion during the Empire)
without perceiving that he is constantly repeating the same phrase,
which is to me like the one pint too much that the executioner
formerly poured into the torture by water.
"Then there's another bore! We can't go to walk any more. A promenade
without conversation, without interest, is impossible. My husband
walks with me for the walk, as if he were alone. I have the fatigue
without the pleasure.
"The interval between getting up and breakfast is employed in my
toilet, in my household duties; and I manage to get through with this
part of the day. But between breakfast and dinner, there is a whole
desert to plough, a waste to traverse. My husband's want of occupation
does not leave me a moment of repose, he overpowers me by his
uselessness; his idle life positively wears me out. His two eyes
always open and gazing at mine compel me to keep them lowered. Then
his monotonous remarks:
"'What o'clock is it, love? What are you doing now? What are you
thinking of? What do you mean to do? Where shall we go this evening?
Anything new? What weather! I don't feel well, etc., etc.'
"All these variations upon the same theme—the interrogation point
—which compose Fischtaminel's repertory, will drive me mad. Add to
these leaden arrows everlastingly shot off at me, one last trait which
will complete the description of my happiness, and you will understand
"Monsieur de Fischtaminel, who went away in 1809, with the rank of
sub-lieutenant, at the age of eighteen, has had no other education
than that due to discipline, to the natural sense of honor of a noble
and a soldier: but though he possesses tact, the sentiment of probity,
and a proper subordination, his ignorance is gross, he knows
absolutely nothing, and he has a horror of learning anything. Oh, dear
mother, what an accomplished door-keeper this colonel would have made,
had he been born in indigence! I don't think a bit the better of him
for his bravery, for he did not fight against the Russians, the
Austrians, or the Prussians: he fought against ennui. When he rushed
upon the enemy, Captain Fischtaminel's purpose was to get away from
himself. He married because he had nothing else to do.
"We have another slight difficulty to content with: my husband
harasses the servants to such a degree that we change them every six
"I so ardently desire, dear mother, to remain a virtuous woman, that I
am going to try the effect of traveling for half the year. During the
winter, I shall go every evening to the Italian or the French opera,
or to parties: but I don't know whether our fortune will permit such
an expenditure. Uncle Cyrus ought to come to Paris—I would take care
of him as I would of an inheritance.
"If you discover a cure for my woes, let your daughter know of it
—your daughter who loves you as much as she deplores her misfortunes,
and who would have been glad to call herself by some other name than
Besides the necessity of describing this petty trouble, which could
only be described by the pen of a woman,—and what a woman she was!
—it was necessary to make you acquainted with a character whom you
saw only in profile in the first half of this book, the queen of the
particular set in which Caroline lived,—a woman both envied and
adroit, who succeeded in conciliating, at an early date, what she owed
to the world with the requirements of the heart. This letter is her
Women are either chaste—or vain—or simply proud. They are therefore
all subject to the following petty trouble:
Certain husbands are so delighted to have, in the form of a wife, a
woman to themselves,—a possession exclusively due to the legal
ceremony,—that they dread the public's making a mistake, and they
hasten to brand their consort, as lumber-dealers brand their logs
while floating down stream, or as the Berry stock-raisers brand their
sheep. They bestow names of endearment, right before people, upon
their wives: names taken, after the Roman fashion (columbella), from
the animal kingdom, as: my chick, my duck, my dove, my lamb; or,
choosing from the vegetable kingdom, they call them: my cabbage, my
fig (this only in Provence), my plum (this only in Alsatia). Never:
—My flower! Pray note this discretion.
Or else, which is more serious, they call their wives:—Bobonne,
—mother,—daughter,—good woman,—old lady: this last when she is
Some venture upon names of doubtful propriety, such as: Mon bichon, ma
We once heard one of our politicians, a man extremely remarkable for
his ugliness, call his wife, Moumoutte!
"I would rather he would strike me," said this unfortunate to her
"Poor little woman, she is really unhappy," resumed the neighbor,
looking at me when Moumoutte had gone: "when she is in company with
her husband she is upon pins and needles, and keeps out of his way.
One evening, he actually seized her by the neck and said: 'Come fatty,
let's go home!'"
It has been alleged that the cause of a very famous husband-poisoning
with arsenic, was nothing less than a series of constant indiscretions
like these that the wife had to bear in society. This husband used to
give the woman he had won at the point of the Code, public little taps
on her shoulder, he would startle her by a resounding kiss, he
dishonored her by a conspicuous tenderness, seasoned by those
impertinent attentions the secret of which belongs to the French
savages who dwell in the depths of the provinces, and whose manners
are very little known, despite the efforts of the realists in fiction.
It was, it is said, this shocking situation,—one perfectly
appreciated by a discerning jury,—which won the prisoner a verdict
softened by the extenuating circumstances.
The jurymen said to themselves:
"For a wife to murder her husband for these conjugal offences, is
certainly going rather far; but then a woman is very excusable, when
she is so harassed!"
We deeply regret, in the interest of elegant manners, that these
arguments are not more generally known. Heaven grant, therefore, that
our book may have an immense success, as women will obtain this
advantage from it, that they will be treated as they deserve, that is,
In this respect, love is much superior to marriage, it is proud of
indiscreet sayings and doings. There are some women that seek them,
fish for them, and woe to the man who does not now and then commit
What passion lies in an accidental thou!
Out in the country I heard a husband call his wife: "Ma berline!" She
was delighted with it, and saw nothing ridiculous in it: she called
her husband, "Mon fiston!" This delicious couple were ignorant of the
existence of such things as petty troubles.
It was in observing this happy pair that the author discovered this
Axiom:—In order to be happy in wedlock, you must either be a man of
genius married to an affectionate and intellectual woman, or, by a
chance which is not as common as might be supposed, you must both of
you be exceedingly stupid.
The too celebrated history of the cure of a wounded self-love by
arsenic, proves that, properly speaking, there are no petty troubles
for women in married life.
Axiom.—Woman exists by sentiment where man exists by action.
Now, sentiment can at any moment render a petty trouble either a great
misfortune, or a wasted life, or an eternal misery. Should Caroline
begin, in her ignorance of life and the world, by inflicting upon her
husband the vexations of her stupidity (re-read REVELATIONS), Adolphe,
like any other man, may find a compensation in social excitement: he
goes out, comes back, goes here and there, has business. But for
Caroline, the question everywhere is, To love or not to love, to be or
not to be loved.
Indiscretions are in harmony with the character of the individuals,
with times and places. Two examples will suffice.
Here is the first. A man is by nature dirty and ugly: he is ill-made
and repulsive. There are men, and often rich ones, too, who, by a sort
of unobserved constitution, soil a new suit of clothes in twenty-four
hours. They were born disgusting. It is so disgraceful for a women to
be anything more than just simply a wife to this sort of Adolphe, that
a certain Caroline had long ago insisted upon the suppression of the
modern thee and thou and all other insignia of the wifely dignity.
Society had been for five or six years accustomed to this sort of
thing, and supposed Madame and Monsieur completely separated, and all
the more so as it had noticed the accession of a Ferdinand II.
One evening, in the presence of a dozen persons, this man said to his
wife: "Caroline, hand me the tongs, there's a love." It is nothing,
and yet everything. It was a domestic revelation.
Monsieur de Lustrac, the Universal Amadis, hurried to Madame de
Fischtaminel's, narrated this little scene with all the spirit at his
command, and Madame de Fischtaminel put on an air something like
Celimene's and said: "Poor creature, what an extremity she must be
I say nothing of Caroline's confusion,—you have already divined it.
Here is the second. Think of the frightful situation in which a lady
of great refinement was lately placed: she was conversing agreeably at
her country seat near Paris, when her husband's servant came and
whispered in her ear, "Monsieur has come, madame."
"Very well, Benoit."
Everybody had heard the rumblings of the vehicle. It was known that
the husband had been at Paris since Monday, and this took place on
Saturday, at four in the afternoon.
"He's got something important to say to you, madame."
Though this dialogue was held in a whisper, it was perfectly
understood, and all the more so from the fact that the lady of the
house turned from the pale hue of the Bengal rose to the brilliant
crimson of the wheatfield poppy. She nodded and went on with the
conversation, and managed to leave her company on the pretext of
learning whether her husband had succeeded in an important undertaking
or not: but she seemed plainly vexed at Adolphe's want of
consideration for the company who were visiting her.
During their youth, women want to be treated as divinities, they love
the ideal; they cannot bear the idea of being what nature intended
them to be.
Some husbands, on retiring to the country, after a week in town, are
worse than this: they bow to the company, put their arm round their
wife's waist, take a little walk with her, appear to be talking
confidentially, disappear in a clump of trees, get lost, and reappear
half an hour afterward.
This, ladies, is a genuine petty trouble for a young woman, but for a
woman beyond forty, this sort of indiscretion is so delightful, that
the greatest prudes are flattered by it, for, be it known:
That women of a certain age, women on the shady side, want to be
treated as mortals, they love the actual; they cannot bear the idea of
no longer being what nature intended them to be.
Axiom.—Modesty is a relative virtue; there is the modesty of the
woman of twenty, the woman of thirty, the woman of forty-five.
Thus the author said to a lady who told him to guess at her age:
"Madame, yours is the age of indiscretion."
This charming woman of thirty-nine was making a Ferdinand much too
conspicuous, while her daughter was trying to conceal her Ferdinand I.
FIRST STYLE. Caroline adores Adolphe, she thinks him handsome, she
thinks him superb, especially in his National Guard uniform. She
starts when a sentinel presents arms to him, she considers him moulded
like a model, she regards him as a man of wit, everything he does is
right, nobody has better taste than he, in short, she is crazy about
It's the old story of Cupid's bandage. This is washed every ten years,
and newly embroidered by the altered manners of the period, but it has
been the same old bandage since the days of Greece.
Caroline is at a ball with one of her young friends. A man well known
for his bluntness, whose acquaintance she is to make later in life,
but whom she now sees for the first time, Monsieur Foullepointe, has
commenced a conversation with Caroline's friend. According to the
custom of society, Caroline listens to this conversation without
mingling in it.
"Pray tell me, madame," says Monsieur Foullepointe, "who is that queer
man who has been talking about the Court of Assizes before a gentleman
whose acquittal lately created such a sensation: he is all the while
blundering, like an ox in a bog, against everybody's sore spot. A lady
burst into tears at hearing him tell of the death of a child, as she
lost her own two months ago."
"Who do you mean?"
"Why, that fat man, dressed like a waiter in a cafe, frizzled like a
barber's apprentice, there, he's trying now to make himself agreeable
to Madame de Fischtaminel."
"Hush," whispers the lady quite alarmed, "it's the husband of the
little woman next to me!"
"Ah, it's your husband?" says Monsieur Foullepointe. "I am delighted,
madame, he's a charming man, so vivacious, gay and witty. I am going
to make his acquaintance immediately."
And Foullepointe executes his retreat, leaving a bitter suspicion in
Caroline's soul, as to the question whether her husband is really as
handsome as she thinks him.
SECOND STYLE. Caroline, annoyed by the reputation of Madame Schinner,
who is credited with the possession of epistolary talents, and styled
the "Sevigne of the note", tired of hearing about Madame de
Fischtaminel, who has ventured to write a little 32mo book on the
education of the young, in which she has boldly reprinted Fenelon,
without the style:—Caroline has been working for six months upon a
tale tenfold poorer than those of Berquin, nauseatingly moral, and
flamboyant in style.
After numerous intrigues such as women are skillful in managing in the
interest of their vanity, and the tenacity and perfection of which
would lead you to believe that they have a third sex in their head,
this tale, entitled "The Lotus," appears in three installments in a
leading daily paper. It is signed Samuel Crux.
When Adolphe takes up the paper at breakfast, Caroline's heart beats
up in her very throat: she blushes, turns pale, looks away and stares
at the ceiling. When Adolphe's eyes settle upon the feuilleton, she
can bear it no longer: she gets up, goes out, comes back, having
replenished her stock of audacity, no one knows where.
"Is there a feuilleton this morning?" she asks with an air that she
thinks indifferent, but which would disturb a husband still jealous of
"Yes, one by a beginner, Samuel Crux. The name is a disguise, clearly:
the tale is insignificant enough to drive an insect to despair, if he
could read: and vulgar, too: the style is muddy, but then it's—"
Caroline breathes again. "It's—" she suggests.
"It's incomprehensible," resumes Adolphe. "Somebody must have paid
Chodoreille five or six hundred francs to insert it; or else it's the
production of a blue-stocking in high society who has promised to
invite Madame Chodoreille to her house; or perhaps it's the work of a
woman in whom the editor is personally interested. Such a piece of
stupidity cannot be explained any other way. Imagine, Caroline, that
it's all about a little flower picked on the edge of a wood in a
sentimental walk, which a gentleman of the Werther school has sworn to
keep, which he has had framed, and which the lady claims again eleven
years after (the poor man has had time to change his lodgings three
times). It's quite new, about as old as Sterne or Gessner. What makes
me think it's a woman, is that the first literary idea of the whole
sex is to take vengeance on some one."
Adolphe might go on pulling "The Lotus" to pieces; Caroline's ears are
full of the tinkling of bells. She is like the woman who threw herself
over the Pont des Arts, and tried to find her way ten feet below the
level of the Seine.
ANOTHER STYLE. Caroline, in her paroxysms of jealousy, has discovered
a hiding place used by Adolphe, who, as he can't trust his wife, and
as he knows she opens his letters and rummages in his drawers, has
endeavored to save his correspondence with Hector from the hooked
fingers of the conjugal police.
Hector is an old schoolmate, who has married in the Loire Inferieure.
Adolphe lifts up the cloth of his writing desk, a cloth the border of
which has been embroidered by Caroline, the ground being blue, black
or red velvet,—the color, as you see, is perfectly immaterial,—and
he slips his unfinished letters to Madame de Fischtaminel, to his
friend Hector, between the table and the cloth.
The thickness of a sheet of paper is almost nothing, velvet is a
downy, discreet material, but, no matter, these precautions are in
vain. The male devil is fairly matched by the female devil: Tophet
will furnish them of all genders. Caroline has Mephistopheles on her
side, the demon who causes tables to spurt forth fire, and who, with
his ironic finger points out the hiding place of keys—the secret of
Caroline has noticed the thickness of a letter sheet between this
velvet and this table: she hits upon a letter to Hector instead of
hitting upon one to Madame de Fischtaminel, who has gone to Plombieres
Springs, and reads the following:
"My dear Hector:
"I pity you, but you have acted wisely in entrusting me with a
knowledge of the difficulties in which you have voluntarily involved
yourself. You never would see the difference between the country woman
and the woman of Paris. In the country, my dear boy, you are always
face to face with your wife, and, owing to the ennui which impels you,
you rush headforemost into the enjoyment of your bliss. This is a
great error: happiness is an abyss, and when you have once reached the
bottom, you never get back again, in wedlock.
"I will show you why. Let me take, for your wife's sake, the shortest
"I remember having made a journey from Paris to Ville-Parisis, in that
vehicle called a 'bus: distance, twenty miles: 'bus, lumbering: horse,
lame. Nothing amuses me more than to draw from people, by the aid of
that gimlet called the interrogation, and to obtain, by means of an
attentive air, the sum of information, anecdotes and learning that
everybody is anxious to part with: and all men have such a sum, the
peasant as well as the banker, the corporal as well as the marshal of
"I have often noticed how ready these casks, overflowing with wit, are
to open their sluices while being transported by diligence or 'bus, or
by any vehicle drawn by horses, for nobody talks in a railway car.
"At the rate of our exit from Paris, the journey would take full seven
hours: so I got an old corporal to talk, for my diversion. He could
neither read nor write: he was entirely illiterate. Yet the journey
seemed short. The corporal had been through all the campaigns, he told
me of things perfectly unheard of, that historians never trouble
"Ah! Hector, how superior is practice to theory! Among other things,
and in reply to a question relative to the infantry, whose courage is
much more tried by marching than by fighting, he said this, which I
give you free from circumlocution:
"'Sir, when Parisians were brought to our 45th, which Napoleon called
The Terrible (I am speaking of the early days of the Empire, when the
infantry had legs of steel, and when they needed them), I had a way of
telling beforehand which of them would remain in the 45th. They
marched without hurrying, they did their little six leagues a day,
neither more nor less, and they pitched camp in condition to begin
again on the morrow. The plucky fellows who did ten leagues and wanted
to run to the victory, stopped half way at the hospital.'
"The worthy corporal was talking of marriage while he thought he was
talking of war, and you have stopped half way, Hector, at the
"Remember the sympathetic condolence of Madame de Sevigne counting out
three hundred thousand francs to Monsieur de Grignan, to induce him to
marry one of the prettiest girls in France! 'Why,' said she to
herself, 'he will have to marry her every day, as long as she lives!
Decidedly, I don't think three hundred francs too much.' Is it not
enough to make the bravest tremble?
"My dear fellow, conjugal happiness is founded, like that of nations,
upon ignorance. It is a felicity full of negative conditions.
"If I am happy with my little Caroline, it is due to the strictest
observance of that salutary principle so strongly insisted upon in the
Physiology of Marriage. I have resolved to lead my wife through
paths beaten in the snow, until the happy day when infidelity will be
"In the situation in which you have placed yourself, and which
resembles that of Duprez, who, on his first appearance at Paris, went
to singing with all the voice his lungs would yield, instead of
imitating Nourrit, who gave the audience just enough to enchant them,
the following, I think, is your proper course to—"
The letter broke off here: Caroline returned it to its place, at the
same time wondering how she would make her dear Adolphe expiate his
obedience to the execrable precepts of the Physiology of Marriage.
This trouble doubtless occurs sufficiently often and in different ways
enough in the existence of married women, for this personal incident
to become the type of the genus.
The Caroline in question here is very pious, she loves her husband
very much, her husband asserts that she loves him too much, even: but
this is a piece of marital conceit, if, indeed, it is not a
provocation, as he only complains to his wife's young lady friends.
When a person's conscience is involved, the least thing becomes
exceedingly serious. Madame de ——- has told her young friend, Madame
de Fischtaminel, that she had been compelled to make an extraordinary
confession to her spiritual director, and to perform penance, the
director having decided that she was in a state of mortal sin. This
lady, who goes to mass every morning, is a woman of thirty-six years,
thin and slightly pimpled. She has large soft black eyes, her upper
lip is strongly shaded: still her voice is sweet, her manners gentle,
her gait noble—she is a woman of quality.
Madame de Fischtaminel, whom Madame de ——- has made her friend
(nearly all pious women patronize a woman who is considered worldly,
on the pretext of converting her),—Madame de Fischtaminel asserts
that these qualities, in this Caroline of the Pious Sort, are a
victory of religion over a rather violent natural temper.
These details are necessary to describe the trouble in all its horror.
This lady's Adolphe had been compelled to leave his wife for two
months, in April, immediately after the forty days' fast that Caroline
scrupulously observes. Early in June, therefore, madame expected her
husband, she expected him day by day. From one hope to another,
"Conceived every morn and deferred every eve."
She got along as far as Sunday, the day when her presentiments, which
had now reached a state of paroxysm, told her that the longed-for
husband would arrive at an early hour.
When a pious woman expects her husband, and that husband has been
absent from home nearly four months, she takes much more pains with
her toilet than a young girl does, though waiting for her first
This virtuous Caroline was so completely absorbed in exclusively
personal preparations, that she forgot to go to eight o'clock mass.
She proposed to hear a low mass, but she was afraid of losing the
delight of her dear Adolphe's first glance, in case he arrived at
early dawn. Her chambermaid—who respectfully left her mistress alone
in the dressing-room where pious and pimpled ladies let no one enter,
not even their husbands, especially if they are thin—her chambermaid
heard her exclaim several times, "If it's your master, let me know!"
The rumbling of a vehicle having made the furniture rattle, Caroline
assumed a mild tone to conceal the violence of her legitimate
"Oh! 'tis he! Run, Justine: tell him I am waiting for him here."
Caroline trembled so that she dropped into an arm-chair.
The vehicle was a butcher's wagon.
It was in anxieties like this that the eight o'clock mass slipped by,
like an eel in his slime. Madame's toilet operations were resumed, for
she was engaged in dressing. The chambermaid's nose had already been
the recipient of a superb muslin chemise, with a simple hem, which
Caroline had thrown at her from the dressing-room, though she had
given her the same kind for the last three months.
"What are you thinking of, Justine? I told you to choose from the
chemises that are not numbered."
The unnumbered chemises were only seven or eight, in the most
magnificent trousseau. They are chemises gotten up and embroidered
with the greatest care: a woman must be a queen, a young queen, to
have a dozen. Each one of Caroline's was trimmed with valenciennes
round the bottom, and still more coquettishly garnished about the
neck. This feature of our manners will perhaps serve to suggest a
suspicion, in the masculine world, of the domestic drama revealed by
this exceptional chemise.
Caroline had put on a pair of Scotch thread stockings, little prunella
buskins, and her most deceptive corsets. She had her hair dressed in
the fashion that most became her, and embellished it with a cap of the
most elegant form. It is unnecessary to speak of her morning gown. A
pious lady who lives at Paris and who loves her husband, knows as well
as a coquette how to choose those pretty little striped patterns, have
them cut with an open waist, and fastened by loops to buttons in a way
which compels her to refasten them two or three times in an hour, with
little airs more or less charming, as the case may be.
The nine o'clock mass, the ten o'clock mass, every mass, went by in
these preparations, which, for women in love, are one of their twelve
labors of Hercules.
Pious women rarely go to church in a carriage, and they are right.
Except in the case of a pouring shower, or intolerably bad weather, a
person ought not to appear haughty in the place where it is becoming
to be humble. Caroline was afraid to compromise the freshness of her
dress and the purity of her thread stockings. Alas! these pretexts
concealed a reason.
"If I am at church when Adolphe comes, I shall lose the pleasure of
his first glance: and he will think I prefer high mass to him."
She made this sacrifice to her husband in a desire to please him—a
fearfully worldly consideration. Prefer the creature to the Creator! A
husband to heaven! Go and hear a sermon and you will learn what such
an offence will cost you.
"After all," says Caroline, quoting her confessor, "society is founded
upon marriage, which the Church has included among its sacraments."
And this is the way in which religious instruction may be put aside in
favor of a blind though legitimate love. Madame refused breakfast, and
ordered the meal to be kept hot, just as she kept herself ready, at a
moment's notice, to welcome the precious absentee.
Now these little things may easily excite a laugh: but in the first
place they are continually occurring with couples who love each other,
or where one of them loves the other: besides, in a woman so
strait-laced, so reserved, so worthy, as this lady, these
acknowledgments of affection went beyond the limits imposed upon her
feelings by the lofty self-respect which true piety induces. When
Madame de Fischtaminel narrated this little scene in a devotee's life,
dressing it up with choice by-play, acted out as ladies of the world
know how to act out their anecdotes, I took the liberty of saying that
it was the Canticle of canticles in action.
"If her husband doesn't come," said Justine to the cook, "what will
become of us? She has already thrown her chemise in my face."
At last, Caroline heard the crack of a postilion's whip, the
well-known rumbling of a traveling carriage, the racket made by the
hoofs of post-horses, and the jingling of their bells! Oh, she could
doubt no longer, the bells made her burst forth, as thus:
"The door! Open the door! 'Tis he, my husband! Will you never go to
the door!" And the pious woman stamped her foot and broke the
"Why, madame," said Justine, with the vivacity of a servant doing her
duty, "it's some people going away."
"Upon my word," replied Caroline, half ashamed, to herself, "I will
never let Adolphe go traveling again without me."
A Marseilles poet—it is not known whether it was Mery or Barthelemy
—acknowledged that if his best fried did not arrive punctually at the
dinner hour, he waited patiently five minutes: at the tenth minute, he
felt a desire to throw the napkin in his face: at the twelfth he hoped
some great calamity would befall him: at the fifteenth, he would not
be able to restrain himself from stabbing him several times with a
All women, when expecting somebody, are Marseilles poets, if, indeed,
we may compare the vulgar throes of hunger to the sublime Canticle of
canticles of a pious wife, who is hoping for the joys of a husband's
first glance after a three months' absence. Let all those who love and
who have met again after an absence ten thousand times accursed, be
good enough to recall their first glance: it says so many things that
the lovers, if in the presence of a third party, are fain to lower
their eyes! This poem, in which every man is as great as Homer, in
which he seems a god to the woman who loves him, is, for a pious, thin
and pimpled lady, all the more immense, from the fact that she has
not, like Madame de Fischtaminel, the resource of having several
copies of it. In her case, her husband is all she's got!
So you will not be surprised to learn that Caroline missed every mass
and had no breakfast. This hunger and thirst for Adolphe gave her a
violent cramp in the stomach. She did not think of religion once
during the hours of mass, nor during those of vespers. She was not
comfortable when she sat, and she was very uncomfortable when she
stood: Justine advised her to go to bed. Caroline, quite overcome,
retired at about half past five in the evening, after having taken a
light soup: but she ordered a dainty supper at ten.
"I shall doubtless sup with my husband," she said.
This speech was the conclusion of dreadful catalinics, internally
fulminated. She had reached the Marseilles poet's several stabs with a
dirk. So she spoke in a tone that was really terrible. At three in the
morning Caroline was in a profound sleep: Adolphe arrived without her
hearing either carriage, or horse, or bell, or opening door!
Adolphe, who would not permit her to be disturbed, went to bed in the
spare room. When Caroline heard of his return in the morning, two
tears issued from her eyes; she rushed to the spare room without the
slightest preparatory toilet; a hideous attendant, posted on the
threshold, informed her that her husband, having traveled two hundred
leagues and been two nights without sleep, requested that he might not
be awakened: he was exceedingly tired.
Caroline—pious woman that she was—opened the door violently without
being able to wake the only husband that heaven had given her, and
then hastened to church to listen to a thanksgiving mass.
As she was visibly snappish for three whole days, Justine remarked, in
reply to an unjust reproach, and with a chambermaid's finesse:
"Why, madame, your husband's got back!"
"He has only got back to Paris," returned the pious Caroline.
Put yourself in the place of a poor woman of doubtful beauty, who owes
her husband to the weight of her dowry, who gives herself infinite
pains, and spends a great deal of money to appear to advantage and
follow the fashions, who does her best to keep house sumptuously and
yet economically—a house, too, not easy to manage—who, from morality
and dire necessity, perhaps, loves no one but her husband, who has no
other study but the happiness of this precious husband, who, to
express all in one word, joins the maternal sentiment to the
sentiment of her duties. This underlined circumlocution is the
paraphrase of the word love in the language of prudes.
Have you put yourself in her place? Well, this too-much-loved husband
by chance remarked at his friend Monsieur de Fischtaminel's, that he
was very fond of mushrooms a l'Italienne.
If you have paid some attention to the female nature, in its good,
great, and grand manifestations, you know that for a loving wife there
is no greater pleasure than that of seeing the beloved one absorbing
his favorite viands. This springs from the fundamental idea upon which
the affection of women is based: that of being the source of all his
pleasures, big and little. Love animates everything in life, and
conjugal love has a peculiar right to descend to the most trivial
Caroline spends two or three days in inquiries before she learns how
the Italians dress mushrooms. She discovers a Corsican abbe who tells
her that at Biffi's, in the rue de Richelieu, she will not only learn
how the Italians dress mushrooms, but that she will be able to obtain
some Milanese mushrooms. Our pious Caroline thanks the Abbe Serpolini,
and resolves to send him a breviary in acknowledgment.
Caroline's cook goes to Biffi's, comes back from Biffi's, and exhibits
to the countess a quantity of mushrooms as big as the coachman's ears.
"Very good," she says, "did he explain to you how to cook them?"
"Oh, for us cooks, them's a mere nothing," replies the cook.
As a general rule, cooks know everything, in the cooking way, except
how a cook may feather his nest.
At evening, during the second course, all Caroline's fibres quiver
with pleasure at observing the servant bringing to the table a certain
suggestive dish. She has positively waited for this dinner as she had
waited for her husband.
But between waiting with certainty and expecting a positive pleasure,
there is, to the souls of the elect—and everybody will include a
woman who adores her husband among the elect—there is, between these
two worlds of expectation, the difference that exists between a fine
night and a fine day.
The dish is presented to the beloved Adolphe, he carelessly plunges
his spoon in and helps himself, without perceiving Caroline's extreme
emotion, to several of those soft, fat, round things, that travelers
who visit Milan do not for a long time recognize; they take them for
some kind of shell-fish.
"Don't you recognize them?"
"Your mushrooms a l'Italienne?"
"These mushrooms! I thought they were—well, yes, they are
"Yes, and a l'Italienne, too."
"Pooh, they are old preserved mushrooms, a la milanaise. I abominate
"What kind is it you like, then?"
Let us observe—to the disgrace of an epoch which numbers and labels
everything, which puts the whole creation in bottles, which is at this
moment classifying one hundred and fifty thousand species of insects,
giving them all the termination us, so that a Silbermanus is the
same individual in all countries for the learned men who dissect a
butterfly's legs with pincers—that we still want a nomenclature for
the chemistry of the kitchen, to enable all the cooks in the world to
produce precisely similar dishes. It would be diplomatically agreed
that French should be the language of the kitchen, as Latin has been
adopted by the scientific for botany and entomology, unless it were
desired to imitate them in that, too, and thus really have kitchen
"My dear," resumes Adolphe, on seeing the clouded and lengthened face
of his chaste Caroline, "in France the dish in question is called
Mushrooms a l'Italienne, a la provencale, a la bordelaise. The
mushrooms are minced, fried in oil with a few ingredients whose names
I have forgotten. You add a taste of garlic, I believe—"
Talk about calamities, of petty troubles! This, do you see, is, to a
woman's heart, what the pain of an extracted tooth is to a child of
eight. Ab uno disce omnes: which means, "There's one of them: find
the rest in your memory." For we have taken this culinary description
as a prototype of the vexations which afflict loving but indifferently
SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE.
A woman full of faith in the man she loves is a romancer's fancy. This
feminine personage no more exists than does a rich dowry. A woman's
confidence glows perhaps for a few moments, at the dawn of love, and
disappears in a trice like a shooting star.
With women who are neither Dutch, nor English, nor Belgian, nor from
any marshy country, love is a pretext for suffering, an employment for
the superabundant powers of their imaginations and their nerves.
Thus the second idea that takes possession of a happy woman, one who
is really loved, is the fear of losing her happiness, for we must do
her the justice to say that her first idea is to enjoy it. All who
possess treasures are in dread of thieves, but they do not, like
women, lend wings and feet to their golden stores.
The little blue flower of perfect felicity is not so common, that the
heaven-blessed man who possesses it, should be simpleton enough to
Axiom.—A woman is never deserted without a reason.
This axiom is written in the heart of hearts of every woman. Hence the
rage of a woman deserted.
Let us not infringe upon the petty troubles of love: we live in a
calculating epoch when women are seldom abandoned, do what they may:
for, of all wives or women, nowadays, the legitimate is the least
expensive. Now, every woman who is loved, has gone through the petty
annoyance of suspicion. This suspicion, whether just or unjust,
engenders a multitude of domestic troubles, and here is the biggest of
Caroline is one day led to notice that her cherished Adolphe leaves
her rather too often upon a matter of business, that eternal
Chaumontel's affair, which never comes to an end.
Axiom.—Every household has its Chaumontel's affair. (See TROUBLE
In the first place, a woman no more believes in matters of business
than publishers and managers do in the illness of actresses and
authors. The moment a beloved creature absents himself, though she has
rendered him even too happy, every woman straightway imagines that he
has hurried away to some easy conquest. In this respect, women endow
men with superhuman faculties. Fear magnifies everything, it dilates
the eyes and the heart: it makes a woman mad.
"Where is my husband going? What is my husband doing? Why has he left
me? Why did he not take me with him?"
These four questions are the four cardinal points of the compass of
suspicion, and govern the stormy sea of soliloquies. From these
frightful tempests which ravage a woman's heart springs an ignoble,
unworthy resolution, one which every woman, the duchess as well as the
shopkeeper's wife, the baroness as well as the stockbroker's lady, the
angel as well as the shrew, the indifferent as well as the passionate,
at once puts into execution. They imitate the government, every one of
them; they resort to espionage. What the State has invented in the
public interest, they consider legal, legitimate and permissible, in
the interest of their love. This fatal woman's curiosity reduces them
to the necessity of having agents, and the agent of any woman who, in
this situation, has not lost her self-respect,—a situation in which
her jealousy will not permit her to respect anything: neither your
little boxes, nor your clothes, nor the drawers of your treasury, of
your desk, of your table, of your bureau, nor your pocketbook with
private compartments, nor your papers, nor your traveling
dressing-case, nor your toilet articles (a woman discovers in this way
that her husband dyed his moustache when he was a bachelor), nor your
india-rubber girdles—her agent, I say, the only one in whom a woman
trusts, is her maid, for her maid understands her, excuses her, and
In the paroxysm of excited curiosity, passion and jealousy, a woman
makes no calculations, takes no observations. She simply wishes to
know the whole truth.
And Justine is delighted: she sees her mistress compromising herself
with her, and she espouses her passion, her dread, her fears and her
suspicions, with terrible friendship. Justine and Caroline hold
councils and have secret interviews. All espionage involves such
relationships. In this pass, a maid becomes the arbitress of the fate
of the married couple. Example: Lord Byron.
"Madame," Justine one day observes, "monsieur really does go out to
see a woman."
Caroline turns pale.
"But don't be alarmed, madame, it's an old woman."
"Ah, Justine, to some men no women are old: men are inexplicable."
"But, madame, it isn't a lady, it's a woman, quite a common woman."
"Ah, Justine, Lord Byron loved a fish-wife at Venice, Madame de
Fischtaminel told me so."
And Caroline bursts into tears.
"I've been pumping Benoit."
"What is Benoit's opinion?"
"Benoit thinks that the woman is a go-between, for monsieur keeps his
secret from everybody, even from Benoit."
For a week Caroline lives the life of the damned; all her savings go
to pay spies and to purchase reports.
Finally, Justine goes to see the woman, whose name is Madame Mahuchet;
she bribes her and learns at last that her master has preserved a
witness of his youthful follies, a nice little boy that looks very
much like him, and that this woman is his nurse, the second-hand
mother who has charge of little Frederick, who pays his quarterly
school-bills, and through whose hands pass the twelve hundred or two
thousand francs which Adolphe is supposed annually to lose at cards.
"What of the mother?" exclaims Caroline.
To end the matter, Justine, Caroline's good genius, proves to her that
M'lle Suzanne Beauminet, formerly a grisette and somewhat later Madame
Sainte-Suzanne, died at the hospital, or else that she has made her
fortune, or else, again, that her place in society is so low there is
no danger of madame's ever meeting her.
Caroline breathes again: the dirk has been drawn from her heart, she
is quite happy; but she had no children but daughters, and would like
a boy. This little drama of unjust suspicions, this comedy of the
conjectures to which Mother Mahuchet gives rise, these phases of a
causeless jealousy, are laid down here as the type of a situation, the
varieties of which are as innumerable as characters, grades and sorts.
This source of petty troubles is pointed out here, in order that women
seated upon the river's bank may contemplate in it the course of their
own married life, following its ascent or descent, recalling their own
adventures to mind, their untold disasters, the foibles which caused
their errors, and the peculiar fatalities to which were due an instant
of frenzy, a moment of unnecessary despair, or sufferings which they
might have spared themselves, happy in their self-delusions.
This vexation has a corollary in the following, one which is much more
serious and often without remedy, especially when its root lies among
vices of another kind, and which do not concern us, for, in this work,
women are invariably esteemed honest—until the end.
THE DOMESTIC TYRANT.
"My dear Caroline," says Adolphe one day to his wife, "are you
satisfied with Justine?"
"Yes, dear, quite so."
"Don't you think she speaks to you rather impertinently?"
"Do you suppose I would notice a maid? But it seems you notice her!"
"What do you say?" asks Adolphe in an indignant way that is always
delightful to women.
Justine is a genuine maid for an actress, a woman of thirty stamped by
the small-pox with innumerable dimples, in which the loves are far
from sporting: she is as brown as opium, has a good deal of leg and
not much body, gummy eyes, and a tournure to match. She would like to
have Benoit marry her, but at this unexpected suggestion, Benoit asked
for his discharge. Such is the portrait of the domestic tyrant
enthroned by Caroline's jealousy.
Justine takes her coffee in the morning, in bed, and manages to have
it as good as, not to say better than, that of her mistress. Justine
sometimes goes out without asking leave, dressed like the wife of a
second-class banker. She sports a pink hat, one of her mistress' old
gowns made over, an elegant shawl, shoes of bronze kid, and jewelry of
Justine is sometimes in a bad humor, and makes her mistress feel that
she too is a woman like herself, though she is not married. She has
her whims, her fits of melancholy, her caprices. She even dares to
have her nerves! She replies curtly, she makes herself insupportable
to the other servants, and, to conclude, her wages have been
"My dear, this girl is getting more intolerable every day," says
Adolphe one morning to his wife, on noticing Justine listening at the
key-hole, "and if you don't send her away, I will!"
Caroline, greatly alarmed, is obliged to give Justine a talking to,
while her husband is out.
"Justine, you take advantage of my kindness to you: you have high
wages, here, you have perquisites, presents: try to keep your place,
for my husband wants to send you away."
The maid humbles herself to the earth, she sheds tears: she is so
attached to madame! Ah! she would rush into the fire for her: she
would let herself be chopped into mince-meat: she is ready for
"If you had anything to conceal, madame, I would take it on myself and
say it was me!"
"Very well, Justine, very good, my girl," says Caroline, terrified:
"but that's not the point: just try to keep in your place."
"Ah, ha!" says Justine to herself, "monsieur wants to send me away,
does he? Wait and see the deuce of a life I'll lead you, you old
A week after, Justine, who is dressing her mistress' hair, looks in
the glass to make sure that Caroline can see all the grimaces of her
countenance: and Caroline very soon inquires, "Why, what's the matter,
"I would tell you, readily, madame, but then, madame, you are so weak
"Come, go on, what is it?"
"I know now, madame, why master wanted to show me the door: he has
confidence in nobody but Benoit, and Benoit is playing the mum with
"Well, what does that prove? Has anything been discovered?"
"I'm sure that between the two they are plotting something against you
madame," returns the maid with authority.
Caroline, whom Justine watches in the glass, turns pale: all the
tortures of the previous petty trouble return, and Justine sees that
she has become as indispensable to her mistress as spies are to the
government when a conspiracy is discovered. Still, Caroline's friends
do not understand why she keeps so disagreeable a servant girl, one
who wears a hat, whose manners are impertinent, and who gives herself
the airs of a lady.
This stupid domination is talked of at Madame Deschars', at Madame de
Fischtaminel's, and the company consider it funny. A few ladies think
they can see certain monstrous reasons for it, reasons which
compromise Caroline's honor.
Axiom.—In society, people can put cloaks on every kind of truth, even
In short the aria della calumnia is executed precisely as if
Bartholo were singing it.
It is averred that Caroline cannot discharge her maid.
Society devotes itself desperately to discovering the secret of this
enigma. Madame de Fischtaminel makes fun of Adolphe who goes home in a
rage, has a scene with Caroline and discharges Justine.
This produces such an effect upon Justine, that she falls sick, and
takes to her bed. Caroline observes to her husband, that it would be
awkward to turn a girl in Justine's condition into the street, a girl
who is so much attached to them, too, and who has been with them sine
"Let her go then as soon as she is well!" says Adolphe.
Caroline, reassured in regard to Adolphe, and indecently swindled by
Justine, at last comes to desire to get rid of her: she applies a
violent remedy to the disease, and makes up her mind to go under the
Caudine Forks of another petty trouble, as follows:
One morning, Adolphe is petted in a very unusual manner. The too happy
husband wonders what may be the cause of this development of
affection, and he hears Caroline, in her most winning tones, utter the
"Well?" he replies, in alarm at the internal agitation betrayed by
"Promise not to be angry."
"Not to be vexed with me."
"Never. Go on."
"To forgive me and never say anything about it."
"But tell me what it is!"
"Besides, you are the one that's in the wrong—"
"Speak, or I'll go away."
"There's no one but you that can get me out of the scrape—and it was
you that got me into it."
"Don't speak of her, she's discharged. I won't see her again, her
style of conduct exposes your reputation—"
"What can people say—what have they said?"
The scene changes, the result of which is a secondary explanation
which makes Caroline blush, as she sees the bearing of the
suppositions of her best friends.
"Well, now, Adolphe, it's to you I owe all this. Why didn't you tell
me about Frederick?"
"Frederick the Great? The King of Prussia?"
"What creatures men are! Hypocrite, do you want to make me believe
that you have forgotten your son so soon, M'lle Suzanne Beauminet's
"Then you know—?"
"The whole thing! And old other Mahuchet, and your absences from home
to give him a good dinner on holidays."
"How like moles you pious women can be if you try!" exclaims Adolphe,
in his terror.
"It was Justine that found it out."
"Ah! Now I understand the reason of her insolence."
"Oh, your Caroline has been very wretched, dear, and this spying
system, which was produced by my love for you, for I do love you, and
madly too,—if you deceived me, I would fly to the extremity of
creation,—well, as I was going to say, this unfounded jealousy has
put me in Justine's power, so, my precious, get me out of it the best
way you can!"
"Let this teach you, my angel, never to make use of your servants, if
you want them to be of use to you. It is the lowest of tyrannies, this
being at the mercy of one's people."
Adolphe takes advantage of this circumstance to alarm Caroline, he
thinks of future Chaumontel's affairs, and would be glad to have no
Justine is sent for, Adolphe peremptorily dismisses her without
waiting to hear her explanation. Caroline imagines her vexations at an
end. She gets another maid.
Justine, whose twelve or fifteen thousand francs have attracted the
notice of a water carrier, becomes Madame Chavagnac, and goes into the
apple business. Ten months after, in Adolphe's absence, Caroline
receives a letter written upon school-boy paper, in strides which
would require orthopedic treatment for three months, and thus
"Yu ar shaimphoolly diseeved bi yure huzban fur mame Deux
fischtaminelle, hee goze their evry eavning, yu ar az blynde az a
Batt. Your gott wott yu dizzurv, and I am Glad ovit, and I have thee
honur ov prezenting yu the assurunz ov Mi moaste ds Sting guischt
Caroline starts like a lion who has been stung by a bumble-bee; she
places herself once more, and of her own accord, upon the griddle of
suspicion, and begins her struggle with the unknown all over again.
When she has discovered the injustice of her suspicions, there comes
another letter with an offer to furnish her with details relative to a
Chaumontel's affair which Justine has unearthed.
The petty trouble of avowals, ladies, is often more serious than this,
as you perhaps have occasion to remember.
To the glory of women, let it be said, they care for their husbands
even when their husbands care no more for them, not only because there
are more ties, socially speaking, between a married woman and a man,
than between the man and the wife; but also because woman has more
delicacy and honor than man, the chief conjugal question apart, as a
matter of course.
Axiom.—In a husband, there is only a man; in a married woman, there
is a man, a father, a mother and a woman.
A married woman has sensibility enough for four, or for five even, if
you look closely.
Now, it is not improper to observe in this place, that, in a woman's
eyes, love is a general absolution: the man who is a good lover may
commit crimes, if he will, he is always as pure as snow in the eyes of
her who loves him, if he truly loves her. As to a married woman, loved
or not, she feels so deeply that the honor and consideration of her
husband are the fortune of her children, that she acts like the woman
in love,—so active is the sense of community of interest.
This profound sentiment engenders, for certain Carolines, petty
troubles which, unfortunately for this book, have their dismal side.
Adolphe is compromised. We will not enumerate all the methods of
compromising oneself, for we might become personal. Let us take, as an
example, the social error which our epoch excuses, permits,
understands and commits the most of any—the case of an honest
robbery, of skillfully concealed corruption in office, or of some
misrepresentation that becomes excusable when it has succeeded, as,
for instance, having an understanding with parties in power, for the
sale of property at the highest possible price to a city, or a
Thus, in a bankruptcy, Adolphe, in order to protect himself (this
means to recover his claims), has become mixed up in certain unlawful
doings which may bring a man to the necessity of testifying before the
Court of Assizes. In fact, it is not known that the daring creditor
will not be considered a party.
Take notice that in all cases of bankruptcy, protecting oneself is
regarded as the most sacred of duties, even by the most respectable
houses: the thing is to keep the bad side of the protection out of
sight, as they do in prudish England.
Adolphe does not know what to do, as his counsel has told him not to
appear in the matter: so he has recourse to Caroline. He gives her a
lesson, he coaches her, he teaches her the Code, he examines her
dress, he equips her as a brig sent on a voyage, and despatches her to
the office of some judge, or some syndic. The judge is apparently a
man of severe morality, but in reality a libertine: he retains his
serious expression on seeing a pretty woman enter, and makes sundry
very uncomplimentary remarks about Adolphe.
"I pity you, madame, you belong to a man who may involve you in
numerous unpleasant affairs: a few more matters like this, and he will
be quite disgraced. Have you any children? Excuse my asking; you are
so young, it is perfectly natural." And the judge comes as near to
Caroline as possible.
"Ah, great heavens! what a prospect is yours! My first thought was for
the woman, but now I pity you doubly, I think of the mother. Ah, how
you must have suffered in coming here! Poor, poor woman!"
"Ah, sir, you take an interest in me, do you not?"
"Alas, what can I do?" says the judge, darting a glance sidewise at
Caroline. "What you ask of me is a dereliction of duty, and I am a
magistrate before I am a man."
"Oh, sir, only be a man—"
"Are you aware of the full bearing of that request, fair creature?" At
this point the magistrate tremblingly takes Caroline's hand.
Caroline, who remembers that the honor of her husband and children is
at stake, says to herself that this is not the time to play the prude.
She abandons her hand, making just resistance enough for the old man
(happily he is an old man) to consider it a favor.
"Come, come, my beauty," resumes the judge, "I should be loath to
cause so lovely a woman to shed tears; we'll see about it. You shall
come to-morrow evening and tell me the whole affair. We must look at
the papers, we will examine them together—"
"Don't be alarmed, my dear, a judge is likely to know how to grant
what is due to justice and—" he puts on a shrewd look here—"to
"Be quite at your ease," he adds, holding her hand closely in his,
"and we'll try to reduce this great crime down to a peccadillo." And
he goes to the door with Caroline, who is frightened to death at an
appointment thus proposed.
The syndic is a lively young man, and he receives Madame Adolphe with
a smile. He smiles at everything, and he smiles as he takes her round
the waist with an agility which leaves Caroline no time to resist,
especially as she says to herself, "Adolphe particularly recommended
me not to vex the syndic."
Nevertheless Caroline escapes, in the interest of the syndic himself,
and again pronounces the "Sir!" which she had said three times to the
"Don't be angry with me, you are irresistible, you are an angel, and
your husband is a monster: for what does he mean by sending a siren to
a young man whom he knows to be inflammable!"
"Sir, my husband could not come himself; he is in bed, very sick, and
you threatened him so terribly that the urgency of the matter—"
"Hasn't he got a lawyer, an attorney?"
Caroline is terrified by this remark which reveals Adolphe's profound
"He supposed, sir, that you would have pity upon the mother of a
family, upon her children—"
"Ta, ta, ta," returns the syndic. "You have come to influence my
independence, my conscience, you want me to give the creditors up to
you: well, I'll do more, I give you up my heart, my fortune! Your
husband wants to save his honor, my honor is at your disposal!"
"Sir," cries Caroline, as she tries to raise the syndic who has thrown
himself at her feet. "You alarm me!"
She plays the terrified female and thus reaches the door, getting out
of a delicate situation as women know how to do it, that is, without
compromising anything or anybody.
"I will come again," she says smiling, "when you behave better."
"You leave me thus! Take care! Your husband may yet find himself
seated at the bar of the Court of Assizes: he is accessory to a
fraudulent bankruptcy, and we know several things about him that are
not by any means honorable. It is not his first departure from
rectitude; he has done a good many dirty things, he has been mixed up
in disgraceful intrigues, and you are singularly careful of the honor
of a man who cares as little for his own honor as he does for yours."
Caroline, alarmed by these words, lets go the door, shuts it and comes
"What do you mean, sir?" she exclaims, furious at this outrageous
"Why, this affair—"
"No, his speculations in houses that he had built by people that were
Caroline remembers the enterprise undertaken by Adolphe to double his
income: (See The Jesuitism of Women) she trembles. Her curiosity is
in the syndic's favor.
"Sit down here. There, at this distance, I will behave well, but I can
look at you."
And he narrates, at length, the conception due to du Tillet the
banker, interrupting himself to say: "Oh, what a pretty, cunning,
little foot; no one but you could have such a foot as that—Du
Tillet, therefore, compromised. What an ear, too! You have been
doubtless told that you had a delicious ear—And du Tillet was
right, for judgment had already been given—I love small ears, but
let me have a model of yours, and I will do anything you like—du
Tillet profited by this to throw the whole loss on your idiotic
husband: oh, what a charming silk, you are divinely dressed!"
"Where were we, sir?"
"How can I remember while admiring your Raphaelistic head?"
At the twenty-seventh compliment, Caroline considers the syndic a man
of wit: she makes him a polite speech, and goes away without learning
much more of the enterprise which, not long before had swallowed up
three hundred thousand francs.
There are many huge variations of this petty trouble.
EXAMPLE. Adolphe is brave and susceptible: he is walking on the Champs
Elysees, where there is a crowd of people; in this crowd are several
ill-mannered young men who indulge in jokes of doubtful propriety:
Caroline puts up with them and pretends not to hear them, in order to
keep her husband out of a duel.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE. A child belonging to the genus Terrible, exclaims in
the presence of everybody:
"Mamma, would you let Justine hit me?"
"Why do you ask, my little man?" inquires Madame Foullepointe.
"Because she just gave father a big slap, and he's ever so much
stronger than me."
Madame Foullepointe laughs, and Adolphe, who intended to pay court to
her, is cruelly joked by her, after having had a first last quarrel
THE LAST QUARREL.
In every household, husbands and wives must one day hear the striking
of a fatal hour. It is a knell, the death and end of jealousy, a
great, noble and charming passion, the only true symptom of love, if
it is not even its double. When a woman is no longer jealous of her
husband, all is over, she loves him no more. So, conjugal love expires
in the last quarrel that a woman gives herself the trouble to raise.
Axiom.—When a woman ceases to quarrel with her husband, the Minotaur
has seated himself in a corner arm-chair, tapping his boots with his
Every woman must remember her last quarrel, that supreme petty trouble
which often explodes about nothing, but more often still on some
occasion of a brutal fact or of a decisive proof. This cruel farewell
to faith, to the childishness of love, to virtue even, is in a degree
as capricious as life itself. Like life it varies in every house.
Here, the author ought perhaps to search out all the varieties of
quarrels, if he desires to be precise.
Thus, Caroline may have discovered that the judicial robe of the
syndic in Chaumontel's affair, hides a robe of infinitely softer
stuff, of an agreeable, silky color: that Chaumontel's hair, in short,
is fair, and that his eyes are blue.
Or else Caroline, who arose before Adolphe, may have seen his
greatcoat thrown wrong side out across a chair; the edge of a little
perfumed paper, just peeping out of the side-pocket, may have
attracted her by its whiteness, like a ray of the sun entering a dark
room through a crack in the window: or else, while taking Adolphe in
her arms and feeling his pocket, she may have caused the note to
crackle: or else she may have been informed of the state of things by
a foreign odor that she has long noticed upon him, and may have read
"Ungraitfull wun, wot du yu supoz I no About Hipolite. Kum, and yu
shal se whether I Love yu."
"Yesterday, love, you made me wait for you: what will it be
"The women who love you, my dear sir, are very unhappy in hating you
so, when you are not with them: take care, for the hatred which exists
during your absence, may possibly encroach upon the hours you spend in
"You traitorous Chodoreille, what were you doing yesterday on the
boulevard with a woman hanging on your arm? If it was your wife,
accept my compliments of condolence upon her absent charms: she has
doubtless deposited them at the pawnbroker's, and the ticket to redeem
them with is lost."
Four notes emanating from the grisette, the lady, the pretentious
woman in middle life, and the actress, among whom Adolphe has chosen
his belle (according to the Fischtaminellian vocabulary).
Or else Caroline, taken veiled by Ferdinand to Ranelagh Garden, sees
with her own eyes Adolphe abandoning himself furiously to the polka,
holding one of the ladies of honor to Queen Pomare in his arms; or
else, again, Adolphe has for the seventh time, made a mistake in the
name, and called his wife Juliette, Charlotte or Lisa: or, a grocer or
restaurateur sends to the house, during Adolphe's absence, certain
damning bills which fall into Caroline's hands.
PAPERS RELATING TO CHAUMONTEL'S AFFAIR.
(Private Tables Served.)
M. Adolphe to Perrault,
To 1 Pate de Foie Gras delivered at Madame
Schontz's, the 6th of January, fr. 22.50
Six bottle of assorted wines, 70.00
To one special breakfast delivered at Congress
Hotel, the 11th of February, at No. 21——
Stipulated price, 100.00
Total, Francs, 192.50
Caroline examines the dates and remembers them as appointments made
for business connected with Chaumontel's affair. Adolphe had
designated the sixth of January as the day fixed for a meeting at
which the creditors in Chaumontel's affair were to receive the sums
due them. On the eleventh of February he had an appointment with the
notary, in order to sign a receipt relative to Chaumontel's affair.
Or else—but an attempt to mention all the chances of discovery would
be the undertaking of a madman.
Every woman will remember to herself how the bandage with which her
eyes were bound fell off: how, after many doubts, and agonies of
heart, she made up her mind to have a final quarrel for the simple
purpose of finishing the romance, putting the seal to the book,
stipulating for her independence, or beginning life over again.
Some women are fortunate enough to have anticipated their husbands,
and they then have the quarrel as a sort of justification.
Nervous women give way to a burst of passion and commit acts of
Women of mild temper assume a decided tone which appalls the most
intrepid husbands. Those who have no vengeance ready shed a great many
Those who love you forgive you. Ah, they conceive so readily, like the
woman called "Ma berline," that their Adolphe must be loved by the
women of France, that they are rejoiced to possess, legally, a man
about whom everybody goes crazy.
Certain women with lips tight shut like a vise, with a muddy
complexion and thin arms, treat themselves to the malicious pleasure
of promenading their Adolphe through the quagmire of falsehood and
contradiction: they question him (see Troubles within Troubles),
like a magistrate examining a criminal, reserving the spiteful
enjoyment of crushing his denials by positive proof at a decisive
moment. Generally, in this supreme scene of conjugal life, the fair
sex is the executioner, while, in the contrary case, man is the
This is the way of it: This last quarrel (you shall know why the
author has called it the last), is always terminated by a solemn,
sacred promise, made by scrupulous, noble, or simply intelligent women
(that is to say, by all women), and which we give here in its grandest
"Enough, Adolphe! We love each other no more; you have deceived me,
and I shall never forget it. I may forgive it, but I can never forget
Women represent themselves as implacable only to render their
forgiveness charming: they have anticipated God.
"We have now to live in common like two friends," continues Caroline.
"Well, let us live like two comrades, two brothers, I do not wish to
make your life intolerable, and I never again will speak to you of
what has happened—"
Adolphe gives Caroline his hand: she takes it, and shakes it in the
English style. Adolphe thanks Caroline, and catches a glimpse of
bliss: he has converted his wife into a sister, and hopes to be a
The next day Caroline indulges in a very witty allusion (Adolphe
cannot help laughing at it) to Chaumontel's affair. In society she
makes general remarks which, to Adolphe, are very particular remarks,
about their last quarrel.
At the end of a fortnight a day never passes without Caroline's
recalling their last quarrel by saying: "It was the day when I found
Chaumontel's bill in your pocket:" or "it happened since our last
quarrel:" or, "it was the day when, for the first time, I had a clear
idea of life," etc. She assassinates Adolphe, she martyrizes him! In
society she gives utterance to terrible things.
"We are happy, my dear [to a lady], when we love each other no longer:
it's then that we learn how to make ourselves beloved," and she looks
In short, the last quarrel never comes to an end, and from this fact
flows the following axiom:
Axiom.—Putting yourself in the wrong with your lawful wife, is
solving the problem of Perpetual Motion.
A SIGNAL FAILURE.
Women, and especially married women, stick ideas into their brain-pan
precisely as they stick pins into a pincushion, and the devil himself,
—do you mind?—could not get them out: they reserve to themselves the
exclusive right of sticking them in, pulling them out, and sticking
them in again.
Caroline is riding home one evening from Madame Foullepointe's in a
violent state of jealousy and ambition.
Madame Foullepointe, the lioness—but this word requires an
explanation. It is a fashionable neologism, and gives expression to
certain rather meagre ideas relative to our present society: you must
use it, if you want to describe a woman who is all the rage. This
lioness rides on horseback every day, and Caroline has taken it into
her head to learn to ride also.
Observe that in this conjugal phase, Adolphe and Caroline are in the
season which we have denominated A Household Revolution, and that
they have had two or three Last Quarrels.
"Adolphe," she says, "do you want to do me a favor?"
"Won't you refuse?"
"If your request is reasonable, I am willing—"
"Ah, already—that's a true husband's word—if—"
"Come, what is it?"
"I want to learn to ride on horseback."
"Now, is it a possible thing, Caroline?"
Caroline looks out of the window, and tries to wipe away a dry tear.
"Listen," resumes Adolphe; "I cannot let you go alone to the
riding-school; and I cannot go with you while business gives me the
annoyance it does now. What's the matter? I think I have given you
Adolphe foresees the hiring of a stable, the purchase of a pony, the
introduction of a groom and of a servant's horse into the
establishment—in short, all the nuisance of female lionization.
When a man gives a woman reasons instead of giving her what she wants
—well, few men have ventured to descend into that small abyss called
the heart, to test the power of the tempest that suddenly bursts forth
"Reasons! If you want reasons, here they are!" exclaims Caroline. "I
am your wife: you don't seem to care to please me any more. And as to
the expenses, you greatly overrate them, my dear."
Women have as many inflections of voice to pronounce these words, My
dear, as the Italians have to say Amico. I have counted twenty-nine
which express only various degrees of hatred.
"Well, you'll see," resumes Caroline, "I shall be sick, and you will
pay the apothecary and the doctor as much as the price of a horse. I
shall be walled up here at home, and that's all you want. I asked the
favor of you, though I was sure of a refusal: I only wanted to know
how you would go to work to give it."
"Leave me alone at the riding-school!" she continues without
listening. "Is that a reason? Can't I go with Madame de Fischtaminel?
Madame de Fischtaminel is learning to ride on horseback, and I don't
imagine that Monsieur de Fischtaminel goes with her."
"I am delighted with your solicitude. You think a great deal of me,
really. Monsieur de Fischtaminel has more confidence in his wife, than
you have in yours. He does not go with her, not he! Perhaps it's on
account of this confidence that you don't want me at the school, where
I might see your goings on with the fair Fischtaminel."
Adolphe tries to hide his vexation at this torrent of words, which
begins when they are still half way from home, and has no sea to empty
into. When Caroline is in her room, she goes on in the same way.
"You see that if reasons could restore my health or prevent me from
desiring a kind of exercise pointed out by nature herself, I should
not be in want of reasons, and that I know all the reasons that there
are, and that I went over with the reasons before I spoke to you."
This, ladies, may with the more truth be called the prologue to the
conjugal drama, from the fact that it is vigorously delivered,
embellished with a commentary of gestures, ornamented with glances and
all the other vignettes with which you usually illustrate such
Caroline, when she has once planted in Adolphe's heart the
apprehension of a scene of constantly reiterated demands, feels her
hatred for his control largely increase. Madame pouts, and she pouts
so fiercely, that Adolphe is forced to notice it, on pain of very
disagreeable consequences, for all is over, be sure of that, between
two beings married by the mayor, or even at Gretna Green, when one of
them no longer notices the sulkings of the other.
Axiom.—A sulk that has struck in is a deadly poison.
It was to prevent this suicide of love that our ingenious France
invented boudoirs. Women could not well have Virgil's willows in the
economy of our modern dwellings. On the downfall of oratories, these
little cubbies become boudoirs.
This conjugal drama has three acts. The act of the prologue is already
played. Then comes the act of false coquetry: one of those in which
French women have the most success.
Adolphe is walking about the room, divesting himself of his apparel,
and the man thus engaged, divests himself of his strength as well as
of his clothing. To every man of forty, this axiom will appear
Axiom.—The ideas of a man who has taken his boots and his suspenders
off, are no longer those of a man who is still sporting these two
tyrants of the mind.
Take notice that this is only an axiom in wedded life. In morals, it
is what we call a relative theorem.
Caroline watches, like a jockey on the race course, the moment when
she can distance her adversary. She makes her preparations to be
irresistibly fascinating to Adolphe.
Women possess a power of mimicking pudicity, a knowledge of secrets
which might be those of a frightened dove, a particular register for
singing, like Isabella, in the fourth act of Robert le Diable: "Grace
pour toi! Grace pour moi!" which leave jockeys and horse trainers
whole miles behind. As usual, the Diable succumbs. It is the eternal
history, the grand Christian mystery of the bruised serpent, of the
delivered woman becoming the great social force, as the Fourierists
say. It is especially in this that the difference between the Oriental
slave and the Occidental wife appears.
Upon the conjugal pillow, the second act ends by a number of
onomatopes, all of them favorable to peace. Adolphe, precisely like
children in the presence of a slice of bread and molasses, promises
everything that Caroline wants.
THIRD ACT. As the curtain rises, the stage represents a chamber in a
state of extreme disorder. Adolphe, in his dressing gown, tries to go
out furtively and without waking Caroline, who is sleeping profoundly,
and finally does go out.
Caroline, exceedingly happy, gets up, consults her mirror, and makes
inquiries about breakfast. An hour afterward, when she is ready she
learns that breakfast is served.
"Madame, he is in the little parlor."
"What a nice man he is," she says, going up to Adolphe, and talking
the babyish, caressing language of the honey-moon.
"What for, pray?"
"Why, to let his little Liline ride the horsey."
OBSERVATION. During the honey-moon, some few married couples,—very
young ones,—make use of languages, which, in ancient days, Aristotle
classified and defined. (See his Pedagogy.) Thus they are perpetually
using such terminations as lala, nana, coachy-poachy, just as
mothers and nurses use them to babies. This is one of the secret
reasons, discussed and recognized in big quartos by the Germans, which
determined the Cabires, the creators of the Greek mythology, to
represent Love as a child. There are other reasons very well known to
women, the principal of which is, that, in their opinion, love in men
is always small.
"Where did you get that idea, my sweet? You must have dreamed it!"
Caroline stands stark still: she opens wide her eyes which are already
considerably widened by amazement. Being inwardly epileptic, she says
not a word: she merely gazes at Adolphe. Under the satanic fires of
their gaze, Adolphe turns half way round toward the dining-room; but
he asks himself whether it would not be well to let Caroline take one
lesson, and to tip the wink to the riding-master, to disgust her with
equestrianism by the harshness of his style of instruction.
There is nothing so terrible as an actress who reckons upon a success,
and who fait four.
In the language of the stage, to faire four is to play to a
wretchedly thin house, or to obtain not the slightest applause. It is
taking great pains for nothing, in short a signal failure.
This petty trouble—it is very petty—is reproduced in a thousand ways
in married life, when the honey-moon is over, and when the wife has no
In spite of the author's repugnance to inserting anecdotes in an
exclusively aphoristic work, the tissue of which will bear nothing but
the most delicate and subtle observations,—from the nature of the
subject at least,—it seems to him necessary to illustrate this page
by an incident narrated by one of our first physicians. This
repetition of the subject involves a rule of conduct very much in use
with the doctors of Paris.
A certain husband was in our Adolphe's situation. His Caroline, having
once made a signal failure, was determined to conquer, for Caroline
often does conquer! (See The Physiology of Marriage, Meditation
XXVI, Paragraph Nerves.) She had been lying about on the sofas for
two months, getting up at noon, taking no part in the amusements of
the city. She would not go to the theatre,—oh, the disgusting
atmosphere!—the lights, above all, the lights! Then the bustle,
coming out, going in, the music,—it might be fatal, it's so terribly
She would not go on excursions to the country, oh, certainly it was
her desire to do so!—but she would like (desiderata) a carriage of
her own, horses of her own—her husband would not give her an
equipage. And as to going in hacks, in hired conveyances, the bare
thought gave her a rising at the stomach!
She would not have any cooking—the smell of the meats produced a
sudden nausea. She drank innumerable drugs that her maid never saw her
In short, she expended large amounts of time and money in attitudes,
privations, effects, pearl-white to give her the pallor of a corpse,
machinery, and the like, precisely as when the manager of a theatre
spreads rumors about a piece gotten up in a style of Oriental
magnificence, without regard to expense!
This couple had got so far as to believe that even a journey to the
springs, to Ems, to Hombourg, to Carlsbad, would hardly cure the
invalid: but madame would not budge, unless she could go in her own
carriage. Always that carriage!
Adolphe held out, and would not yield.
Caroline, who was a woman of great sagacity, admitted that her husband
"Adolphe is right," she said to her friends, "it is I who am
unreasonable: he can not, he ought not, have a carriage yet: men know
better than we do the situation of their business."
At times Adolphe was perfectly furious! Women have ways about them
that demand the justice of Tophet itself. Finally, during the third
month, he met one of his school friends, a lieutenant in the corps of
physicians, modest as all young doctors are: he had had his epaulettes
one day only, and could give the order to fire!
"For a young woman, a young doctor," said our Adolphe to himself.
And he proposed to the future Bianchon to visit his wife and tell him
the truth about her condition.
"My dear, it is time that you should have a physician," said Adolphe
that evening to his wife, "and here is the best for a pretty woman."
The novice makes a conscientious examination, questions madame, feels
her pulse discreetly, inquires into the slightest symptoms, and, at
the end, while conversing, allows a smile, an expression, which, if
not ironical, are extremely incredulous, to play involuntarily upon
his lips, and his lips are quite in sympathy with his eyes. He
prescribes some insignificant remedy, and insists upon its importance,
promising to call again to observe its effect. In the ante-chamber,
thinking himself alone with his school-mate, he indulges in an
inexpressible shrug of the shoulders.
"There's nothing the matter with your wife, my boy," he says: "she is
trifling with both you and me."
"Well, I thought so."
"But if she continues the joke, she will make herself sick in earnest:
I am too sincerely your friend to enter into such a speculation, for I
am determined that there shall be an honest man beneath the physician,
"My wife wants a carriage."
As in the Solo on the Hearse, this Caroline listened at the door.
Even at the present day, the young doctor is obliged to clear his path
of the calumnies which this charming woman is continually throwing
into it: and for the sake of a quiet life, he has been obliged to
confess his little error—a young man's error—and to mention his
enemy by name, in order to close her lips.
THE CHESTNUTS IN THE FIRE.
No one can tell how many shades and gradations there are in
misfortune, for everything depends upon the character of the
individual, upon the force of the imagination, upon the strength of
the nerves. If it is impossible to catch these so variable shades, we
may at least point out the most striking colors, and the principal
attendant incidents. The author has therefore reserved this petty
trouble for the last, for it is the only one that is at once comic and
The author flatters himself that he has mentioned the principal
examples. Thus, women who have arrived safely at the haven, the happy
age of forty, the period when they are delivered from scandal,
calumny, suspicion, when their liberty begins: these women will
certainly do him the justice to state that all the critical situations
of a family are pointed out or represented in this book.
Caroline has her Chaumontel's affair. She has learned how to induce
Adolphe to go out unexpectedly, and has an understanding with Madame
In every household, within a given time, ladies like Madame de
Fischtaminel become Caroline's main resource.
Caroline pets Madame de Fischtaminel with all the tenderness that the
African army is now bestowing upon Abd-el-Kader: she is as solicitous
in her behalf as a physician is anxious to avoid curing a rich
hypochondriac. Between the two, Caroline and Madame de Fischtaminel
invent occupations for dear Adolphe, when neither of them desire the
presence of that demigod among their penates. Madame de Fischtaminel
and Caroline, who have become, through the efforts of Madame
Foullepointe, the best friends in the world, have even gone so far as
to learn and employ that feminine free-masonry, the rites of which
cannot be made familiar by any possible initiation.
If Caroline writes the following little note to Madame de
"You will probably see Adolphe to-morrow, but do not keep him too
long, for I want to go to ride with him at five: but if you are
desirous of taking him to ride yourself, do so and I will take him up.
You ought to teach me your secret for entertaining used-up people as
Madame de Fischtaminel says to herself: "Gracious! So I shall have
that fellow on my hands to-morrow from twelve o'clock to five."
Axiom.—Men do not always know a woman's positive request when they
see it; but another woman never mistakes it: she does the contrary.
Those sweet little beings called women, and especially Parisian women,
are the prettiest jewels that social industry has invented. Those who
do not adore them, those who do not feel a constant jubilation at
seeing them laying their plots while braiding their hair, creating
special idioms for themselves and constructing with their slender
fingers machines strong enough to destroy the most powerful fortunes,
must be wanting in a positive sense.
On one occasion Caroline takes the most minute precautions. She writes
the day before to Madame Foullepointe to go to St. Maur with Adolphe,
to look at a piece of property for sale there. Adolphe would go to
breakfast with her. She aids Adolphe in dressing. She twits him with
the care he bestows upon his toilet, and asks absurd questions about
"She's real nice, and I think she is quite tired of Charles: you'll
inscribe her yet upon your catalogue, you old Don Juan: but you won't
have any further need of Chaumontel's affair; I'm no longer jealous,
you've got a passport. Do you like that better than being adored?
Monster, observe how considerate I am."
So soon as her husband has gone, Caroline, who had not omitted, the
previous evening, to write to Ferdinand to come to breakfast with her,
equips herself in a costume which, in that charming eighteenth century
so calumniated by republicans, humanitarians and idiots, women of
quality called their fighting-dress.
Caroline has taken care of everything. Love is the first house servant
in the world, so the table is set with positively diabolic coquetry.
There is the white damask cloth, the little blue service, the silver
gilt urn, the chiseled milk pitcher, and flowers all round!
If it is winter, she has got some grapes, and has rummaged the cellar
for the very best old wine. The rolls are from the most famous
baker's. The succulent dishes, the pate de foie gras, the whole of
this elegant entertainment, would have made the author of the
Glutton's Almanac neigh with impatience: it would make a note-shaver
smile, and tell a professor of the old University what the matter in
Everything is prepared. Caroline has been ready since the night
before: she contemplates her work. Justine sighs and arranges the
furniture. Caroline picks off the yellow leaves of the plants in the
windows. A woman, in these cases, disguises what we may call the
prancings of the heart, by those meaningless occupations in which the
fingers have all the grip of pincers, when the pink nails burn, and
when this unspoken exclamation rasps the throat: "He hasn't come yet!"
What a blow is this announcement by Justine: "Madame, here's a
A letter in place of Ferdinand! How does she ever open it? What ages
of life slip by as she unfolds it! Women know this by experience! As
to men, when they are in such maddening passes, they murder their
"Justine, Monsieur Ferdinand is ill!" exclaims Caroline. "Send for a
As Justine goes down stairs, Adolphe comes up.
"My poor mistress!" observes Justine. "I guess she won't want the
"Oh my! Where have you come from?" cries Caroline, on seeing Adolphe
standing in ecstasy before her voluptuous breakfast.
Adolphe, whose wife long since gave up treating him to such charming
banquets, does not answer. But he guesses what it all means, as he
sees the cloth inscribed with the delightful ideas which Madame de
Fischtaminel or the syndic of Chaumontel's affair have often inscribed
for him upon tables quite as elegant.
"Whom are you expecting?" he asks in his turn.
"Who could it be, except Ferdinand?" replies Caroline.
"And is he keeping you waiting?"
"He is sick, poor fellow."
A quizzical idea enters Adolphe's head, and he replies, winking with
one eye only: "I have just seen him."
"In front of the Cafe de Paris, with some friends."
"But why have you come back?" says Caroline, trying to conceal her
"Madame Foullepointe, who was tired of Charles, you said, has been
with him at Ville d'Avray since yesterday."
Adolphe sits down, saying: "This has happened very appropriately, for
I'm as hungry as two bears."
Caroline sits down, too, and looks at Adolphe stealthily: she weeps
internally: but she very soon asks, in a tone of voice that she
manages to render indifferent, "Who was Ferdinand with?"
"With some fellows who lead him into bad company. The young man is
getting spoiled: he goes to Madame Schontz's. You ought to write to
your uncle. It was probably some breakfast or other, the result of a
bet made at M'lle Malaga's." He looks slyly at Caroline, who drops her
eyes to conceal her tears. "How beautiful you have made yourself this
morning," Adolphe resumes. "Ah, you are a fair match for your
breakfast. I don't think Ferdinand will make as good a meal as I
shall," etc., etc.
Adolphe manages the joke so cleverly that he inspires his wife with
the idea of punishing Ferdinand. Adolphe, who claims to be as hungry
as two bears, causes Caroline to forget that a carriage waits for her
at the door.
The female that tends the gate at the house Ferdinand lives in,
arrives at about two o'clock, while Adolphe is asleep on a sofa. That
Iris of bachelors comes to say to Caroline that Monsieur Ferdinand is
very much in need of some one.
"He's drunk, I suppose," says Caroline in a rage.
"He fought a duel this morning, madame."
Caroline swoons, gets up and rushes to Ferdinand, wishing Adolphe at
the bottom of the sea.
When women are the victims of these little inventions, which are quite
as adroit as their own, they are sure to exclaim, "What abominable
monsters men are!"
We have come to our last observation. Doubtless this work is beginning
to tire you quite as much as its subject does, if you are married.
This work, which, according to the author, is to the Physiology of
Marriage what Fact is to Theory, or History to Philosophy, has its
logic, as life, viewed as a whole, has its logic, also.
This logic—fatal, terrible—is as follows. At the close of the first
part of the book—a book filled with serious pleasantry—Adolphe has
reached, as you must have noticed, a point of complete indifference in
He has read novels in which the writers advise troublesome husbands to
embark for the other world, or to live in peace with the fathers of
their children, to pet and adore them: for if literature is the
reflection of manners, we must admit that our manners recognize the
defects pointed out by the Physiology of Marriage in this
fundamental institution. More than one great genius has dealt this
social basis terrible blows, without shaking it.
Adolphe has especially read his wife too closely, and disguises his
indifference by this profound word: indulgence. He is indulgent with
Caroline, he sees in her nothing but the mother of his children, a
good companion, a sure friend, a brother.
When the petty troubles of the wife cease, Caroline, who is more
clever than her husband, has come to profit by this advantageous
indulgence: but she does not give her dear Adolphe up. It is woman's
nature never to yield any of her rights. DIEU ET MON DROIT—CONJUGAL!
is, as is well known, the motto of England, and is especially so
Women have such a love of domination that we will relate an anecdote,
not ten years old, in point. It is a very young anecdote.
One of the grand dignitaries of the Chamber of Peers had a Caroline,
as lax as Carolines usually are. The name is an auspicious one for
women. This dignitary, extremely old at the time, was on one side of
the fireplace, and Caroline on the other. Caroline was hard upon the
lustrum when women no longer tell their age. A friend came in to
inform them of the marriage of a general who had lately been intimate
in their house.
Caroline at once had a fit of despair, with genuine tears; she
screamed and made the grand dignitary's head ache to such a degree,
that he tried to console her. In the midst of his condolences, the
count forgot himself so far as to say—"What can you expect, my dear,
he really could not marry you!"
And this was one of the highest functionaries of the state, but a
friend of Louis XVIII, and necessarily a little bit Pompadour.
The whole difference, then, between the situation of Adolphe and that
of Caroline, consists in this: though he no longer cares about her,
she retains the right to care about him.
Now, let us listen to "What they say," the theme of the concluding
chapter of this work.
IN WHICH IS EXPLAINED LA FELICITA OF FINALES.
Who has not heard an Italian opera in the course of his life? You must
then have noticed the musical abuse of the word felicita, so
lavishly used by the librettist and the chorus at the moment when
everybody is deserting his box or leaving the house.
Frightful image of life. We quit it just when we hear la felicita.
Have you reflected upon the profound truth conveyed by this finale, at
the instant when the composer delivers his last note and the author
his last line, when the orchestra gives the last pull at the
fiddle-bow and the last puff at the bassoon, when the principal singers
say "Let's go to supper!" and the chorus people exclaim "How lucky, it
doesn't rain!" Well, in every condition in life, as in an Italian
opera, there comes a time when the joke is over, when the trick is
done, when people must make up their minds to one thing or the other,
when everybody is singing his own felicita for himself. After having
gone through with all the duos, the solos, the stretti, the codas, the
concerted pieces, the duettos, the nocturnes, the phases which these
few scenes, chosen from the ocean of married life, exhibit you, and
which are themes whose variations have doubtless been divined by
persons with brains as well as by the shallow—for so far as suffering
is concerned, we are all equal—the greater part of Parisian
households reach, without a given time, the following final chorus:
THE WIFE, to a young woman in the conjugal Indian Summer. My dear, I
am the happiest woman in the world. Adolphe is the model of husbands,
kind, obliging, not a bit of a tease. Isn't he, Ferdinand?
Caroline addresses Adolphe's cousin, a young man with a nice cravat,
glistening hair and patent leather boots: his coat is cut in the most
elegant fashion: he has a crush hat, kid gloves, something very choice
in the way of a waistcoat, the very best style of moustaches,
whiskers, and a goatee a la Mazarin; he is also endowed with a
profound, mute, attentive admiration of Caroline.
FERDINAND. Adolphe is happy to have a wife like you! What does he
THE WIFE. In the beginning, we were always vexing each other: but now
we get along marvelously. Adolphe no longer does anything but what he
likes, he never puts himself out: I never ask him where he is going
nor what he has seen. Indulgence, my dear, is the great secret of
happiness. You, doubtless, are still in the period of petty troubles,
causeless jealousies, cross-purposes, and all sorts of little
botherations. What is the good of all this? We women have but a short
life, at the best. How much? Ten good years! Why should we fill them
with vexation? I was like you. But, one fine morning, I made the
acquaintance of Madame de Fischtaminel, a charming woman, who taught
me how to make a husband happy. Since then, Adolphe has changed
radically; he has become perfectly delightful. He is the first to say
to me, with anxiety, with alarm, even, when I am going to the theatre,
and he and I are still alone at seven o'clock: "Ferdinand is coming
for you, isn't he?" Doesn't he, Ferdinand?
FERDINAND. We are the best cousins in the world.
THE INDIAN SUMMER WIFE, very much affected. Shall I ever come to
THE HUSBAND, on the Italian Boulevard. My dear boy [he has
button-holed Monsieur de Fischtaminel], you still believe that marriage
is based upon passion. Let me tell you that the best way, in conjugal
life, is to have a plenary indulgence, one for the other, on condition
that appearances be preserved. I am the happiest husband in the world.
Caroline is a devoted friend, she would sacrifice everything for me,
even my cousin Ferdinand, if it were necessary: oh, you may laugh, but
she is ready to do anything. You entangle yourself in your laughable
ideas of dignity, honor, virtue, social order. We can't have our life
over again, so we must cram it full of pleasure. Not the smallest
bitter word has been exchanged between Caroline and me for two years
past. I have, in Caroline, a friend to whom I can tell everything, and
who would be amply able to console me in a great emergency. There is
not the slightest deceit between us, and we know perfectly well what
the state of things is. We have thus changed our duties into
pleasures. We are often happier, thus, than in that insipid season
called the honey-moon. She says to me, sometimes, "I'm out of humor,
go away." The storm then falls upon my cousin. Caroline never puts on
her airs of a victim, now, but speaks in the kindest manner of me to
the whole world. In short, she is happy in my pleasures. And as she is
a scrupulously honest woman, she is conscientious to the last degree
in her use of our fortune. My house is well kept. My wife leaves me
the right to dispose of my reserve without the slightest control on
her part. That's the way of it. We have oiled our wheels and cogs,
while you, my dear Fischtaminel, have put gravel in yours.
CHORUS, in a parlor during a ball. Madame Caroline is a charming
A WOMAN IN A TURBAN. Yes, she is very proper, very dignified.
A WOMAN WHO HAS SEVEN CHILDREN. Ah! she learned early how to manage
ONE OF FERDINAND'S FRIENDS. But she loves her husband exceedingly.
Besides, Adolphe is a man of great distinction and experience.
ONE OF MADAME DE FISCHTAMINEL'S FRIENDS. He adores his wife. There's
no fuss at their house, everybody is at home there.
MONSIEUR FOULLEPOINTE. Yes, it's a very agreeable house.
A WOMAN ABOUT WHOM THERE IS A GOOD DEAL OF SCANDAL. Caroline is kind
and obliging, and never talks scandal of anybody.
A YOUNG LADY, returning to her place after a dance. Don't you
remember how tiresome she was when she visited the Deschars?
MADAME DE FISCHTAMINEL. Oh! She and her husband were two bundles of
briars—continually quarreling. [She goes away.]
AN ARTIST. I hear that the individual known as Deschars is getting
dissipated: he goes round town—
A WOMAN, alarmed at the turn the conversation is taking, as her
daughter can hear. Madame de Fischtaminel is charming, this evening.
A WOMAN OF FORTY, without employment. Monsieur Adolphe appears to be
as happy as his wife.
A YOUNG LADY. Oh! what a sweet man Monsieur Ferdinand is! [Her mother
reproves her by a sharp nudge with her foot.] What's the matter,
HER MOTHER, looking at her fixedly. A young woman should not speak
so, my dear, of any one but her betrothed, and Monsieur Ferdinand is
not a marrying man.
A LADY DRESSED RATHER LOW IN THE NECK, to another lady dressed
equally low, in a whisper. The fact is, my dear, the moral of all
this is that there are no happy couples but couples of four.
A FRIEND, whom the author was so imprudent as to consult. Those last
words are false.
THE AUTHOR. Do you think so?
THE FRIEND, who has just been married. You all of you use your ink
in depreciating social life, on the pretext of enlightening us! Why,
there are couples a hundred, a thousand times happier than your
boasted couples of four.
THE AUTHOR. Well, shall I deceive the marrying class of the
population, and scratch the passage out?
THE FRIEND. No, it will be taken merely as the point of a song in a
THE AUTHOR. Yes, a method of passing truths off upon society.
THE FRIEND, who sticks to his opinion. Such truths as are destined
to be passed off upon it.
THE AUTHOR, who wants to have the last word. Who and what is there
that does not pass off, or become passe? When your wife is twenty
years older, we will resume this conversation.
THE FRIEND. You revenge yourself cruelly for your inability to write
the history of happy homes.