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Full Online Book HomeEssaysPetty Troubles Of Married Life - Part 1 - Forced Smiles
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Petty Troubles Of Married Life - Part 1 - Forced Smiles Post by :24HourCash Category :Essays Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :1439

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Petty Troubles Of Married Life - Part 1 - Forced Smiles

Part First
Forced Smiles

On your arrival in this latitude, you enjoy numerous little scenes, which, in the grand opera of marriage, represent the intermezzos, and of which the following is a type:

You are one evening alone after dinner, and you have been so often alone already that you feel a desire to say sharp little things to each other, like this, for instance:

"Take care, Caroline," says Adolphe, who has not forgotten his many vain efforts to please her. "I think your nose has the impertinence to redden at home quite well as at the restaurant."

"This is not one of your amiable days!"

General Rule.--No man has ever yet discovered the way to give friendly advice to any woman, not even to his own wife.

"Perhaps it's because you are laced too tight. Women make themselves sick that way."

The moment a man utters these words to a woman, no matter whom, that woman,--who knows that stays will bend,--seizes her corset by the lower end, and bends it out, saying, with Caroline:

"Look, you can get your hand in! I never lace tight."

"Then it must be your stomach."

"What has the stomach got to do with the nose?"

"The stomach is a centre which communicates with all the organs."

"So the nose is an organ, is it?"


"Your organ is doing you a poor service at this moment." She raises her eyes and shrugs her shoulders. "Come, Adolphe, what have I done?"

"Nothing. I'm only joking, and I am unfortunate enough not to please you," returns Adolphe, smiling.

"My misfortune is being your wife! Oh, why am I not somebody else's!"

"That's what _I say!"

"If I were, and if I had the innocence to say to you, like a coquette who wishes to know how far she has got with a man, 'the redness of my nose really gives me anxiety,' you would look at me in the glass with all the affectations of an ape, and would reply, 'O madame, you do yourself an injustice; in the first place, nobody sees it: besides, it harmonizes with your complexion; then again we are all so after dinner!' and from this you would go on to flatter me. Do I ever tell you that you are growing fat, that you are getting the color of a stone-cutter, and that I prefer thin and pale men?"

They say in London, "Don't touch the axe!" In France we ought to say, "Don't touch a woman's nose."

"And all this about a little extra natural vermilion!" exclaims Adolphe. "Complain about it to Providence, whose office it is to put a little more color in one place than another, not to me, who loves you, who desires you to be perfect, and who merely says to you, take care!"

"You love me too much, then, for you've been trying, for some time past, to find disagreeable things to say to me. You want to run me down under the pretext of making me perfect--people said I _was perfect, five years ago."

"I think you are better than perfect, you are stunning!"

"With too much vermilion?"

Adolphe, who sees the atmosphere of the north pole upon his wife's face, sits down upon a chair by her side. Caroline, unable decently to go away, gives her gown a sort of flip on one side, as if to produce a separation. This motion is performed by some women with a provoking impertinence: but it has two significations; it is, as whist players would say, either a signal _for trumps or a _renounce_. At this time, Caroline renounces.

"What is the matter?" says Adolphe.

"Will you have a glass of sugar and water?" asks Caroline, busying herself about your health, and assuming the part of a servant.

"What for?"

"You are not amiable while digesting, you must be in pain. Perhaps you would like a drop of brandy in your sugar and water? The doctor spoke of it as an excellent remedy."

"How anxious you are about my stomach!"

"It's a centre, it communicates with the other organs, it will act upon your heart, and through that perhaps upon your tongue."

Adolphe gets up and walks about without saying a word, but he reflects upon the acuteness which his wife is acquiring: he sees her daily gaining in strength and in acrimony: she is getting to display an art in vexation and a military capacity for disputation which reminds him of Charles XII and the Russians. Caroline, during this time, is busy with an alarming piece of mimicry: she looks as if she were going to faint.

"Are you sick?" asks Adolphe, attacked in his generosity, the place where women always have us.

"It makes me sick at my stomach, after dinner, to see a man going back and forth so, like the pendulum of a clock. But it's just like you: you are always in a fuss about something. You are a queer set: all men are more or less cracked."

Adolphe sits down by the fire opposite to his wife, and remains there pensive: marriage appears to him like an immense dreary plain, with its crop of nettles and mullen stalks.

"What, are you pouting?" asks Caroline, after a quarter of an hour's observation of her husband's countenance.

"No, I am meditating," replied Adolphe.

"Oh, what an infernal temper you've got!" she returns, with a shrug of the shoulders. "Is it for what I said about your stomach, your shape and your digestion? Don't you see that I was only paying you back for your vermilion? You'll make me think that men are as vain as women. (Adolphe remains frigid.) It is really quite kind in you to take our qualities. (Profound silence.) I made a joke and you got angry (she looks at Adolphe), for you are angry. I am not like you: I cannot bear the idea of having given you pain! Nevertheless, it's an idea that a man never would have had, that of attributing your impertinence to something wrong in your digestion. It's not my Dolph, it's his stomach that was bold enough to speak. I did not know you were a ventriloquist, that's all."

Caroline looks at Adolphe and smiles: Adolphe is as stiff as if he were glued.

"No, he won't laugh! And, in your jargon, you call this having character. Oh, how much better we are!"

She goes and sits down in Adolphe's lap, and Adolphe cannot help smiling. This smile, extracted as if by a steam engine, Caroline has been on the watch for, in order to make a weapon of it.

"Come, old fellow, confess that you are wrong," she says. "Why pout? Dear me, I like you just as you are: in my eyes you are as slender as when I married you, and slenderer perhaps."

"Caroline, when people get to deceive themselves in these little matters, where one makes concessions and the other does not get angry, do you know what it means?"

"What does it mean?" asks Caroline, alarmed at Adolphe's dramatic attitude.

"That they love each other less."

"Oh! you monster, I understand you: you were angry so as to make me believe you loved me!"

Alas! let us confess it, Adolphe tells the truth in the only way he can--by a laugh.

"Why give me pain?" she says. "If I am wrong in anything, isn't it better to tell me of it kindly, than brutally to say (here she raises her voice), 'Your nose is getting red!' No, that is not right! To please you, I will use an expression of the fair Fischtaminel, 'It's not the act of a gentleman!'"

Adolphe laughs and pays the expenses of the reconciliation; but instead of discovering therein what will please Caroline and what will attach her to him, he finds out what attaches him to her.

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