PETTY TROUBLES OF MARRIED LIFE
PETTY TROUBLES OF MARRIED LIFE
HONORE DE BALZAC
IN WHICH EVERY ONE WILL FIND HIS OWN IMPRESSIONS OF MARRIAGE.
A friend in speaking to you of a young woman says: "Good family
well bred pretty and three hundred thousand in her own right."
You have expressed a desire to meet this charming creature.
Usually chance interviews are premeditated. And you speak with
this object who has now become very timid.
YOU.--"A delightful evening!"
SHE.--"Oh! yes sir."
You are allowed to become the suitor of this young person.
THE MOTHER-IN-LAW (to the intended groom).--"You can't imagine how
susceptible the dear girl is of attachment."
Meanwhile there is a delicate pecuniary question to be discussed
by the two families.
YOUR FATHER (to the mother-in-law).--"My property is valued at
five hundred thousand francs my dear madame!"
YOUR FUTURE MOTHER-IN-LAW.--"And our house my dear sir is on a
A contract follows drawn up by two hideous notaries a small one
and a big one.
Then the two families judge it necessary to convoy you to the
civil magistrate's and to the church before conducting the bride
to her chamber.
Then what? . . . . . Why then come a crowd of petty unforeseen
troubles like the following:
PETTY TROUBLES OF MARRIED LIFE
THE UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL.
Is it a petty or a profound trouble? I knew not; it is profound for
your sons-in-law or daughters-in-law but exceedingly petty for you.
"Petty! You must be joking; why a child costs terribly dear!"
exclaims a ten-times-too-happy husband at the baptism of his
eleventh called the little last newcomer--a phrase with which women
beguile their families.
"What trouble is this?" you ask me. Well! this is like many petty
troubles of married life a blessing for some one.
You have four months since married off your daughter whom we will
call by the sweet name of CAROLINE and whom we will make the type of
all wives. Caroline is like all other young ladies very charming
and you have found for her a husband who is either a lawyer a
captain an engineer a judge or perhaps a young viscount. But he is
more likely to be what sensible families must seek--the ideal of
their desires--the only son of a rich landed proprietor. (See the
This phoenix we will call ADOLPHE whatever may be his position in the
world his age and the color of his hair.
The lawyer the captain the engineer the judge in short the son-
in-law Adolphe and his family have seen in Miss Caroline:
II.--The only daughter of your wife and you.
Here as in the Chamber of Deputies we are compelled to call for a
division of the house:
1.--As to your wife.
Your wife is to inherit the property of a maternal uncle a gouty old
fellow whom she humors nurses caresses and muffles up; to say
nothing of her father's fortune. Caroline has always adored her uncle
--her uncle who trotted her on his knee her uncle who--her uncle
whom--her uncle in short--whose property is estimated at two hundred
Further your wife is well preserved though her age has been the
subject of mature reflection on the part of your son-in-law's
grandparents and other ancestors. After many skirmishes between the
mothers-in-law they have at last confided to each other the little
secrets peculiar to women of ripe years.
"How is it with you my dear madame?"
"I thank heaven have passed the period; and you?"
"I really hope I have too!" says your wife.
"You can marry Caroline" says Adolphe's mother to your future son-in-
law; "Caroline will be the sole heiress of her mother of her uncle
and her grandfather."
2.--As to yourself.
You are also the heir of your maternal grandfather a good old man
whose possessions will surely fall to you for he has grown imbecile
and is therefore incapable of making a will.
You are an amiable man but you have been very dissipated in your
youth. Besides you are fifty-nine years old and your head is bald
resembling a bare knee in the middle of a gray wig.
III.--A dowry of three hundred thousand.
IV.--Caroline's only sister a little dunce of twelve a sickly child
who bids fair to fill an early grave.
V.--Your own fortune father-in-law (in certain kinds of society they
say /papa father-in-law/) yielding an income of twenty thousand and
which will soon be increased by an inheritance.
VI.--Your wife's fortune which will be increased by two inheritances
--from her uncle and her grandfather. In all thus:
Three inheritances and interest 750000
Your fortune 250000
Your wife's fortune 250000
which surely cannot take wing!
Such is the autopsy of all those brilliant marriages that conduct
their processions of dancers and eaters in white gloves flowering at
the button-hole with bouquets of orange flowers furbelows veils
coaches and coach-drivers from the magistrate's to the church from
the church to the banquet from the banquet to the dance from the
dance to the nuptial chamber to the music of the orchestra and the
accompaniment of the immemorial pleasantries uttered by relics of
dandies for are there not here and there in society relics of
dandies as there are relics of English horses? To be sure and such
is the osteology of the most amorous intent.
The majority of the relatives have had a word to say about this
Those on the side of the bridegroom:
"Adolphe has made a good thing of it."
Those on the side of the bride:
"Caroline has made a splendid match. Adolphe is an only son and will
have an income of sixty thousand /some day or other/!"
Some time afterwards the happy judge the happy engineer the happy
captain the happy lawyer the happy only son of a rich landed
proprietor in short Adolphe comes to dine with you accompanied by
Your daughter Caroline is exceedingly proud of the somewhat rounded
form of her waist. All women display an innocent artfulness the first
time they find themselves facing motherhood. Like a soldier who makes
a brilliant toilet for his first battle they love to play the pale
the suffering; they rise in a certain manner and walk with the
prettiest affectation. While yet flowers they bear a fruit; they
enjoy their maternity by anticipation. All those little ways are
exceedingly charming--the first time.
Your wife now the mother-in-law of Adolphe subjects herself to the
pressure of tight corsets. When her daughter laughs she weeps; when
Caroline wishes her happiness public she tries to conceal hers. After
dinner the discerning eye of the co-mother-in-law divines the work of
Your wife also is an expectant mother! The news spreads like
lightning and your oldest college friend says to you laughingly: "Ah!
so you are trying to increase the population again!"
You have some hope in a consultation that is to take place to-morrow.
You kind-hearted man that you are you turn red you hope it is
merely the dropsy; but the doctors confirm the arrival of a /little
In such circumstances some timorous husbands go to the country or make
a journey to Italy. In short a strange confusion reigns in your
household; both you and your wife are in a false position.
"Why you old rogue you you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" says a
friend to you on the Boulevard.
"Well! do as much if you can" is your angry retort.
"It's as bad as being robbed on the highway!" says your son-in-law's
family. "Robbed on the highway" is a flattering expression for the
The family hopes that the child which divides the expected fortune in
three parts will be like all old men's children scrofulous feeble
an abortion. Will it be likely to live? The family awaits the delivery
of your wife with an anxiety like that which agitated the house of
Orleans during the confinement of the Duchess de Berri: a second son
would secure the throne to the younger branch without the onerous
conditions of July; Henry V would easily seize the crown. From that
moment the house of Orleans was obliged to play double or quits: the
event gave them the game.
The mother and the daughter are put to bed nine days apart.
Caroline's first child is a pale cadaverous little girl that will not
Her mother's last child is a splendid boy weighing twelve pounds
with two teeth and luxuriant hair.
For sixteen years you have desired a son. This conjugal annoyance is
the only one that makes you beside yourself with joy. For your
rejuvenated wife has attained what must be called the /Indian Summer/
of women; she nurses she has a full breast of milk! Her complexion is
fresh her color is pure pink and white. In her forty-second year she
affects the young woman buys little baby stockings walks about
followed by a nurse embroiders caps and tries on the cunningest
headdresses. Alexandrine has resolved to instruct her daughter by her
example; she is delightful and happy. And yet this is a trouble a
petty one for you a serious one for your son-in-law. This annoyance
is of the two sexes it is common to you and your wife. In short in
this instance your paternity renders you all the more proud from the
fact that it is incontestable my dear sir!
Generally speaking a young woman does not exhibit her true character
till she has been married two or three years. She hides her faults
without intending it in the midst of her first joys of her first
parties of pleasure. She goes into society to dance she visits her
relatives to show you off she journeys on with an escort of love's
first wiles; she is gradually transformed from girlhood to womanhood.
Then she becomes mother and nurse and in this situation full of
charming pangs that leaves neither a word nor a moment for
observation such are its multiplied cares it is impossible to judge
of a woman. You require then three or four years of intimate life
before you discover an exceedingly melancholy fact one that gives you
cause for constant terror.
Your wife the young lady in whom the first pleasures of life and love
supplied the place of grace and wit so arch so animated so
vivacious whose least movements spoke with delicious eloquence has
cast off slowly one by one her natural artifices. At last you
perceive the truth! You try to disbelieve it you think yourself
deceived; but no: Caroline lacks intellect she is dull she can
neither joke nor reason sometimes she has little tact. You are
frightened. You find yourself forever obliged to lead this darling
through the thorny paths where you must perforce leave your self-
esteem in tatters.
You have already been annoyed several times by replies that in
society were politely received: people have held their tongues
instead of smiling; but you were certain that after your departure the
women looked at each other and said: "Did you hear Madame Adolphe?"
"Your little woman she is--"
"A regular cabbage-head."
"How could he who is certainly a man of sense choose--?"
"He should educate teach his wife or make her hold her tongue."
Axiom.--In our system of civilization a man is entirely responsible
for his wife.
Axiom.--The husband does not mould the wife.
Caroline has one day obstinately maintained at the house of Madame de
Fischtaminel a very distinguished lady that her little last one
resembled neither its father nor its mother but looked like a certain
friend of the family. She perhaps enlightens Monsieur de Fischtaminel
and overthrows the labors of three years by tearing down the
scaffolding of Madame de Fischtaminel's assertions who after this
visit will treat you will coolness suspecting as she does that you
have been making indiscreet remarks to your wife.
On another occasion Caroline after having conversed with a writer
about his works counsels the poet who is already a prolific author
to try to write something likely to live. Sometimes she complains of
the slow attendance at the tables of people who have but one servant
and have put themselves to great trouble to receive her. Sometimes she
speaks ill of widows who marry again before Madame Deschars who has
married a third time and on this occasion an ex-notary Nicolas-
Jean-Jerome-Nepomucene-Ange-Marie-Victor-Joseph Deschars a friend of
In short you are no longer yourself when you are in society with your
wife. Like a man who is riding a skittish horse and glares straight
between the beast's two ears you are absorbed by the attention with
which you listen to your Caroline.
In order to compensate herself for the silence to which young ladies
are condemned Caroline talks; or rather babbles. She wants to make a
sensation and she does make a sensation; nothing stops her. She
addresses the most eminent men the most celebrated women. She
introduces herself and puts you on the rack. Going into society is
going to the stake.
She begins to think you are cross-grained moody. The fact is you are
watching her that's all! In short you keep her within a small circle
of friends for she has already embroiled you with people on whom your
How many times have you recoiled from the necessity of a remonstrance
in the morning on awakening when you had put her in a good humor for
listening! A woman rarely listens. How many times have you recoiled
from the burthen of your imperious obligations!
The conclusion of your ministerial communication can be no other than:
"You have no sense." You foresee the effect of your first lesson.
Caroline will say to herself: "Ah I have no sense! Haven't I though?"
No woman ever takes this in good part. Both of you must draw the sword
and throw away the scabbard. Six weeks after Caroline may prove to
you that she has quite sense enough to /minotaurize/ you without your
Frightened at such a prospect you make use of all the eloquent
phrases to gild this pill. In short you find the means of flattering
Caroline's various self-loves for:
Axiom.--A married woman has several self-loves.
You say that you are her best friend the only one well situated to
enlighten her; the more careful you are the more watchful and puzzled
she is. At this moment she has plenty of sense.
You ask your dear Caroline whose waist you clasp how she who is so
brilliant when alone with you who retorts so charmingly (you remind
her of sallies that she has never made which you put in her mouth
and which she smilingly accepts) how she can say this that and the
other in society. She is doubtless like many ladies timid in
"I know" you say "many very distinguished men who are just the
You cite the case of some who are admirable tea-party oracles but who
cannot utter half a dozen sentences in the tribune. Caroline should
keep watch over herself; you vaunt silence as the surest method of
being witty. In society a good listener is highly prized.
You have broken the ice though you have not even scratched its glossy
surface: you have placed your hand upon the croup of the most
ferocious and savage the most wakeful and clear-sighted the most
restless the swiftest the most jealous the most ardent and violent
the simplest and most elegant the most unreasonable the most
watchful chimera of the moral world--THE VANITY OF A WOMAN!
Caroline clasps you in her arms with a saintly embrace thanks you for
your advice and loves you the more for it; she wishes to be beholden
to you for everything even for her intellect; she may be a dunce
but what is better than saying fine things she knows how to do them!
But she desires also to be your pride! It is not a question of taste
in dress of elegance and beauty; she wishes to make you proud of her
intelligence. You are the luckiest of men in having successfully
managed to escape from this first dangerous pass in conjugal life.
"We are going this evening to Madame Deschars' where they never know
what to do to amuse themselves; they play all sorts of forfeit games
on account of a troop of young women and girls there; you shall see!"
You are so happy at this turn of affairs that you hum airs and
carelessly chew bits of straw and thread while still in your shirt
and drawers. You are like a hare frisking on a flowering dew-perfumed
meadow. You leave off your morning gown till the last extremity when
breakfast is on the table. During the day if you meet a friend and he
happens to speak of women you defend them; you consider women
charming delicious there is something divine about them.
How often are our opinions dictated to us by the unknown events of our
You take your wife to Madame Deschars'. Madame Deschars is a mother
and is exceedingly devout. You never see any newspapers at her house:
she keeps watch over her daughters by three different husbands and
keeps them all the more closely from the fact that she herself has it
is said some little things to reproach herself with during the career
of her two former lords. At her house no one dares risk a jest.
Everything there is white and pink and perfumed with sanctity as at
the houses of widows who are approaching the confines of their third
youth. It seems as if every day were Sunday there.
You a young husband join the juvenile society of young women and
girls misses and young people in the chamber of Madame Deschars. The
serious people politicians whist-players and tea-drinkers are in
In Madame Deschars' room they are playing a game which consists in
hitting upon words with several meanings to fit the answers that each
player is to make to the following questions:
How do you like it?
What do you do with it?
Where do you put it?
Your turn comes to guess the word you go into the parlor take part
in a discussion and return at the call of a smiling young lady. They
have selected a word that may be applied to the most enigmatical
replies. Everybody knows that in order to puzzle the strongest heads
the best way is to choose a very ordinary word and to invent phrases
that will send the parlor Oedipus a thousand leagues from each of his
This game is a poor substitute for lansquenet or dice but it is not
The word MAL has been made the Sphinx of this particular occasion.
Every one has determined to put you off the scent. The word among
other acceptations has that of /mal/ [evil] a substantive that
signifies in aesthetics the opposite of good; of /mal/ [pain
disease complaint] a substantive that enters into a thousand