WOMEN AS AN INSTITUTION
Woman! Look upon her and admire her. Gaze upon her and love her. If she wishes to embrace you, permit her. Remember she is weak and you are strong.
But don’t treat her unkindly. Don’t make love to another woman before her face, even if she be your wife. Don’t do it. Always be polite, even should she fancy somebody better than you.
If your mother, my dear Amadis, had not fancied your father better than somebody, you might have been that somebody’s son. Consider this. Always be a philosopher, even about women.
Few men understand women. Frenchmen, perhaps, better than any one else. I am a Frenchman.
She is a child—a little thing—an infant.
She has a mother and father. Let us suppose, for example, they are married. Let us be moral if we cannot be happy and free—they are married—perhaps—they love one another—who knows?
But she knows nothing of this; she is an infant—a small thing—a trifle!
She is not lovely at first. It is cruel, perhaps, but she is red, and positively ugly. She feels this keenly, and cries. She weeps. Ah, my God, how she weeps! Her cries and lamentations now are really distressing.
Tears stream from her in floods. She feels deeply and copiously, like M. Alphonse de Lamartine in his “Confessions.”
If you are her mother, Madame, you will fancy worms; you will examine her linen for pins, and what not. Ah, hypocrite! you, even you, misunderstand her.
Yet she has charming natural impulses. See how she tosses her dimpled arms. She looks longingly at her mother. She has a language of her own. She says, “goo, goo,” and “ga, ga.” She demands something—this infant!
She is faint, poor thing. She famishes. She wishes to be restored. Restore her, Mother! It is the first duty of a mother to restore her child!
She is hardly able to walk; she already totters under the weight of a doll.
It is a charming and elegant affair. It has pink cheeks and purple-black hair. She prefers brunettes, for she has already, with the quick knowledge of a French infant, perceived she is a blonde, and that her doll cannot rival her. Mon Dieu, how touching! Happy child! She spends hours in preparing its toilet. She begins to show her taste in the exquisite details of its dress. She loves it madly, devotedly. She will prefer it to bonbons. She already anticipates the wealth of love she will hereafter pour out on her lover, her mother, her father, and finally, perhaps, her husband.
This is the time the anxious parent will guide these first outpourings. She will read her extracts from Michelet’s “L’Amour,” Rousseau’s “Heloise,” and the “Revue des deux Mondes.”
She was in tears to-day.
She had stolen away from her home and was with some rustic infants. They had noses in the air, and large, coarse hands and feet.
They had seated themselves around a pool in the road, and were fashioning fantastic shapes in the clayey soil with their hands. Her throat swelled and her eyes sparkled with delight as, for the first time, her soft palms touched the plastic mud. She made a graceful and lovely pie. She stuffed it with stones for almonds and plums. She forgot everything. It was being baked in the solar rays, when madame came and took her away.
She weeps. It is night, and she is weeping still.
She no longer doubts her beauty. She is loved.
She saw him secretly. He is vivacious and sprightly. He is famous. He has already had an affair with Finfin, the fille de chambre, and poor Finfin is desolate. He is noble. She knows he is the son of Madame la Baronne Couturiere. She adores him.
She affects not to notice him. Poor little thing! Hippolyte is distracted—annihilated—inconsolable and charming.
She admires his boots, his cravat, his little gloves—his exquisite pantaloons—his coat, and cane.
She offers to run away with him. He is transported, but magnanimous. He is wearied, perhaps. She sees him the next day offering flowers to the daughter of Madame la Comtesse Blanchisseuse.
She is again in tears.
She reads “Paul et Virginie.” She is secretly transported. When she reads how the exemplary young woman laid down her life rather than appear en deshabille to her lover, she weeps again. Tasteful and virtuous Bernardin de Saint-Pierre!—the daughters of France admire you!
All this time her doll is headless in the cabinet. The mud pie is broken on the road.
She is tired of loving, and she marries.
Her mother thinks it, on the whole, the best thing. As the day approaches, she is found frequently in tears. Her mother will not permit the affianced one to see her, and he makes several attempts to commit suicide.
But something happens. Perhaps it is winter, and the water is cold. Perhaps there are not enough people present to witness his heroism.
In this way her future husband is spared to her. The ways of Providence are indeed mysterious. At this time her mother will talk with her. She will offer philosophy. She will tell her she was married herself.
But what is this new and ravishing light that breaks upon her? The toilet and wedding clothes! She is in a new sphere.
She makes out her list in her own charming writing. Here it is. Let every mother heed it. [Footnote: The delicate reader will appreciate the omission of certain articles for which English synonyms are forbidden.]
She is married. On the day after, she meets her old lover, Hippolyte. He is again transported.
A Frenchwoman never grows old.