Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Balzac, "Étude de femme" (1830)
This rather minor story centers on a misdelivered letter, a declaration of love that gets delivered to the wrong woman. Eugène de Rastignac is the sender, intending that this love letter go to his current mistress, Madame de Nucingen. (The story antedates Père Goriot, so it has a rough, distant sketch of part of that affair,) But, having flirted the night before with the somewhat prudish but beautiful Marquise de Listomère, he sends it off to that lady.
She is flattered by the attention, and prepares to have the pleasure of putting him in his place. He arrives and informs her of the mistake, which turns out to be a blow to her vanity. In the end, it is not Rastignac who suffers from his blunder, but rather the Marquise, who has a "petite cries nerveuse."
Women in Balzac tread the line between accusations of looseness and prudery. The Marquise's dullish husband is clearly the kind of complaisant husband under whom she could easily conduct an affair – and the dandies have made there attempts. She is "vertueuse par calcul, ou par goût peut-être." (virtuous by calculation or perhaps by taste.) Like many Balzac woman, she is in a no-win situation. snd her virtue is seen as somehow pathological.