Letters of Two Brides/Chapter XX

Letters of Two Brides by Honore de Balzac
Chapter XX: RENEE DE L'ESTORADE TO LOUISE DE CHAULIEU

May.

If love be the life of the world, why do austere philosophers count it for nothing in marriage? Why should Society take for its first law that the woman must be sacrificed to the family, introducing thus a note of discord into the very heart of marriage? And this discord was foreseen, since it was to meet the dangers arising from it that men were armed with new-found powers against us. But for these, we should have been able to bring their whole theory to nothing, whether by the force of love or of a secret, persistent aversion.

I see in marriage, as it at present exists, two opposing forces which it was the task of the lawgiver to reconcile. "When will they be reconciled?" I said to myself, as I read your letter. Oh! my dear, one such letter alone is enough to overthrow the whole fabric constructed by the sage of Aveyron, under whose shelter I had so cheerfully ensconced myself! The laws were made by old men—any woman can see that—and they have been prudent enough to decree that conjugal love, apart from passion, is not degrading, and that a woman in yielding herself may dispense with the sanction of love, provided the man can legally call her his. In their exclusive concern for the family they have imitated Nature, whose one care is to propagate the species.

Formerly I was a person, now I am a chattel. Not a few tears have I gulped down, alone and far from every one. How gladly would I have exchanged them for a consoling smile! Why are our destinies so unequal? Your soul expands in the atmosphere of a lawful passion. For you, virtue will coincide with pleasure. If you encounter pain, it will be of your own free choice. Your duty, if you marry Felipe, will be one with the sweetest, freest indulgence of feeling. Our future is big with the answer to my question, and I look for it with restless eagerness.

You love and are adored. Oh! my dear, let this noble romance, the old subject of our dreams, take full possession of your soul. Womanly beauty, refined and spiritualized in you, was created by God, for His own purposes, to charm and to delight. Yes, my sweet, guard well the secret of your heart, and submit Felipe to those ingenious devices of ours for testing a lover's metal. Above all, make trial of your own love, for this is even more important. It is so easy to be misled by the deceptive glamour of novelty and passion, and by the vision of happiness.

Alone of the two friends, you remain in your maiden independence; and I beseech you, dearest, do not risk the irrevocable step of marriage without some guarantee. It happens sometimes, when two are talking together, apart from the world, their souls stripped of social disguise, that a gesture, a word, a look lights up, as by a flash, some dark abyss. You have courage and strength to tread boldly in paths where others would be lost.

You have no conception in what anxiety I watch you. Across all this space I see you; my heart beats with yours. Be sure, therefore, to write and tell me everything. Your letters create an inner life of passion within my homely, peaceful household, which reminds me of a level highroad on a gray day. The only event here, my sweet, is that I am playing cross-purposes with myself. But I don't want to tell you about it just now; it must wait for another day. With dogged obstinacy, I pass from despair to hope, now yielding, now holding back. It may be that I ask from life more than we have a right to claim. In youth we are so ready to believe that the ideal and the real will harmonize!

I have been pondering alone, seated beneath a rock in my park, and the fruit of my pondering is that love in marriage is a happy accident on which it is impossible to base a universal law. My Aveyron philosopher is right in looking on the family as the only possible unit in society, and in placing woman in subjection to the family, as she has been in all ages. The solution of this great—for us almost awful —question lies in our first child. For this reason, I would gladly be a mother, were it only to supply food for the consuming energy of my soul.

Louis' temper remains as perfect as ever; his love is of the active, my tenderness of the passive, type. He is happy, plucking the flowers which bloom for him, without troubling about the labor of the earth which has produced them. Blessed self-absorption! At whatever cost to myself, I fall in with his illusions, as a mother, in my idea of her, should be ready to spend herself to satisfy a fancy of her child. The intensity of his joy blinds him, and even throws its reflection upon me. The smile or look of satisfaction which the knowledge of his content brings to my face is enough to satisfy him. And so, "my child" is the pet name which I give him when we are alone.

And I wait for the fruit of all these sacrifices which remain a secret between God, myself, and you. On motherhood I have staked enormously; my credit account is now too large, I fear I shall never receive full payment. To it I look for employment of my energy, expansion of my heart, and the compensation of a world of joys. Pray Heaven I be not deceived! It is a question of all my future and, horrible thought, of my virtue.