Read MEDITATION IX - OF MARITAL REVOLUTIONS. of The Physiology of Marriage‚ Part II., free online book, by Honore de Balzac, on

The time always comes in which nations and women even the most stupid perceive that their innocence is being abused.  The cleverest policy may for a long time proceed in a course of deceit; but it would be very happy for men if they could carry on their deceit to an infinite period; a vast amount of bloodshed would then be avoided, both in nations and in families.

Nevertheless, we hope that the means of defence put forth in the preceding Meditations will be sufficient to deliver a certain number of husbands from the clutches of the Minotaur!  You must agree with the doctor that many a love blindly entered upon perishes under the treatment of hygiene or dies away, thanks to marital policy.  Yes [what a consoling mistake!] many a lover will be driven away by personal efforts, many a husband will learn how to conceal under an impenetrable veil the machinery of his machiavelism, and many a man will have better success than the old philosopher who cried:  Nolo coronari!

But we are here compelled to acknowledge a mournful truth.  Despotism has its moments of secure tranquillity.  Her reign seems like the hour which precedes the tempest, and whose silence enables the traveler, stretched upon the faded grass, to hear at a mile’s distance, the song of the cicada.  Some fine morning an honest woman, who will be imitated by a great portion of our own women, discerns with an eagle eye the clever manoeuvres which have rendered her the victim of an infernal policy.  She is at first quite furious at having for so long a time preserved her virtue.  At what age, in what day, does this terrible revolution occur?  This question of chronology depends entirely upon the genius of each husband; for it is not the vocation of all to put in practice with the same talent the precepts of our conjugal gospel.

“A man must have very little love,” the mystified wife will exclaim, “to enter upon such calculations as these!  What!  From the first day I have been to him perpetually an object of suspicion!  It is monstrous, even a woman would be incapable of such artful and cruel treachery!”

This is the question.  Each husband will be able to understand the variations of this complaint which will be made in accordance with the character of the young Fury, of whom he has made a companion.

A woman by no means loses her head under these circumstances; she holds her tongue and dissembles.  Her vengeance will be concealed.  Only you will have some symptoms of hesitation to contend with on the arrival of the crisis, which we presume you to have reached on the expiration of the honeymoon; but you will also have to contend against a resolution.  She has determined to revenge herself.  From that day, so far as regards you, her mask, like her heart, has turned to bronze.  Formerly you were an object of indifference to her; you are becoming by degrees absolutely insupportable.  The Civil War commences only at the moment in which, like the drop of water which makes the full glass overflow, some incident, whose more or less importance we find difficulty in determining, has rendered you odious.  The lapse of time which intervenes between this last hour, the limit of your good understanding, and the day when your wife becomes cognizant of your artifices, is nevertheless quite sufficient to permit you to institute a series of defensive operations, which we will now explain.

Up to this time you have protected your honor solely by the exertion of a power entirely occult.  Hereafter the wheels of your conjugal machinery must be set going in sight of every one.  In this case, if you would prevent a crime you must strike a blow.  You have begun by negotiating, you must end by mounting your horse, sabre in hand, like a Parisian gendarme.  You must make your horse prance, you must brandish your sabre, you must shout strenuously, and you must endeavor to calm the revolt without wounding anybody.

Just as the author has found a means of passing from occult methods to methods that are patent, so it is necessary for the husband to justify the sudden change in his tactics; for in marriage, as in literature, art consists entirely in the gracefulness of the transitions.  This is of the highest importance for you.  What a frightful position you will occupy if your wife has reason to complain of your conduct at the moment, which is, perhaps, the most critical of your whole married life!

You must therefore find some means or other to justify the secret tyranny of your initial policy; some means which still prepare the mind of your wife for the severe measures which you are about to take; some means which so far from forfeiting her esteem will conciliate her; some means which will gain her pardon, which will restore some little of that charm of yours, by which you won her love before your marriage.

“But what policy is it that demands this course of action?  Is there such a policy?”

Certainly there is.

But what address, what tact, what histrionic art must a husband possess in order to display the mimic wealth of that treasure which we are about to reveal to him!  In order to counterfeit the passion whose fire is to make you a new man in the presence of your wife, you will require all the cunning of Talma.

This passion is JEALOUSY.

“My husband is jealous.  He has been so from the beginning of our marriage.  He has concealed this feeling from me by his usual refined delicacy.  Does he love me still?  I am going to do as I like with him!”

Such are the discoveries which a woman is bound to make, one after another, in accordance with the charming scenes of the comedy which you are enacting for your amusement; and a man of the world must be an actual fool, if he fails in making a woman believe that which flatters her.

With what perfection of hypocrisy must you arrange, step by step, your hypocritical behavior so as to rouse the curiosity of your wife, to engage her in a new study, and to lead her astray among the labyrinths of your thought!

Ye sublime actors!  Do ye divine the diplomatic reticence, the gestures of artifice, the veiled words, the looks of doubtful meaning which some evening may induce your wife to attempt the capture of your secret thoughts?

Ah! to laugh in your sleeve while you are exhibiting the fierceness of a tiger; neither to lie nor to tell the truth; to comprehend the capricious mood of a woman, and yet to make her believe that she controls you, while you intend to bind her with a collar of iron!  O comedy that has no audience, which yet is played by one heart before another heart and where both of you applaud because both of you think that you have obtained success!

She it is who will tell you that you are jealous, who will point out to you that she knows you better than you know yourself, who will prove to you the uselessness of your artifices and who perhaps will defy you.  She triumphs in the excited consciousness of the superiority which she thinks she possesses over you; you of course are ennobled in her eyes; for she finds your conduct quite natural.  The only thing she feels is that your want of confidence was useless; if she wished to betray, who could hinder her?

Then, some evening, you will burst into a passion, and, as some trifle affords you a pretext, you will make a scene, in the course of which your anger will make you divulge the secret of your distress.  And here comes in the promulgation of our new code.

Have no fear that a woman is going to trouble herself about this.  She needs your jealousy, she rather likes your severity.  This comes from the fact that in the first place she finds there a justification for her own conduct; and then she finds immense satisfaction in playing before other people the part of a victim.  What delightful expressions of sympathy will she receive!  Afterwards she will use this as a weapon against you, in the expectation thereby of leading you into a pitfall.

She sees in your conduct the source of a thousand more pleasures in her future treachery, and her imagination smiles at all the barricades with which you surround her, for will she not have the delight of surmounting them all?

Women understand better than we do the art of analyzing the two human feelings, which alternately form their weapons of attack, or the weapons of which they are victims.  They have the instinct of love, because it is their whole life, and of jealousy, because it is almost the only means by which they can control us.  Within them jealousy is a genuine sentiment and springs from the instinct of self-preservation; it is vital to their life or death.  But with men this feeling is absolutely absurd when it does not subserve some further end.

To entertain feelings of jealousy towards the woman you love, is to start from a position founded on vicious reasoning.  We are loved, or we are not loved; if a man entertains jealousy under either of these circumstances, it is a feeling absolutely unprofitable to him; jealousy may be explained as fear, fear in love.  But to doubt one’s wife is to doubt one’s self.

To be jealous is to exhibit, at once, the height of egotism, the error of amour-propre, the vexation of morbid vanity.  Women rather encourage this ridiculous feeling, because by means of it they can obtain cashmere shawls, silver toilet sets, diamonds, which for them mark the high thermometer mark of their power.  Moreover, unless you appear blinded by jealousy, your wife will not keep on her guard; for there is no pitfall which she does not distrust, excepting that which she makes for herself.

Thus the wife becomes the easy dupe of a husband who is clever enough to give to the inevitable revolution, which comes sooner or later, the advantageous results we have indicated.

You must import into your establishment that remarkable phenomenon whose existence is demonstrated in the asymptotes of geometry.  Your wife will always try to minotaurize you without being successful.  Like those knots which are never so tight as when one tries to loosen them, she will struggle to the advantage of your power over her, while she believes that she is struggling for her independence.

The highest degree of good play on the part of a prince lies in persuading his people that he goes to war for them, while all the time he is causing them to be killed for his throne.

But many husbands will find a preliminary difficulty in executing this plan of campaign.  If your wife is a woman of profound dissimulation, the question is, what signs will indicate to her the motives of your long mystification?

It will be seen that our Meditation on the Custom House, as well as that on the Bed, has already revealed certain means of discerning the thought of a woman; but we make no pretence in this book of exhaustively stating the resources of human wit, which are immeasurable.  Now here is a proof of this.  On the day of the Saturnalia the Romans discovered more features in the character of their slaves, in ten minutes, than they would have found out during the rest of the year!  You ought therefore to ordain Saturnalia in your establishment, and to imitate Gessler, who, when he saw William Tell shoot the apple off his son’s head, was forced to remark, “Here is a man whom I must get rid of, for he could not miss his aim if he wished to kill me.”

You understand, then, that if your wife wishes to drink Roussillon wine, to eat mutton chops, to go out at all hours and to read the encyclopaedia, you are bound to take her very seriously.  In the first place, she will begin to distrust you against her own wish, on seeing that your behaviour towards her is quite contrary to your previous proceedings.  She will suppose that you have some ulterior motive in this change of policy, and therefore all the liberty that you give her will make her so anxious that she cannot enjoy it.  As regards the misfortunes that this change may bring, the future will provide for them.  In a revolution the primary principle is to exercise a control over the evil which cannot be prevented and to attract the lightning by rods which shall lead it to the earth.

And now the last act of the comedy is in preparation.

The lover who, from the day when the feeblest of all first symptoms shows itself in your wife until the moment when the marital revolution takes place, has jumped upon the stage, either as a material creature or as a being of the imagination ­the LOVER, summoned by a sign from her, now declares:  “Here I am!”