Saintsbury Introduction, Volume XVIII – Part I

Introduction [to Analytical Studies] by J. Walker McSpadden:
The Physiology of Marriage (Physiologie du Mariage)
Petty Troubles of Married Life (Petites Misères de la Vie Conjugale)

The two Analytical Studies, Physiology of Marriage and Petty Troubles of Married Life, belong quite apart from the action of the Comédie Humaine, and can only be included therein by virtue of a special dispensation on the part of their author, who made for them an eighth division therein, thus giving them a local habitation and a name. Although they come far down in the list of titles, their creation belongs almost to the formative era. Balzac had just shaken his skirts clear of the immature dust of the Œuvres de Jeunesse, and by the publication, in 1829, of The Chouans, had made his first real bow to his larger public. In December of that same year appeared the Physiology of Marriage, followed eleven months later by a few papers belonging to Petty Troubles of Married Life. Meanwhile, between these two Analytical Studies, came a remarkable novelette, At the Sign of the Cat and Racket, followed soon after by one of the most famous stories of the entire Comédie, The Magic Skin.

We are thus particular to place the two Analytical Studies in time and in environment, that the wonderful versatility of the author may become apparent – and more: that Balzac may be vindicated from the charge of dullness and inaccuracy at this period. Such traits might have been charged against him had he left only the Analytical Studies. But when they are preceded by the faithful though heavy scene of military life, and succeeded by the searching and vivid philosophical study, their faults and failures may be considered for the sake of their company.

It is hard to determine Balzac’s full purpose in including the Analytical Studies in the Comédie. They are not novels. The few, lightly-sketched characters are not connected with those of the Comédie, save in one or two remote instances. They must have been included in order to make one more room in the gigantic mansion which the author had planned. His seventh sense of subdivision saw here fresh material to classify. And so these grim, almost sardonic essays were placed where they now appear.

In all kindness, the Balzac novitiate is warned against beginning an acquaintance with the author through the medium of the Analytical Studies. He would be almost certain to misjudge Balzac’s attitude, and might even be tempted to forsake his further cultivation. The mistake would be serious for the reader and unjust to the author. These studies are chiefly valuable as outlining a peculiar – and, shall we say, forced? – mood that sought expression in an isolated channel. All his life long, Balzac found time for miscellaneous writings  – critiques, letters, reviews, essays, political diatribes and sketches. In early life they were his “pot-boilers,” and he never ceased writing them, probably urged partly by continued need of money, partly through fondness for this sort of thing. His Physiology is fairly representative of the material, being analysis in satirical vein of sundry foibles of society. This class of composition was very popular in the time of Louis Philippe.

The Physiology of Marriage is couched in a spirit of pseudo-seriousness that leaves one in doubt as to Balzac’s faith with the reader. At times he seems honestly to be trying to analyze a particular phase of his subject; at other times he appears to be ridiculing the whole institution of marriage. If this be not the case, then he would seem unfitted for his task – through the ignorance of a bachelor – and adds to error the element of slander. He is at fault through lack of intimate experience. And yet the flashes of keen penetration preclude such a charge as this. A few bold touches of his pen, and a picture is drawn which glows with convincing reality. While here and there occur paragraphs of powerful description or searching philosophy which proclaim Balzac the mature, Balzac the observant.

On the publication of Petty Troubles of Married Life in La Presse, the publishers of that periodical had this to say: “M. de Balzac has already produced, as you know, the Physiology of Marriage, a book full of diabolical ingenuity and an analysis of society that would drive to despair Leuwenhoech and Swammerdam, who beheld the entire universe in a drop of water. This inexhaustible subject has again inspired an entertaining book full of Gallic malice and English humor, where Rabelais and Sterne meet and greet him at the same moment.”

In Petty Troubles we have the sardonic vein fully developed. The whole edifice of romance seems but a card house, and all virtue merely a question of utility. We must not err, however, in taking sentiments at their apparent value, for the real Balzac lies deeper; and here and there a glimpse of his true spirit and greater power becomes apparent. The bitter satire yields place to a vein of feeling true and fine, and gleaming like rich gold amid baser metal. Note “Another Glimpse of Adolphus” with its splendid vein of reverie and quiet inspiration to higher living. It is touches like this which save the book and reveal the author.

Petty Troubles of Married Life is a pendant or sequel to Physiology of Marriage. It is, as Balzac says, to the Physiology “what Fact is to Theory, or History to Philosophy, and has its logic, as life, viewed as a whole, has its logic also.” We must then say with the author, that “if literature is the reflection of manners, we must admit that our manners recognize the defects pointed out by the Physiology of Marriage in this fundamental institution;” and we must concede for Petty Troubles one of those “terrible blows dealt this social basis.”

The Physiologie du Mariage, ou Meditations de philosophie éclectique sur le bonheur et le malheur conjugal is dated at Paris, 1824-29. It first appeared anonymously, December, 1829, dated 1830, from the press of Charles Gosselin and Urbain Canel, in two octavo volumes with its present introduction and a note of correction now omitted. Its next appearance was signed, in 1834, in a two-volume edition of Ollivier. In 1846 it was entered, with its dedication to the reader, in the first edition of Études Analytiques – the first edition also of the Comédie Humaine – as Volume XVI. All the subsequent editions have retained the original small division heads, called Meditations.

Petites Misères de la Vie Conjugale is not dated. Its composition was achieved piecemeal, beginning shortly after its predecessor appeared. But it was not till long after – in 1845-46 – that its present two-part form was published in a single octavo volume by Chlendowski. A break had ensued between the first and second parts, the latter having appeared practically in full in La Presse of December, 1845. The sub-headings have remained unchanged since the original printing.

J. Walker  McSpadden

 

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition

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