Published May 17th by Gallimard first published More Details Original Title. Other Editions 6. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Apr 03, Manny rated it liked it Shelves: french , older-men-younger-women , story-review. Allen, I think it was? Well, sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Now, why don't you tell me about your screenplay?
It's called Blame it on Balzac Like the French author? So the hero, he's this nerdy young student. I was thinking I would play him. He's writing a dissertation on Balzac's La Duchesse de Langeais W - Good morning young man. What's the story? He's very brave and resourceful, but he doesn't know anything about women. He's fallen in love with this society beauty, la Duchesse de Langeais, but she keeps giving him the runaround. She doesn't say no, but she doesn't say yes either, she just keeps him hanging around because she likes the attention.
She tells him that she loves him too, but she can't sleep with him because she's married, or it's immoral, or whatever Now the student is in love with this girl, and she's treating him just the way the Duchesse is treating the General. After a while he starts identifying with the General His friend is much more experienced with women, and he says it's easy. There's this key speech he makes. Let me read it out to you.
Ah, Sois inflexible comme la loi. Frappe toujours Give it to me in English. Be as inflexible as the law. Show no more mercy than the executioner. Hit her.
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When you've hit her, hit her again. Keep on hitting her like you were giving her a flogging.
These duchesses are tough, but they only soften when you hit them. Suffering gives them a heart, and you're doing them a kindness by hitting them. So your student is inspired by the speech and he tries it out on the girl? She dies without Son, I'm sorry, but this won't work. And it sounds like a total downer too.
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I'm thinking. I kind of like the idea, but we have to use something else. Not Balzac. There's a similar episode in Le Rouge et le Noir , written just a few years earlier. Not French. People don't like French.
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I'm thinking Humphrey Bogart. That speech you gave me. I see your student, and he's listening to Bogart giving him advice. He's saying Dames are simple. I never met one that didn't understand a slap in the mouth or a slug from a forty-five. It's pretty much the same, right? Play It Again, Sam. Great idea, Woody. So, when do we start? For first, to the graveness of her words, agreeth the sweetnesse of her voice, and the honestie of her meaning: so that the minds of the hearers intangled in those three nets, feele themselves at one instant to bee both moved with her amiablenesse, and bridled by her honesty.
Next, her talke and discourses are so delightfull, that you wyll only then beginne to bee sory, when shee endeth to speake: and wishe that shee woulde bee no more weary to speake, then you are to heare. Yea, shee frameth her jestures so discretely, that in speaking, shee seemeth to holde her peace, and in holding her peace, to speake. Moreover, when see knoweth a matter perfectly, and discourseth of it discretely, to the great commendation of her witte, yet she wyll seeme to speake of it verie doubtfully, to shewe her great modestie.
She wyll also in talke cast oft times upon a man such a sweet smyle, that it were enough to bring him into a fooles paradise, but that her very countenance conteineth such continencie in it, as is sufficient to cut of all fond hope. And yet shee is so farre from solemne looks, and distributeth the treasure of her graces, so discretely and so indifferently, that no man departeth from her uncontented.
Yet for all that, you must not thinke that shee is over prodigall of her curtesie.
For I can assure you this, she winneth moe heartes even with very slender rewardes, then other women doe with the greatest favours they can possibly shewe […]. I cannot sufficientlye set foorth unto you the graces and perfections of this most perfect peece, but for conclusion I will say, that shee may well bee set for an example, whereto other women ought to conforme them selves, to bee acceptable and well thoughte of in the companie they shall come in.
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For her discourse is so full of rapture, You will only begin to be sorry When she doth end her speech, and wish in wonder She held it less vainglory to talk much Than your penance to hear her. Whilst she speaks She throws upon a man so sweet a look […] But in that look There speaketh so divine a continence As cuts off all lascivious and vain hope. A measure of exaggeration might be expected from a devotee, but this is just the point: merely listening to the Duchess is equivalent to a conversion experience for Antonio.
Guazzo insists that women are fully the equal of men in conversation. The genre is beholding for this to Hamlet : 6. Hamlet : Ha, ha! Ophelia : My lord? Hamlet : Are you fair? Ophelia : What means your lordship? Hamlet : That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty. Ophelia : Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty? Hamlet : Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof… 3.
What the Duchess is guilty of, in other words, is not just violating degree by marrying in secret and well beneath herself, but deceiving her partner; trapping him in a conversational snare that he would never have entered of his own volition. If so, she would also point to the Tacitean history play per se , a pessimistic species of historical drama that was gaining ascendancy over other kinds of history play in the Jacobean England.
Possibly, but not straightforwardly. Webster drives home the crookedness to which the Duchess has succumbed by ironic echoes of the earlier imagery of virtuous conversation:. You have not done so. His own viciousness notwithstanding, Ferdinand is able to craft his intervention as a moment of rich poetic justice. Virtue, where art thou hid?
What hideous thing Is it that doth eclipse thee? The theology is clearly reformed: Calvin held that virtue was a mere epiphenomenon or illusion of fallen human nature whose primary reality is sin. There is a homology between Gynecia and the Duchess: both are married to elderly princes while young. Oh, most imperfect light of human reason, That makest so unhappy to foresee What we can least prevent! Pursue thy wishes And glory in them. Because the Duchess is now beyond the bounds of shame, Ferdinand will allow her to continue her clandestine joys, but he refuses to see or converse with her again or know the identity of her husband-lover.
The shame is theirs specifically. Antonio is not to see the sun until dead, he is to be shut out from human conversation:.
The focus on shame seems attuned specifically to the transgression of degree. The deeper questions of whether the Duchess has been guilty of a sin, and whether her equivocations with Antonio are part of this, find no further resonance in the imagery of conversation and to this extent go unanswered. Once the identity is known, Ferdinand communicates with his sister mainly in the form of dumb shows and masques, spectacular displays which—like the masques of Ariel in The Tempest —refuse conversation and seek to overwhelm their target audience with madness.
As too does the question of what exactly her sin consists in: the transgression of degree, the entrapment of Antonio, the cultivation of deception? To my mind it is here that the play reflects the moral pessimism of the Tacitean history play and the Jacobean revenge play alike.
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Any question of making good a given deficiency of virtue—almost exclusively the Elizabethan preoccupation of the Arcadia —is swallowed up in the wholesale evil of the state. In the world of the Tacitean history play, one can die with virtue but not live by virtue not at least in the sense of the active exercise of virtue. The signature of virtue thus becomes suicide. Roughly, what interests me about this sequence is how the Duchess regains her integrity of speech, both to man and to God, but not without the conscious aid of her murderer.