Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Review: The Physiology of Marriage

The Physiology of Marriage, by Honore de Balzac, is a study of a well known enigma. It starts with a powerful observation that women in general, bestow their love only upon a fool, in almost all the the cases of collapse of marriage. The author then goes on to examine the topic in nine chapters, termed meditations.
The first one begins with common observations, like that life consists of passions, but no passion survives marriage, or that in spite of husbands having superior intellect and wealth, wives have lovers, insignificant in appearence and stupid in mind. In susequent meditations, many other facets of women  and marriage are examined. In this, the first point noted is about the scant availability of information in this regard. "The administration has been occupied for nearly twenty years in reckoning how many acres of woodland, meadow, vineyard and fal ow are comprised in the area of France. It has not stopped there, but has also tried to learn the number and species of the animals to be found there. Scientific men have gone stil further; they have reckoned up the cords of wood, the pounds of beef, the apples and eggs consumed in Paris. But no one has yet undertaken either in the name of marital honor or in the interest of marriageable people, or for the advantage of morality and the progress of human institutions, to investigate the number of honest wives."
The author then goes on with a fresh study of the principal component of all marriages, the man and the woman. Stating that "a woman is a rare variety of the human race, and her principal characteristics are due to the special care men have bestowed upon its cultivation. The life of a woman is divided into three periods, very distinct from each other: the first begins in the cradle and ends on the attainment of a marriageable age; the second embraces the time during which a woman belongs to marriage; the third opens with the critical period, the ending with which nature closes the passions of life. However, physically, a man is a man much longer than a woman is a woman."
Further meditations deal with "obstacles to happiness", "honey moon" as well as "the first symptoms of storm". Here the author gives one of the finest observations I have come across, that "happy marriages are rare because the great men of love are never recognized, though they are, in war, philosophy or, science." While examining the relevance of honey moon, many questions are investigated, like, "How can the honeymoon rise upon two beings who cannot possibly love each other?, How can it set, when once it has risen?, as well as Have all marriages their honeymoon?" Author concludes with his idea of a successful marriage. "A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy, and dissected at least one woman.As ideas are capable of infinite combination, it ought to be the same with pleasures.If there are differences between one moment of pleasure and another, a man can always be happy with the same woman."
In part II of this book is examined, what is termed as marital policy and its conduct. The book gives a few important warnings. “The first is never to believe what a woman says; the second, always to look for the spirit without dwelling too much upon the letter of her actions; and the third, not to forget that a woman is never so garrulous as when she holds her tongue, and is never working with more energy than when she keeps quiet.”
This book, though not suitable to the present social structure and the reigning man – woman relationships, can be enjoyed as a good analysis of the past society. The author, has correctly evaluated the character of every woman as something special and deserving further study, but, seems to have made the same historical mistake, of attributing those peculiarities to the weakness of the female sex. Like all proponents of such views, no justification is offered how, unlike the females of all other species of life, human female happened to be of weak constitution and frail temperament.

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