Picking Up Women in 1830s Paris

I am loving Le Rouge et Le Noir. I read it at a rate of 25 pages per day. I find reading a lot like going to the gym; there is a lot of discomfort and force-of-will required, but the after-effect is one of profound satisfaction. I guess it goes back to notions of what reading is for, and what constitutes quality reading material; while a book like this one is a more difficult read, what you find as you progress are nuggets of truth wrapped up in the pages. Even though the social context of the book is one hundred and fifty years prior to ours, it seems that many of the social customs are the same. I love being able to sit down and make sense of the world. Or have simple, poetic sense of it made for me.

Case in point: Julien Sorrel is madly, devastatingly in love with Mathilde, the haughty daughter of his aristocrat employer, M. de la Mole. He comes across a foolish fop on his travels, Korasoff, to whom he pours out his heart. Korasoff takes it upon himself to remedy Julien’s situation by way of some incisive instruction in the way of seduction of society ladies, and proper social bearing generally speaking. I reproduce the following tidbits for you below, sourced from Project Gutenberg.


When the Prince had come to an end of his version of the siege of
Kehl: ‘You look like a Trappist,’ he said to Julien, ‘you are
infringing the principle of gravity I taught you in London. A
melancholy air can never be the right thing; what you want is a bored
air. If you are melancholy, it must be because you want something,
there is something in which you have not succeeded.

‘It is shewing your inferiority. If you are bored, on the other hand,
it is the person who has tried in vain to please you who is inferior.
Realise, my dear fellow, what a grave mistake you are making.’

Julien flung a crown to the peasant who stood listening to them,

‘Good,’ said the Prince, ‘that is graceful, a noble disdain! Very
good!’ And he put his horse into a gallop. Julien followed him, filled
with a stupefied admiration.

Not to forget…

The Prince found him decidedly melancholy: ‘Ah, my dear fellow,’ he
said to him, as they rode into Strasbourg, ‘have you lost all your
money, or can you be in love with some little actress?’

The Russians imitate French ways, but always at a distance of fifty
years.  They have now reached the days of Louis XV.

These jests, at the expense of love, filled Julien’s eyes with tears:
‘Why should not I consult so friendly a man?’ he asked himself

‘Well, yes, my friend,’ he said to the Prince, ‘you find me in
Strasbourg, madly in love, indeed crossed in love. A charming woman,
who lives in a neighbouring town, has abandoned me after three days of
passion, and the change is killing me.’

He described to the Prince, under an assumed name, the actions and
character of Mathilde.

‘Do not go on,’ said Korasoff: ‘to give you confidence in your
physician, I am going to cut short your confidences. This young
woman’s husband possesses an enormous fortune, or, what is more
likely, she herself belongs to the highest nobility of the place. She
must be proud of something.’

Julien nodded his head, he had no longer the heart to speak.

‘Very good,’ said the Prince, ‘here are three medicines, all rather
bitter, which you are going to take without delay:

‘First: You must every day see Madame —- what do you call her?’

‘Madame de Dubois.’

‘What a name!’ said the Prince, with a shout of laughter; ‘but forgive
me, to you it is sublime. It is essential that you see Madame de
Dubois every day; above all do not appear to her cold and cross;
remember the great principle of your age: be the opposite to what
people expect of you. Show yourself precisely as you were a week
before you were honoured with her favours.’

‘Ah! I was calm then,’ cried Julien, in desperation, ‘I thought that I
pitied her …’

‘The moth singes its wings in the flame of the candle,’ the Prince
continued, ‘a metaphor as old as the world.

‘First of all: you will see her every day.

‘Secondly: you will pay court to a woman of her acquaintance, but
without any appearance of passion, you understand? I do not conceal
from you, yours is a difficult part to play: you have to act, and if
she discovers that you are acting, you are doomed.’

‘She is so clever, and I am not! I am doomed,’ said Julien sadly.

‘No, you are only more in love than I thought. Madame de Dubois is
profoundly taken up with herself, like all women who have received
from heaven either too high a rank or too much money. She looks at
herself instead of looking at you, and so does not know you. During
the two or three amorous impulses to which she has yielded in your
favour, by a great effort of imagination, she beheld in you the hero
of her dreams and not yourself as you really are …

‘But what the devil, these are the elements, my dear Sorel, are you
still a schoolboy? .. .

‘Egad! Come into this shop; look at that charming black cravat; you
would say it was made by John Anderson, of Burlington Street; do me
the pleasure of buying it, and of throwing right away that dreadful
black rope which you have round your neck.

‘And now,’ the Prince went on as they left the shop of the first
hosier in Strasbourg, ‘who are the friends of Madame de Dubois? Good
God, what a name!  Do not be angry, my dear Sorel, I cannot help it…
To whom will you pay court?’

‘To a prude of prudes, the daughter of an enormously rich
stocking-merchant. She has the loveliest eyes in the world, which
please me vastly; she certainly occupies the first place in the
district; but amid all her grandeur she blushes and loses her head
entirely if anyone refers to trade and a shop. And unfortunately for
her, her father was one of the best-known tradesmen in Strasbourg.’

‘So that if one mentions industry,’ said the Prince, with a laugh,
‘you may be sure that your fair one is thinking of herself and not of
you. The weakness is divine and most useful, it will prevent you from
ever doing anything foolish in her fair eyes. Your success is

One Response to “Picking Up Women in 1830s Paris”

  1. Fun read – agreed, not alot has changed in 150 years.

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