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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Society Where One Is Bored
By Édouard Pailleron (1834–1899)
 
        
From ‘Le Monde où l’On s’Ennuie’: Translation of Edward Irenæus Prime-Stevenson
  
  [The scene represents a small drawing-room, partly library and partly reception-room, opening upon a much larger apartment, in the residence of the Countess de Céran. Conspicuous is a huge table covered with journals, formidable-looking reviews, and “blue-books.” A general air of formality and oppressiveness. François, a particularly formal-looking valet, is searching among the papers heaped on the table for a lost letter (which becomes amusingly essential to complications of the plot later in the play). As he is turning over things, Paul Raymond and his wife Jeanne, who have been asked to pay a visit of a few days to Madame de Céran, enter the room. They have apparently just arrived from the railway station, are carrying their hand-luggage, and are a young and lively-looking married pair.]

FRANÇOIS  [at the table]—Hunt! hunt!  [turning over the papers again]—Colonial Review, Diplomatic Review, Archæological Review—  1
  Jeanne—Ah! some one in sight at last.  [Calling to François gayly.]  Is Madame de Céran—  2
  Paul  [catching hold of her hand, and in a low voice]—Keep quiet!  [Gravely to François.]  Is Madame the Countess de Céran at home?  3
  François—Yes, monsieur.  4
  Jeanne  [gayly]—Very well; then go and tell her that Monsieur and Madame Paul Raymond—  5
  Paul  [catching hold of her hand again, and speaking again in a very formal tone]—Will you kindly inform her that M. Raymond, sous-préfet of Agenis, 1 and Madame Raymond, have come from Paris, and are waiting her here.  6
  Jeanne  [interrupting]—And that—  7
  Paul  [with the same alternation of manner and tone as before]—Will you keep quiet!  [To François.]  Go, my friend.  8
  François  [evidently impressed]—Yes, yes; Monsieur le Sous-Préfet.  [Aside.]  They are a newly married couple!  [Aloud.]  Permit me to relieve Monsieur le Sous-Préfet.
[François takes their traveling-bags and rugs and goes out.]
  9
  Jeanne—That is well enough; but, Paul, will you kindly tell me—  10
  Paul—No “Paul” here, if you please. You will have to call me “M. Raymond,” my dear, from the minute you set foot in this house.  11
  Jeanne—What do you mean? Ridiculous! And you say that with such an expression on your face!  [Laughing.]  12
  Paul  [with an assumed severity]—Jeanne, no laughing here, I beg of you.  13
  Jeanne—Really, Paul, are you going to scold me? Nonsense!  [She throws her arms around his neck.  Paul disengages himself, and draws away from her reproachfully.]  14
  Paul—Unlucky creature! That was the only thing that was lacking! Cannot you restrain yourself?  15
  Jeanne  [surprised]—Really, Paul, you begin to bore me.  16
  Paul—Ah! Precisely! Now that time you sounded the very keynote of things. Have you forgotten already all that I have been saying to you on the railway this morning?  17
  Jeanne—No; but I thought you were joking.  18
  Paul  [horrified]—Joking! Joking in this place! See here, Jeanne, do you wish to become the wife of a préfet or not? Yes or no?  19
  Jeanne—Why, yes; if it is anything to you.  20
  Paul—Very well then; now listen to me once more, and do be careful. Here we are. The Countess of Céran has done me the honor to ask me to present my young wife to her, and to spend some days at her château de Saint-Germain. Now the social circle of Madame de Céran, as a centre of politics, is one of the three or four most important in Paris. You think you have come here on a visit of pleasure. Not a bit of it! We are not here at all to amuse ourselves. I have come here only a sous-préfet, and I propose to go out of it a full préfet; and that good thing—my promotion—depends on three persons: on Madame de Céran, on myself, and on you.  21
  Jeanne—On me! What have I got to do with it?  22
  Paul—A great deal. My dear Jeanne, the world judges a man by his wife, and it is for that reason I want to put you on your guard. This is no place for you to be your natural and lively self. My dear little girl, you must put on a manner suitable to the task that we have in hand,—gravity without arrogance, a sweetly thoughtful smile; you must keep your eyes open, listen carefully, talk little. Oh, I don’t mean to say you must not be complimentary to people. No, as much of that as you choose: and you may also quote—that is a very good thing, though they must be short quotations—good, deep ones. In physiology you must allude to Hegel; in literature you must cite Richter; in politics—  23
  Jeanne—But, Paul, I cannot talk politics.  24
  Paul  [severely]—Here all the women talk politics.  25
  Jeanne  [dolefully]—I don’t understand a thing about it.  26
  Paul—The women here don’t understand a thing about it, but that doesn’t make any difference: you must talk it all the same. Cite Pufendorf and Machiavelli as if they had been your relatives; allude to the Council of Trent as if you had presided at it. As to your amusements—well, while you are here, you can expect chamber music, walks around the garden, whist;—that is all I can promise you: and so, what with only high-necked dresses, and the few words of Latin that I have put into your head,—why, my dear, I will wager that before a week is over, people will say about you: “Now that little Madame Raymond, she is simply made to be the wife of a statesman!” And in the kind of society where we are just now, let me tell you that when people say that a woman is made to be the wife of a statesman, her husband is not very far from being one.  27
  Jeanne—What! You wish to be a statesman!  28
  Paul—Yes! So that I need not be an exception to everybody else!  29
  Jeanne—But since Madame de Céran belongs to the Opposition, to what post can she help you?  30
  Paul—Dear simpleton that you are! In whatever concerns political places, my dear child, between the Conservatives and their opponents there is only a mere shade of difference. The Conservatives do the asking, and the people that belong to the Opposition do the accepting. No, no, Jeanne, once for all, it is here in this very house that are made—and more than made—reputations, situations, elections, and all that sort of thing. Such a fashionable house as this, where under the excuse of talking about literature, fine arts, even the clumsy wire-pullers bring about their purposes,—such a house as this, I say, is the back door of the ministries, the ante-room of academies, the laboratory of success.  31
  Jeanne—How dreadful! But what sort of society is there here?  32
  Paul—Society here, my child, is a sort of Hôtel de Rambouillet in 1881: it is a society where people talk and where people pose, where pedantry takes the place of science, sentimentality that of sentiment, and a silly fussing that of delicacy; where no one ever says what he thinks, and where no one ever thinks what he says; where keeping at whatever you have in your mind to bring about is a special policy; where friendship is calculation; where even gallantry is a means of managing things: it is a society where one sucks his cane in the vestibule and chews on his tongue in the drawing-room. In a word, a very serious society indeed!  33
  Jeanne—But then, that is the society where one is always bored.  34
  Paul—Precisely.  35
  Jeanne—But if one is bored there, what influence can it have?  36
  Paul-What influence! Ah, innocence! innocence! What influence, if it bores you? An enormous influence! Don’t you see that as French people, we have a horror of boredom which we carry almost to the point of veneration? To a Frenchman, being bored is a terrible deity, whose worship is carried on in full dress. The Frenchman does not understand a serious affair except under that form of worship. I don’t tell you that he always keeps it up, but he does not believe it any the less firmly—preferring to believe it rather than really to see much of it. We French people, gay at heart, have grown into a habit of despising so to be; we have lost our faith in the good sense of open laughter; a people skeptical, talkative, has come to put faith in those who are silent. A race expansive and cheerful has come to allow itself to be imposed upon by the pedantic solemnity, by the pretentious nullity, of people wearing white cravats; yes, in politics, in science, in art, in literature, in everything! We make fun of them, we hate them, we run away from them like the plague; but somehow they alone have won our secret admiration and absolute confidence. What influence, then, does boredom have? Ah, my dear child, learn that there are in the world only two sorts of people: those who cannot submit to being bored, and who are nothing at all; and those who can submit to being bored, and who are simply everything,—besides those who habitually bore others!  37
  Jeanne  [with a gesture of disappointment]—To a charming household you have brought me on a visit, you wretched man!  38
  Paul  [very solemnly]—Jeanne, do you wish to be the wife of a préfet—yes or no?  39
  Jeanne—Oh, really, I simply never could—  40
  Paul—Nonsense! You can put up with it eight days.  41
  Jeanne—Eight days? Without talking, without laughing! Without even embracing you!  42
  Paul—Certainly not, before other people; but when we are alone by ourselves—and then in corners,—now do behave yourself,—that will be charming. Why, I’ll give you regular rendezvous—in the garden, anywhere—just as we used to do before our marriage, you remember.  43
  Jeanne—Oh, very well then, it’s all right! It’s all right! I shall get on somehow.  [She opens the piano, and begins to play a lively air from the ‘Fille de Madame Angot.’]  44
  Paul  [alarmed]—Stop! stop! what are you playing?  45
  Jeanne—Why, it is from the operetta that we heard yesterday.  46
  Paul—Thoughtless creature! Now see how you profit by the sober lessons that I have been giving you! If any one should come! If any one should hear you! Will you be sensible!  [François appears at the end of the room.]  Too late!  [Jeanne cleverly changes the air of the opera to a grave passage in a symphony from Beethoven.]  Beethoven! Bravo!  [Pretends to follow the air with great attention.]  Ah! decidedly there is no music except that of the Conservatory!  47
 
Note 1. The office of sous-préfet in the French municipal system is one subordinate to that of préfet, which is practically a mayoralty. [back]
 
 
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