“The Wild Woman and the Fashionable Coquette” by Charles Baudelaire
April 28, 2009
From his collection of prose poetry, Paris Spleen (Le spleen de Paris):
“Really, my dear, you weary me beyond endurance and I have no pity for you; to hear you sighing one would think you were as miserable as those aged women who toil in the fields, or the old beggar women who pick up crusts at tavern doors.
“If at least your sighs indicated remorse they would be some credit to you; but they mean nothing more than the satiety of gratification and the despondency of too much leisure. And you never cease your useless babble: ‘You must love me! I need so to be loved! Comfort me here, caress me there!’ But I have an idea that may cure you. For two sous and without going very far, there may be a way right in the midst of the fair.
“Now just observe, if you please, this solid iron cage, and see that hairy monster howling like one of the damned, shaking the bars like an orang-utan maddened by exile, imitating to perfection both the circular spring of the tiger, and the stupid posturing of a white bear, and kindly notice that it has a form very vaguely resembling yours.
“This monster is one of those generally called ‘my angel’– that is, a woman. The other monster, the one yelling his head off and brandishing a stick, is a husband. He has chained his legitimate spouse as though she were an animal, and displays her at all the street fairs with, of course, the permission of the authorities.
“Now watch carefully! See with what voracity (and not shammed either, perhaps) she tears apart those living rabbits and squalling chickens that her keeper has thrown to her. ‘Come, come!’ he says, ‘one must always keep something for a rainy day!’ and with these words of wisdom he cruelly snatches away her prey, the entrails still clinging to the teeth of the ferocious beast– woman, I mean.
“That’s it! A good blow of your stick to calm her! For she is darting the most terrific and greedy glances at the pilfered food. Good God! that stick is no stage prop! Did you hear how that whack resounded, in spite of her artificial coat of hair? Moreover, her eyes are starting from her head, and she yells more naturally now. The sparks fairly fly from her as from iron on an anvil.
“Such are the conjugal customs of these descendants of Adam and Eve, these works of thy hands, O my God! This woman has certainly the right to complain, although after all, the tittilating delights of fame are perhaps not unknown to her. There are other irremediable misfortunes without such compensations. But into the world into which she has been thrown, it has never occurred to her that women deserve a better fate.
“Now what of us, my precious? Seeing the hells with which the world abounds, what do you expect me to think of your pretty little hell, you who lie on stuffs as soft as your own skin, who eat only cooked meat carefully cut for you by a skilled servant?
And what can they matter to me, all those little sighs swelling your perfumed breast, my hail and hearty coquette? And all those affectations you have learned from books, or that indefatigable melancholy which inspires anything but pity in a spectator. In truth, sometimes I am seized with a desire to teach you what real misfortune is.
“Seeing you like this, my dainty beauty, your feet in the mire and your eyes turned swooningly toward the sky as though you were waiting for a king, I cannot help thinking of a frog invoking the Ideal. If you despise ‘King Log’ (that’s what I am now, as you very well know), beware of the crane who will crunch you up,and gobble you up, and kill you at his pleasure!
“Although I may be a poet, I am not such a dupe as you would like to believe, and if you weary me too often with your precious whinings, I am going to treat you like the wild woman, or else throw you out the window like an empty bottle.”