Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Quote of the Day (Honore de Balzac, on Confiding in Inferiors)

“As a general rule, confidences are made to persons below one socially rather than to those above. Much more readily than we can employ our superiors in secret affairs, we make use of our inferiors, who consequently become committed sharers in our most hidden thoughts; they are present at our deliberations.” ― French novelist Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), Cousin Bette (1846)

As this passage indicates, Honore de Balzac had in mind social inferiors as the recipients of confidences. In a number of his novels, such as The Bureaucrats, he was sharp enough to realize that professional inferiors could also be aware of secrets.

Because legal equality of the sexes was decades away from becoming a reality, Balzac could not imagine a world where professional inferiors could be women—ones who could turn against a high-ranking businessman, say, or, better yet, a high-ranking businessman who goes on to lead a country.

Balzac was psychologically acute enough, however, to grasp why women, in any setting, could want to bring down those who unknowingly slight them. He demonstrated that insight repeatedly in his classic Cousin Bette, his story of a spinster “poor relation” who uses a lifetime of secrets bestowed unthinkingly by her aristocratic cousins to weave an inextricable web of revenge against them all.

(The image accompanying this post shows Jessica Lange as the title protagonist in the 1998 film adaptation of the novel.)

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