FÉDER or the Gilded Husband
by Stendhall , translated from the French by Brian Evenson
the final installment from an unfinished novella
That evening, he felt still more how crazy he was; in the foyer of the Opéra, he met Delangle, who said hello to him. He underwent a movement of terror, and the big voice of the Provincial, so little made to touch someone’s soul, rang out to the very depths of his. Delangle said to him:
“Aren’t you going to see my sister? She is in her box.”
In spite of his resolutions, Féder persuaded himself that he was obliged by these words, that not to appear in Madame Boissaux’s box would be a noticeable thing. He thus entered this box. Fortunately, there were several people there; he was silent and awkward at giving pleasure.
“Since I am not speaking,” he thought, “I can deliver myself over to all my happiness.”
Some newly disembarked person or other, arriving from Toulouse and having heard tell that men sometimes carry a flagon of smelling salts, had made the purchase of an immense flagon, a sort of small bottle, which he had filled with vinegar salt. In arriving at the box, he removed the stopper of his flagon, and the smell of vinegar spread so as to disturb everyone.
“And you, Monsieur Féder, how sick the smell makes you!” Valentine said to him.
His wit couldn’t manage to find any response other than “Ah, well, Madame,” repeated twice. He had an invincible alienation for all smells, but after that evening, the smell of vinegar became sacred for him. Every time that he encountered it afterward, he had a lively feeling of happiness.
Valentine thought: “So talkative this morning, so fertile with so-called pleasant anecdotes, and so dumbfounded this evening! What happened then in his heart.” The answer was not in doubt and made the young woman sigh tenderly: “He loves me.”
That evening, the performance interested Madame Boissaux deeply; all the words of love went straight to her heart! Nothing was commonplace, nothing was exaggerated (Schiller).
Two whole months passed thus. Féder, passionately in love, didn’t depart in any way from the most austere rules of prudence. Each interview with Féder changed all of Valentine’s ideas about him completely. Her character, once so simple and modest, now offered the most bizarre disparities. It was, for example, with a marked disgust that in the first days of her stay in Paris she had listened to the story of the mad expenditures the wives of the men of money gave themselves. Now she imitated these ladies in the most extravagant things their conduct offered. Thus one day her husband made a scene, because she had sent, in a single morning, four servants from Viroflay to Paris: it was a matter of having, before dinner, a certain dress from Madame Delisle.
“And yet we aren’t expecting anyone for dinner today!”
Monsieur Boissaux wasn’t counting Féder: he was the family friend, and, from a certain hint, Valentine counted on his coming that evening. The dress arrived at five thirty, but Féder didn’t appear, and Valentine was on the verge of going crazy. She was quite far from guessing the ideas and often cruel necessities that imperiously directed the conduct of this lover who never told her that he loved her.
Rosalinde was as jealous as Othello; sometimes, she spent whole days without opening her mouth. Sometimes, this woman with such polite manners, with such a mild character, burst into violent reproaches, and her actions matched her words. For example, she paid for Féder’s servants, and, to avoid scenes, he had dismissed his groom and was obliged to hide from his valet. He had put his horse in the stable of a horse merchant on the Champs-Elysées, but in spite of all these tedious precautions and many others, Rosalinde managed to know everything he did. This kind dancer had always been devout. Isn’t everyone far from suspecting the existence of this quality in a dancer? Ever since jealousy had invaded her heart, Rosalinde had become superstitious; she spent all her days at her parish and gave a lot of money to the priests for the needs of the church; she announced the intention of leaving the theater. Clever people had deluded her with the hope that after this step, she would be admitted into a society of devout women that included very well-known people. She thus thought of committing Féder to marry her before he had made his fortune himself. She only succeeded, through all her humiliating steps, in giving him the idea of leaving Paris forever. He trembled with fear that she might come to Viroflay and make a scene. What advantage might not Delangle have drawn from such a step, with his suspicions!
Never to speak of love to Madame Boissaux, while doing all that was needed to carry her passion to a frenzy, if that passion was sincere—
such was the plan of conduct upon which Féder had focused, more out of shyness than out of good calculation. If Madame Boissaux had a real passion, she could compromise herself, which closed the door of the house to Féder. Yet his shyness, his fear of angering Madame Boissaux, wanted to force her to speak first, which would necessarily lead to a decisive result. However, as it was beyond his power to hide anything from her, he admitted to her the extreme terror which Delangle’s suspicions caused him, which led to a peculiar conversation between a very pious woman of twenty-two and the man of twenty-six who loved her madly.
“What will happen if he tells Monsieur Boissaux that all the pains I am taking to make the dreams of his ambition succeed are explained by one phrase: I am madly in love? How am I to answer?”
“By denying resolutely a passion that would be so criminal.”
“But if a man who has barely any experience with the world and with passion looks at me, throws his eyes on me, right away he sees that I am in love. With what façade am I to deny such an obvious truth?”
“One must always deny; soon we will see this shameful love cease.”
One day in the middle of one of those splendid dinners at Viroflay, they were speaking of the quite unforeseen success of Mademoiselle Rachel.
“What I like especially in this young woman is that she doesn’t exaggerate the expression of passions; even at certain moments in the role of Émile in Cinna, one would say that she was reading her role; that is admirable in the midst of a people who only see exaggeration. Among us, novelists, serious writers, poets, painters, all exaggerate to make themselves heard.”
None of the guests responded to this remark of Boissaux’s; it was so far from his ordinary speech that everyone remained as if stricken by surprise. Féder had given his friend a literary correspondent; he had chosen a poor retired vaudevillian. Every day, twenty lines of this correspondence arrived at Viroflay; they were the words it was necessary to say about the play of the previous night, about the exhibition of industry or paintings, about the death of the tortoise, about the Sampayo trial, etc., etc. Monsieur Boissaux had consented to pay ten francs for each one of these letters, the majority of which were composed by Féder. In truth, these phrases were a little splotch in the millionaire’s conversation, but the people before whom he recited them had their work cut out to understand them. The amusing part of the thing was that Boissaux, who, since the establishment of the correspondence, had not said a single word about it to Féder, boldly offered as his own, and as if “invented” at that moment, the ideas which Féder had placed the night before in the letter that Boissaux recited in mangled form.
These ideas, which sometimes had some finesse, formed a strange contrast with the ensemble of the manners of the future peer of France. For example, to hide his habitual hesitation, Boissaux, since becoming rich, had taken up the habit of hastening his speech along in bursts or successive spurts separated by short pauses. Nothing was more unusual in a Parisian salon than this affectation become a habitual state. In hearing that big carter’s voice, everyone turned his head; you had the impression of someone who told a lowering anecdote and aped the voice of a coachman full of wine.
It was, however, such a being that Féder, otherwise so sensitive to coarseness however authorized by custom, undertook to bring to the salon of Monsieur N…, minister of commerce. The young man that this minister had called to the grand role of his private secretary, upon gaining office, was the nephew of Mademoiselle M…, the agreeable singer from the Royal Academy of Music, at whose house the minister was going to spend some time relaxing from the troubles of this most difficult ministry. This man of State had undertaken to make irreconcilable and opposed interests work together; it was a matter, then, for this minister, of the sugar question, about which, to crown this nuisance, this minister was completely ignorant. Where could he find in Paris, and especially in the high offices of government, a man who had the time to dedicate a fortnight to reading the original documents?
Like The Pink and the Green, Lucien Lewen, and Lamiel, Féder was left unfinished at the time of Stendhal’s death. There exist two additional pages or so in Stendhal’s hand, described by a note in the first edition of (published in 1855, thirteen years after Stendhal’s death) as “more or less undecipherable.” It’s a shame that Stendhal never finished it, but it is nonetheless a remarkably perceptive reading of the early stages of the psychology of a love affair, with all the justifications and evasions, all the twists and turns of feeling, and all the pleasure and fear that the protagonists go through. What we do have concludes at the moment when matters become, in some senses, inevitable—when it is too late for either of the characters to extricate themselves without both of them being hurt, but also too late for things to turn out happily if they continue on.
ContributorStendhall , translated from the French by Brian Evenson
MARIE-HENRI BEYLE (23 January 1783 - 23 March 1842), known by his nom de plume STENDHAL, was a master at acutely analyzing his characters' psychology. He is considered one of the earliest and foremost practitioners of realism. Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black, 1830) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Chartreuse of Parma, 1839) are the two novels for which he is best known.
BRIAN EVENSON is the author of ten books of fiction, most recently the limited edition novella Baby Leg. He has translated work by Christian Gailly, Jean Fremon, Claro, Jacques Jouet, Eric Chevillard, Antoine Volodine, and others. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship.