La Fille aux yeux d'or
novel by Honoré de Balzac
Transl. Ellen Marriage (1896 edition); Transl. Charlotte Mandell (2011 edition).
- Thus we are brought to the third circle of this hell, which, perhaps, will some day find its Dante. In this third social circle, a sort of Parisian belly, in which the interests of the town are digested, and where they are condensed into the form known as /business/, there moves and agitates, as by some acrid and bitter intestinal process, the crowd of lawyers, doctors, notaries, councillors, business men, bankers, big merchants, speculators, and magistrates. Here are to be found even more causes of moral and physical destruction than elsewhere. These people--almost all of them--live in unhealthy offices, in fetid ante-chambers, in little barred dens, and spend their days bowed down beneath the weight of affairs; they rise at dawn to be in time, not to be left behind, to gain all or not to lose, to overreach a man or his money, to open or wind up some business, to take advantage of some fleeting opportunity, to get a man hanged or set him free.
- E. Marriage, (trans.), p. 12 (in 1896 edition)
- First part of the same quote translated by Charlotte Mandell (p. 16 in 2011 edition):
- Now we have reached the third circle of this hell, which will someday find its Dante. This third social circle is a kind of Parisian stomach, where the interests of the city are digested and where the crowd of attorneys, doctors, notaries, lawyers, businessmen, bankers, wholesale merchants, speculators, and magistrates are condensed in the form called business affairs, and where the mass is moved and stirred up by an acrid and venomous intestinal agitation.
- Their genuine stupidity lies hid beneath their specialism. They know their business, but are ignorant of everything which is outside it. So that to preserve their self-conceit they question everything, are crudely and crookedly critical. They appear to be sceptics and are in reality simpletons; they swamp their wits in interminable arguments. Almost all conveniently adopt social, literary, or political prejudices, to do away with the need of having opinions, just as they adapt their conscience to the standard of the Code or the Tribunal of Commerce. Having started early to become men of note, they turn into mediocrities, and crawl over the high places of the world. So, too, their faces present the harsh pallor, the deceitful coloring, those dull, tarnished eyes, and garrulous, sensual mouths, in which the observer recognizes the symptoms of the degeneracy of the thought and its rotation in the circle of a special idea which destroys the creative faculties of the brain and the gift of seeing in large, of generalizing and deducing. No man who has allowed himself to be caught in the revolutions of the gear of these huge machines can ever become great.
- E. Marriage, (trans.), p. 14 (in 1896 edition)
- Same quote translated by Charlotte Mandell (p. 18 in 2011 edition):
- Their actual stupidity is hidden beneath an expert science. They know their profession, but they ignore anything unconnected with their profession. So, to protect their self-esteem, they call everything into question, criticize right and left; seem skeptical but are actually gullible, and drown their minds in interminable discussions. Almost all of them adopt convenient social, literary, or political prejudices so as to dispense with having to form an opinion of their own, just as they place their conscience in the shelter of common law, or of the commercial court. Having left home early in order to become remarkable men, they become mediocre, and crawl along the heights of society. Accordingly, their faces present us with this sour pallor; these false complexions, these dull, lined eyes, these talkative and sensual mouths where the observer recognizes the symptoms of the degeneration of thought and its turning round and round in the dull circle of specialization that kills the generative faculties of the brain, the gift of seeing the big picture, of generalizing and deducing.
- People crushed with business, who, if they attain their end, are literally killed in its attainment.
- E. Marriage, (trans.), p. 15 (in 1896 edition)
- From the lowest gutters, where its stream commences, from the little shops where it is stopped by puny coffer-dams, from the heart of the counting-houses and great workshops, where its volume is that of ingots—gold, in the shape of dowries and inheritances, guided by the hands of young girls or the bony fingers of age, courses towards the aristocracy, where it will become a blazing, expansive stream.
- E. Marriage, (trans.), p. 17 (in 1896 edition)
- The wealthy obtain in Paris ready-made wit and science—formulated opinions which save them the need of having wit, science, or opinion of their own.
- E. Marriage, (trans.), p. 18 (in 1896 edition)
- If a few men of character indulge in witticism, at once subtle and refined, they are misunderstood; soon, tired of giving without receiving, they remain at home, and leave fools to reign over their territory. This hollow life, this perpetual expectation of a pleasure which never comes, this permanent ennui and emptiness of soul, heart, and mind, the lassitude of the upper Parisian world, is reproduced on its features, and stamps its parchment faces, its premature wrinkles, that physiognomy of the wealthy upon which impotence has set its grimace, in which gold is mirrored, and whence intelligence has fled.
- E. Marriage, (trans.), p. 19 (in 1896 edition)
- The exorbitant movement of the proletariat, the corrupting influence of the interests which consume the two middle classes, the cruelties of the artist's thought, and the excessive pleasure which is sought for incessantly by the great, explain the normal ugliness of the Parisian physiognomy. It is only in the Orient that the human race presents a magnificent figure, but that is an effect of the constant calm affected by those profound philosophers with their long pipes, their short legs, their square contour, who despise and hold activity in horror, whilst in Paris the little and the great and the mediocre run and leap and drive, whipped on by an inexorable goddess, Necessity—the necessity for money, glory, and amusement.
- E. Marriage, (trans.), p. 20 (in 1896 edition)