Armance, by Stendhal


How am I glutted with conceit of this!

Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please,

Resolve me of all ambiguities,

Perform what desperate enterprise I will?


Octave was so much in the habit of leaving Andilly to visit Madame d’Aumale in Paris, that one day a slight feeling of jealousy began to quench Armance’s gaiety. On her cousin’s return, that evening, she exercised her authority. “Do you wish to oblige your mother in a matter which she will never mention to you?” “Of course.” “Very well, for the next three months, that is to say for ninety days, do not refuse any invitation to a ball, and do not come away from a ball until you have danced.”

“I should prefer a fortnight’s imprisonment.” “You are easily satisfied,” Armance went on, “but do you promise me, or do you not?” “I promise anything except to keep my promise for three months. Since you all tyrannise over me here,” said Octave with a laugh, “I shall run away. There is an old idea of mine which quite spontaneously kept coming into my mind throughout the evening yesterday, at M. de ———‘s sumptuous party, at which I danced as though I had guessed your orders. If I were to leave Andilly for six months I have two plans more amusing than that of going to England.

“One is to assume the name of M. Lenoir; under that fine name, I should go into the country and give lessons in arithmetic, in geometry applied to the arts, anything they want to leam. I should make my way by Bourges, Aurillac, Cahors; I should easily procure letters from any number of Peers who are Members of the Institute, recommending to the Prefects the learned royalist Lenoir, and so forth.

“But the other plan is better still. In my capacity as a teacher, I should see only a lot of enthusiastic and volatile young fellows who would soon bore me, and various intrigues by the Congregation.

“I hesitate to reveal to you the better plan of the two; I should assume the name of Pierre Gerlat, I should start at Geneva or Lyons by becoming valet to some young man who is destined to play a part more or less identical with my own in society. Pierre Gerlat would be provided with excellent testimonials from the young Vicomte de Malivert, whose faithful servant he had been for six years. In a word, I should assume the name and identity of that poor Pierre whom I once threw out of the window. Two or three men of my acquaintance will oblige me with testimonials. They will seal these with their arms upon huge lumps of wax, and in that way I hope to find a place with some young Englishman, either very rich or the son of a Peer. I shall take care to stain my hands with an acid solution. I have learned how to clean boots from the servant I have now, the gallant Corporal Voreppe. In the last three months I have stolen all his talents.”

“One evening your roaster, when he comes home tipsy, will start kicking Pierre Gerlat.”

“Were he to throw me out of the window, I am prepared for that. I shall defend myself, and give him notice the next day, and bear him no grudge whatever.”

“You would be guilty of an abuse of confidence which would be very wrong indeed; A man exposes the defects of his nature to a young peasant who is incapable of understanding his most salient eccentricities, but he would take good care, I am sure, not to act thus before a man of his own class.” “I shall never repeat what I have seen or heard. Anyhow, a master, to talk like Pierre Gerlat, always runs the risk of hitting upon a rascal, mine will only find curiosity. Realise what I am suffering,” Octave went on. “My imagination is so foolish at certain moments, and so far exaggerates what I owe to my position, that, without being a Sovereign Prince, I long for an incognito. I am supreme in misery, in absurdity, in the extreme importance that I attach to certain things. I feel a compelling need to see another Vicomte de Malivert in my place. Since, unfortunately, I have embarked on this career, since, to my great and sincere regret, I cannot be the son of the chief foreman of M. de Lian-court’s carding mill, I require six months of domestic service to cure the Vicomte de Malivert of various weaknesses.

“This is the only way; my pride raises a wall of adamant between myself and my fellow men. Your presence, my dear cousin, makes this unsurmountable wall disappear. In conversation with you, I should take nothing in ill part, such serenity does your presence give to my soul, but unfortunately I have not the magic carpet to take you everywhere with me. I cannot see you as a third person when I go riding in the Bois de Boulogne with one of my friends. Soon after our first meeting, there is none of them who is not estranged by my talk. When, after a year, and in spite of anything I can do, they understand me thoroughly, they wrap themselves up in the closest reserve, and would rather (I really believe) that their secret thoughts and actions were known to the devil than to me. I would not swear that many of them do not take me for Lucifer himself (as M. de Soubirane says, in fact, it is one of his favourite remarks) brought into the world on purpose to torment them.”

Octave imparted these strange ideas to his cousin as they strolled in the woods of Moulignon, in the wake of Mesdames de Bonnivet and de Malivert. These oddities distressed Armance deeply. Next day, after her cousin had left for Paris, her free and lively air which often became quite unrestrained gave way to that fixed and tender gaze from which Octave, when he was present, could not tear his own.

Madame de Bonnivet invited a number of guests, and Octave no longer had such frequent reasons for going to Paris, for Madame d’Aumale came to stay at An-dilly. With her there arrived seven or eight women at the height of the fashion, and mostly remarkable for the brilliance of their wit or for the influence that they had obtained in society. But their affability only enhanced the triumph of the charming Comtesse; her mere presence in a drawing-room aged her rivals.

Octave was too intelligent not to feel this, and Armance’s spells of musing became more frequent. “Of whom have I the right to complain?” she asked herself. “Of no one, and of Octave least of all. Have I not told him that I prefer another man? And there is too much pride in his nature to be content with the second place in a heart. He is attached to Madame d’Aumale; she is a brilliant beauty, spoken of everywhere, and I am not even pretty. Anything that I can say to Octave can be but faintly interesting, I am certain that often I bore him, or am interesting only as a sister. Madame d’Aumale’s life is gay, unusual; things never flag where she is to be found, and it seems to me that I should often be bored in my aunt’s drawing-room if I listened to what people say there.” Armance wept, but her noble soul did not so far debase itself as to feel hatred for Madame d’Aumale. She observed every action of that charming lady with a profound attention which ended often in moments of keen admiration. But each act of admiration was like a dagger thrust in her heart. Her peaceful happiness vanished, Armance was a prey to all the anguish of the passions. Finally, Madame d’Aumale’s presence disturbed her more than that of Octave himself. The torture of jealousy is most unbearable when it is rending hearts to which their natural inclination as well as their social position forbid every way of appeal that is at all dangerous.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00