Excerpt for the Thaw

March 4, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard –

I came accross this book on my shelf; I think I found it in an airport a couple of years ago, and haven’t picked it up until now. It’s pretty awesome though. Stendhal goes through these phases of love, (kind of like a cosmo quiz) and then pitches this idea of “crystallization” which (while it sounds whacky) is a pretty interesting way to try and describe the way people think, vacilating back and forth between confidence and insecurity – easing insecurity with a more and more elaborate exo-structure. If you get the chance, check out the first three prefaces, they’re kind of amazing. It appears that he kept writing new prefaces when the book kept getting turned down for publication. Thus they are increasingly self-deprocating and sharp.


Chapter 2: Concerning the Birth of Love

(excerpt from Love)

by Stendhal

Here is what happens in the soul:

1. Admiration.

2. You think, ‘How delightful it would be to kiss her, to be kissed by her,’ and so on…

3. Hope. You observe her perfections, an it is at this moment that a woman really ought to surrender, for the utmost physical pleasure. Even the most reserved women blush to the whites of their eyes at this moment of hope. The passion is so strong, and the pleasure so sharp, that they betray themselves unmistakeably.

4. Love is born. To love is to enjoy seeing, touching, and sensing with all the senses, as closely as possible, a lovable object which loves in return.

5. The first crystallization begins. If you are sure that a woman loves you, it is a pleasure to endow her with a thousand perfections and to count your blessings with infinite satisfaction. In the end you overrate wildly, and regard her as something fallen from Heaven, unknown as yet, but certain to be yours.

Leave a lover with his thoughts for twenty-four hours, and this is what will happen:

At the salt mines of Salzburg, they throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later they haul it out covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The smalles twig, no bigger than a tom-tit’s claw, is studded with a galaxy of scintillating diamonds. The original branch is no longer recognizable.

What I have called crystalization is a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one.

You hear a traveller speaking of the cool orange groves beside the sea at Genoa in the summer heat: Oh, if you could only share coolness with her!

One of your friends goes hunting, and breaks his arm: wouldn’t it be wonderful to be looked after by the woman you love! To be with her all the time and to see her loving you…a broken arm woulod be proof of the angelic kindness of your mistress. In short, no sooner do you think of a virtue than you detect it in your beloved.

The phenomenon that I have called crystallization springs from Nature, which ordains we shall feel pleasure and sends the blood to our heads. It also evolves from the feeling that the degree of pleasure is related to the perfections of the loved on, and from the idea that ‘She is mine.’ The savage has no time to go beyond the first step. He feels pleasure but his brain is fully occupied in chasing deer through the forest, so that he can eat, keep up his strength, and avoid the enemy’s axe.

This is what happens next to fix attention:

6. Doubt creeps in. First a dozen or so glances, or some other sequence of actions, raise and confirm the lover’s hopes. Then, as he recovers from the initial shock, he grows accustomed to his good fortune, or acts on a theory drawn from teh common multitude of easily-won women. He asks for more positive proofs of affection and tries to press his suit further.

He is met with indifference, coldness, or even anger if he appears too confident. In France there is even a shad of irony which seems to say ‘You think you’re farther ahead than you really are.’ A woman may behave like this either becaue she is recovering from a moment of intoxication and obeying dictates of modesty, which she may fear she has offended; or simply for the sake of prudence and coquetry.

The lover begins to be less sure of the good fortune he was anticipating and subjects his grounds for hope to a critical examination.

He tries to recoup by indulging in other pleasures but find them inane. He is seized by the dread of a frightful calamity and now concentrates fully. Thus begins:

7. The second crystallization, which deposits diamond layers of proof that ‘she loves me.’

Every few minutes through the night which follows the birth of doubt, the lover has a moment of dreadful misgiving, and then reassures himself, ‘she loves me;’ and crystallization begins to reveal new charms. Then once again the haggard eye of doubt pierces him and he stops transfixed. He forgets to draw breath and mutters, ‘But does she love me?’ Torn between doubt and delight, the poor lover convinces himself that she could give him such pleasure as he could find nowhere else on earth.

It is the pre-eminence of this truth, and to the road to it, with a fearsom precipice on one hand and a view of perfect happiness on the other, which set the second crystallization so far above the first.

The lover’s mind vacillates between three ideas:

1. She is perfect.

2. She loves me.

3. How can I get the strongest possible proofs of her love?

The most heartrending moment of love in its infancy is the realization that you have been mistaken about something, and that a whole framework of crystals has to be destroyed. You begin to feel doubtful about the entire process of crystallization.


2 Responses to “Excerpt for the Thaw”

  1. michael Says:

    Hi Caroline, I have no idea how i stumbled upon this blog entry of yours (magic of the internet i guess), but i absolutely love this bit of writing. it is such a beautiful description of the tensions of infatuation and doubt. thank you so much for sharing.

  2. urbesque Says:

    Hey! That’s awesome-
    I’m so glad- please come back again!
    and happy spring-

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