The Impolite Sex by Guy De Maupassant
MADAME DE X. TO MADAME DE L.
MY DEAR AUNT,—I am going to pay you a visit without making much
fuss about it. I shall be at Les Fresnes on the second of September,
the day before the hunting season opens; I do not want to miss it, so
that I may tease these gentlemen. You are very obliging, Aunt, and I
would like you to allow them to dine with you, as you usually do when
there are no strange guests, without dressing or shaving for the
occasion, on the ground that they are fatigued.
They are delighted, of course, when I am not present. But I shall be
there, and I shall hold a review, like a general, at the dinner-hour;
and, if I find a single one of them at all careless in dress, no matter
how little, I mean to send him down to the kitchen to the
The men of to-day have so little consideration for others and so
little good manners that one must be always severe with them. We live
indeed in an age of vulgarity. When they quarrel with one another, they
attack one another with insults worthy of street porters, and, in our
presence, they do not conduct themselves even as well as our servants.
It is at the seaside that you see this most clearly. They are to be
found there in battalions, and you can judge them in the lump. Oh, what
coarse beings they are!
Just imagine, in a train, one of them, a gentleman who looked well
as I thought, at first sight, thanks to his tailor, was dainty enough
to take off his boots in order to put on a pair of old shoes! Another,
an old man, who was probably some wealthy upstart (these are the most
ill-bred), while sitting opposite to me, had the delicacy to place his
two feet on the seat quite close to me. This is a positive fact.
At the watering-places, there is an unrestrained outpouring of
unmannerliness. I must here make one admission—that my indignation is
perhaps due to the fact that I am not accustomed to associate as a rule
with the sort of people one comes across here, for I should be less
shocked by their manners if I had the opportunity of observing them
oftener. In the inquiry-office of the hotel I was nearly thrown down by
a young man, who snatched the key over my head. Another knocked against
me so violently without begging my pardon or lifting his hat, coming
away from a ball at the Casino, that he gave me a pain in the chest. It
is the same way with all of them. Watch them addressing ladies on the
terrace: they scarcely ever bow. They merely raise their hands to their
headgear. But indeed, as they are all more or less bald, it is the best
But what exasperates and disgusts me especially is the liberty they
take of talking publicly, without any precaution whatsoever, about the
most revolting adventures. When two men are together, they relate to
each other, in the broadest language and with the most abominable
comments, really horrible stories, without caring in the slightest
degree whether a woman's ear is within reach of their voices.
Yesterday, on the beach, I was forced to go away from the place where I
sat in order not to be any longer the involuntary confidant of an
obscene anecdote, told in such immodest language that I felt as much
humiliated as I was indignant at having heard it. Would not the most
elementary good-breeding have taught them to speak in a lower tone
about such matters when we are near at hand? Etretat is, moreover, the
country of gossip and scandal. From five to seven o'clock you can see
people wandering about in quest of nasty stories about others, which
they retail from group to group. As you remarked to me, my dear Aunt,
tittle-tattle is the mark of petty individuals and petty minds. It is
also the consolation of women who are no longer loved or sought after.
It is enough for me to observe the women who are fondest of gossiping
to be persuaded that you are quite right.
The other day I was present at a musical evening at the Casino,
given by a remarkable artist, Madame Masson, who sings in a truly
delightful manner. I took the opportunity of applauding the admirable
Coquelin, as well as two charming boarders of the Vaudeville, M——and
Meillet. I was able, on the occasion, to see all the bathers collected
together this year on the beach. There were not many persons of
distinction among them.
One day I went to lunch at Yport. I noticed a tall man with a beard
who was coming out of a large house like a castle. It was the painter,
Jean Paul Laurens. He is not satisfied apparently with imprisoning the
subjects of his pictures; he insists on imprisoning himself.
Then I found myself seated on the shingle close to a man still
young, of gentle and refined appearance, who was reading some verses.
But he read them with such concentration, with such passion, I may say,
that he did not even raise his eyes toward me. I was somewhat
astonished, and I asked the conductor of the baths, without appearing
to be much concerned, the name of this gentleman. I laughed inwardly a
little at this reader of rhymes: he seemed behind the age, for a man.
This person, I thought, must be a simpleton. Well, Aunt, I am now
infatuated about this stranger. Just fancy, his name is Sully
Prudhomme! I turned round to look at him at my ease, just where I sat.
His face possesses the two qualities of calmness and elegance. As
somebody came to look for him, I was able to hear his voice, which is
sweet and almost timid. He would certainly not tell obscene stories
aloud in public, or knock against ladies without apologizing. He is
sure to be a man of refinement, but his refinement is of an almost
morbid, vibrating character. I will try this winter to get an
introduction to him.
I have no more news to tell you, my dear Aunt, and I must interrupt
this letter in haste, as the post-hour is near. I kiss your hands and
Your devoted niece,
BERTHE DE X.
P.S.—I should add, however, by way of justification of French
politeness, that our fellow-countrymen are, when traveling, models of
good manners in comparison with the abominable English, who seem to
have been brought up by stable-boys, so much do they take care not to
incommode themselves in any way, while they always incommode their
MADAME DE L. TO MADAME DE X.
LES FRESNES, Saturday.
My dear child,—Many of the things you have said to me are very
reasonable, but that does not prevent you from being wrong. Like you, I
used formerly to feel very indignant at the impoliteness of men, who,
as I supposed, constantly treated me with neglect; but, as I grew older
and reflected on everything, putting aside coquetry and observing
things without taking any part in them myself, I perceived this
much—that if men are not always polite, women are always indescribably
We imagine that we should be permitted to do anything, my darling,
and at the same time we consider that we have a right to the utmost
respect, and in the most flagrant manner we commit actions devoid of
that elementary good-breeding of which you speak with passion.
I find, on the contrary, that men have, for us, much consideration,
as compared with our bearing toward them. Besides, darling, men must
needs be, and are, what we make them. In a state of society where women
are all true gentlewomen all men would become gentlemen.
Mark my words; just observe and reflect.
Look at two women meeting in the street. What an attitude each
assumes toward the other! What disparaging looks! What contempt they
throw into each glance! How they toss their heads while they inspect
each other to find something to condemn! And, if the footpath is
narrow, do you think one woman will make room for another, or will beg
pardon as she sweeps by? Never! When two men jostle each other by
accident in some narrow lane, each of them bows and at the same time
gets out of the other's way, while we women press against each other,
stomach to stomach, face to face, insolently staring each other out of
Look at two women who are acquaintances meeting on a staircase
before the drawing-room door of a friend of theirs to whom one has just
paid a visit, and to whom the other is about to pay a visit. They begin
to talk to each other, and block up the passage. If anyone happens to
be coming up behind them, man or woman, do you imagine that they will
put themselves half an inch out of their way? Never! never!
I was waiting myself, with my watch in my hands, one day last
winter, at a certain drawing-room door. Behind me two gentlemen were
also waiting without showing any readiness to lose their temper, like
me. The reason was that they had long grown accustomed to our
The other day, before leaving Paris, I went to dine with no less a
person than your husband in the Champs-Elysees, in order to enjoy the
open air. Every table was occupied. The waiter asked us not to go, and
there would soon be a vacant table.
At that moment, I noticed an elderly lady of noble figure, who,
having paid the amount of her check, seemed on the point of going away.
She saw me, scanned me from head to foot, and did not budge. For more
than a full quarter of an hour she sat there, immovable, putting on her
gloves, and calmly staring at those who were waiting like myself. Now,
two young men who were just finishing their dinner, having seen me in
their turn, quickly summoned the waiter in order to pay whatever they
owed, and at once offered me their seats, even insisting on standing
while waiting for their change. And, bear in mind, my fair niece, that
I am no longer pretty, like you, but old and white-haired.
It is we (do you see?) who should be taught politeness; and the task
would be such a difficult one that Hercules himself would not be equal
to it. You speak to me about Etretat, and about the people who indulge
in “tittle-tattle” along the beach of that delightful watering-place.
It is a spot now lost to me, a thing of the past, but I found much
amusement there in days gone by.
There were only a few of us, people in good society, really good
society, and a few artists, and we all fraternized. We paid little
attention to gossip in those days.
Well, as we had no insipid Casino, where people only gather for
show, where they talk in whispers, where they dance stupidly, where
they succeed in thoroughly boring one another, we sought some other way
of passing our evenings pleasantly. Now, just guess what came into the
head of one of our husbandry? Nothing less than to go and dance each
night in one of the farmhouses in the neighborhood.
We started out in a group with a street-organ, generally played by
Le Poittevin, the painter, with a cotton nightcap on his head. Two men
carried lanterns. We followed in procession, laughing and chattering
like a pack of fools.
We woke up the farmer and his servant-maids and laboring men. We got
them to make onion-soup (horror!), and we danced under the apple-trees,
to the sound of the barrel-organ. The cocks waking up began to crow in
the darkness of the outhouses; the horses began prancing on the straw
of their stables. The cool air of the country caressed our cheeks with
the smell of grass and of new-mown hay.
How long ago it is! How long ago it is. It is thirty years since
I do not want you, my darling, to come for the opening of the
hunting season. Why spoil the pleasure of our friends by inflicting on
them fashionable toilettes after a day of vigorous exercise in the
country? This is the way, child, that men are spoiled. I embrace you.
Your old aunt,
GENEVIEVE DE L.