Justine (Interlude: Juliette's Story)
An Adaptation of the Classic Story by the Marquis de Sade
We must abandon our present narrative for a short time, and return to Juliet, simply to demonstrate how, from the simple state from which we saw her expelled from her conventional home, and having no more resources than her sister, nevertheless became, in fifteen years a titled woman, possessing thirty thousand francs a year, very fine jewels, two or three houses, both in town, and in the country, and, for the moment, the heart, the fortune, and the confidence of M. de Corville, Councilor of State, a man held in the highest regard, he being on the eve of entering the ministry.
The career was thorny. It is certainly not doubted, it is by the most shameful and hard learning that these young ladies make their way. Such a girl may be in the bed of a prince today, yet she may still bear on her the humiliating marks of the brutality of the libertines, cursed scoundrels into whose hands her youth and inexperience threw her.
On leaving the convent, Juliette went to find a woman, whom she had heard of through a wanton girl in the neighborhood, a girl of no conventional morals, who had been influenced toward vice by this woman.
Picture the scene: Juliet comes to the door with her small package under her arm, a blue dress wildly wet and disordered, her hair dripping rain water—the most beautiful figure in the world, if true that in certain eyes indecency may have charms; she tells her story to this woman, and begs her to protect her as she did her old friend.
"How old are you ?" asks the Duvergier.
"Old enough, in a few days, Madame," answered Juliette, coyly.
"And never a mortal?" continued the Matron.
"Oh! No, madame, I swear to you," replied Juliette.
"But it is only sometimes in these convents," said the old woman, "a confessor, a nun, a comrade. I need certain proofs."
"It is up to you to get them , Madame," said Juliette, blushing.
And the duenna, having decked herself with a pair of glasses, and having scrupulously visited things from all sides, said:
"Come, you just have to live here, respect my advice, submit to my practices; have cleanliness, economy, candor vis-à-vis me, civility towards your companions, and deceit with men, and, before ten years I swear will put you in sufficient funds to retire, with a chest of drawers, a trumeau, a maid, and the art you have acquired at home will give you what you need to buy the rest."
These recommendations made, the Duvergier seized the little packet of Juliet; she asks her if she has any money, and Juliette tells her too frankly that she has a hundred crowns.
The dear mother confiscates them, assuring her new boarder that she will put this little fund in the lottery for her; but it is not necessary that a girl has money:
"It is," says she, "a means of doing evil, and in a century so corrupt, a wise and well-born girl must carefully avoid all that may lead her into some trap. It is for your good that I speak to you, my dear," adds the duenna, "and you must be grateful to me for what I do."
This sermon concluded, the newcomer is presented to her companions; she is shown her room in the house, and the next day her ripe, and virgin self is on the market.
In four months, the goods are successively sold to nearly one hundred persons; some are content with the rose, others more delicate or more depraved (because the question is not solved) want to pluck the bud that blooms next to it. Each time, the Duvergier shrinks, readjusts, sews, and tightens this carnal orifice, and for four months they are always first fruits that the chick offers to the public. At the end of this thorny novitiate, Juliette finally obtains her respect and admiration from her fellow whores; she is finally recognized as one of them. From then on she shares the penalties and the profits.
Another lesson: if in her first school, Juliette served the virtues of sinless nature, she forgets entirely those virtues in the second, she is now completely corrupted, the triumph she sees in her vice totally degrades her soul, she feels that, born for crime she must flee toward complete, ruthless ignominy, and give up languishing in a cowardly, guilt-ridden, servile state; which, she reasons, if she made the same mistakes as her sister, would not bring her back, very nearly, the same profit pursuing that virtuous path, as perpetrating vice.
She appealed to an old lord who was very debauched, who did not, at first, desire to make her his kept woman; she had the art, however, of wooing any man to care for her in a terrific fashion; she appeared, at last, as something that becomes an object of wonder and notoriety in high society, a priestess in the order of Cythera; aspiring whores and would-be concubines stared after her artful and debauched form longingly, quoting her best lines, emulating her and discussing her success as a courtesan with rapt wonder; and the fine creature knew how to seduce so well that in less than four years she ruined six men, the poorest of whom had a hundred thousand crowns.
It was not sufficient to ruin her reputation, however, the blindness of the people of the world is such that the more one of these creatures has proved her dishonesty, the more envious a man to be on her list. It seems that the degree of her debasement and corruption becomes the measure of the feelings one dares to display for her.
Juliette had just reached her twentieth year, when a certain Count of Lorsange, an Angevin gentleman, about forty years old, became so enamored of her that he resolved to give her his name: he granted her twelve thousand livres annually, assured her the rest of his fortune if he died before her, gave her a house, servants, a livery, and a new image in the eyes of the world, which in two or three years forgot she was ever a whore, at any rate.
It was here that the diabolical Juliette, forgetting all the innocence of her birth, and disregarding her pious education, perverted by bad advice and dangerous books, began to be eager to enjoy her great wealth—alone. In other words: she began to make designs on the life of her husband.
Once this odious project had taken root in her mind, she caressed it, night and day; inside her wanton skull, when her physical urges flared into squalid fury; the idea became something concrete, taking literal shape. Those dreams and desires we refuse, if we are honest, become all the more invigorating to us because of their forbidden nature; we put the brakes on our taboo thoughts and desires, but render them even more of a temptation by doing so, if we are not careful to censor them.
Once retuned to wisdom, a sense of ourselves and our moral duty, these dreadful fantasies vanish; they are simply the sins fostered in a heated, overtaxed and lewd imagination; but our dreams cannot hurt anyone.
But some go further, unfortunately, turning the horrific and base desires of the mind into reality. We ask ourselves, in contemplative moments, what it would be like to fulfill our hideous fantasies, to indulge our immoral purposes, and how much more exaltation and pleasure should we reap from following the pathway of our carnal designs. One vivifies the accursed chimera, and its existence is a crime.
Madame de Lorsange executed this murder quite happily for her, with so much secrecy that she protected herself from prosecution, and buried with her husband the traces of the dreadful transgression, which precipitated him to the tomb.
Having become free, and now a countess, Mme. De Lorsange resumed her old habits; but knowing herself now to be respected in the world, she conducted herself a little less indecently. She was no longer simply a well-bred girl; she was a rich widow who gave nice suppers, at which the court and the city were too happy to be admitted; a decent woman in a word, who nevertheless whored herself for two hundred louis, and gave herself for five hundred a month.
Up to twenty-six years old Mme. De Lorsange still made brilliant conquests; she ruined three foreign ambassadors, four farmer-generals, two bishops, a cardinal, and three knights of the king's orders; but, as it is rare to stop after a first offense, especially when it has resulted in a good payoff, the unfortunate Juliette committed two new crimes similar to the first; one to steal from one of her lovers, who had entrusted her with a considerable sum, unknown to the family of this man, and whom Madame de Lorsange was able to shelter by this frightful action; the other to have earlier a legacy of one hundred thousand francs which one of her worshipers made to her in the name of a third party, charged to return the sum after death. To these horrors Madame de Lorsange added three or four infanticides.
The fear of spoiling his pretty form, the desire to conceal a double intrigue, all made him resolve to stifle in his bosom the proof of his debauches; and these ignoramuses, like the others, did not prevent this adroit and ambitious woman from finding new dupes every day.
It is true, then, that prosperity can accompany the worst conduct, and that, in the very midst of disorder and corruption, all that men call happiness may be spread over life; but let this cruel and fatal truth not alarm; that the example of misfortune pursuing virtue everywhere, and which we shall soon offer, does not torment any more the honest people. This happiness as a result of crime is deceptive; it is only apparent that, irrespective of the punishment certainly bestowed by Providence on those who have been seduced by crime's successes, they do not nourish in the depths of their souls a worm which, constantly gnawing them, prevents them from rejoicing in these false gleams, and leaves in their soul, instead of delights, only the heart-wrenching memory of the crimes that have led them where they are.
In regard to the unfortunate whom fate persecutes, he has his heart for consolation, and the interior enjoyments which his virtues procure him soon compensate him for the injustice of men.
Such was the state of affairs of Mme. De Lorsange, when M. de Corville, fifty years of age, enjoying the credit and esteem which we have painted above, resolved to sacrifice himself entirely for this woman and to fix her forever to him.
He had lived with her for four years, absolutely as with a legitimate wife, when the acquisition of a very beautiful estate, the land near Montargis, obliged them both to spend some time in this province.
One evening, when the beauty of the weather had prolonged their walk, from the land they inhabited to Montargis, too tired to undertake to return as they had come, they stopped at the inn where the carriage of Lyon stopsi, with the intention of sending a man from there to pick them up a car. They were resting in a cool, low room of this house, overlooking the courtyard, when the coach of which we have just spoken entered into the yard of the inn.
It is a natural enough amusement to watch a descent; we can bet for the kind of characters that are there, and if we have named a hussy, an officer, some abbots and a monk, we are almost always sure of winning.
Picture the scene...
Madame de Lorsange gets up, M. de Corville follows her, and they both enjoy seeing the rickety vehicle enter the inn. It appeared that there was no one left in the carriage, when a cavalry marechaussee, coming down from the basket, received in his arms from one of his comrades also placed in the same place, a girl of twenty-six to twenty-seven, wearing a bad little Indian camisole and wrapped up to the eyebrows in a large black taffeta mantle. She was bound like a criminal, and so weak that she would certainly have fallen if her guards had not supported her. At a cry of surprise and horror that escapes Mme. De Lorsange, the girl turns around, and shows, with the most beautiful figure in the world, the most noble, the most agreeable, the most interesting face, posessing all the charms; the most entitled to please, rendered a thousand times more delicious still by that tender and touching affliction which innocence adds to the features of beauty.
M. de Corville and his mistress can not help but be interested in this miserable girl. They approach, they ask one of the guards what this unfortunate girl did.
"She is accused of three crimes," replied the cavalier; "this is murder, robbery, and fire; but I confess that my comrade and I have never conducted a criminal with so much regret; it is the sweetest creature, and seems the most honest.
"Ah, ah! "said M. de Corville, "could there not be some sort of these ordinary blunders in the lower courts? And where did the crime take place?"
"In an inn a few leagues from Lyon; it was Lyon who judged it; she goes, according to custom, to Paris for the confirmation of her sentence, and will return to be executed at Lyons."
Madame de Lorsange, who has approached, who hears this story, testified to M. de Corville the desire she has to learn from the mouth of this girl the story of her misfortunes, and Mr. de Corville, who also has the same desire, informs the two guards by imploring them.
They do not think they should oppose it. It is decided to spend the night at Montargis; a convenient apartment is requested; M. de Corville takes responsibility for the prisoner, who is released; and when she has had some food, Madame de Lorsange, who can not help but take the most keen interest in her, and who doubtless says to herself: "This creature, perhaps innocent, is nevertheless treated like a criminal, while everything thrives around me, who has comitted crimes and horrors."
Madame de Lorsange, I say, as soon as she sees this poor girl a little refreshed, a little consoled by the caresses which one hastened to make her, urged her to say by what event, with a countenance so sweet, she was in such a fatal circumstance.
"To tell you the story of my life, madame," says the beautiful unfortunate, addressing the countess, "is to offer you the most striking example of the misfortunes of innocence; to accuse the hand of Heaven is complaining of the will of the Supreme Being; it is a kind of revolt against his sacred intentions ... I do not dare ..."
Tears flow abundantly from the eyes of this fascinating girl, and after giving them vent for a moment, she begins her story.