The Maiden (Prose Fable)

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

A certain damsel of considerable pride made up her mind to choose a husband who should be young, well-built, and handsome; of agreeable manners and - note these two points - neither cold nor jealous. Moreover, she held it necessary that he should have means, high birth, intellect; in fact, everything. But whoever was endowed with everything?

The fates were evidently anxious to do their best for her, for they sent her some most noteworthy suitors. But these the proud beauty found not half good enough. "What, men like those! You propose them for me! Why they are pitiable! Look at them - fine types, indeed!" According to her one was a dullard; another's nose was impossible. With this it was one thing; with that it was another; for superior people are disdainful above all things.

After these eligible gentlemen had been dismissed, came others of less worth, and at these too she mocked. "Why," said she, "I would not bemean myself to open the door to such. They must think me very anxious to be married. Thank Heaven my single state causes me no regrets."

The maiden contented herself with such notions until advancing age made her step down from her pedestal. Adieu then to all suitors. One year passed and then another. Her anxiety increased, and after anger came grief. She felt that those little smiles and glances which, at the bidding of love, lurk in the countenances of fair maidens were day by day deserting her. Finally, when love himself departed, her features gave pleasure to none. Then she had recourse to those hundred little ruses and tricks of the toilet to repair the ravages of time; but nothing that she could do arrested the depredations of that despicable thief. One may repair a house gone to ruin: but the same thing is not possible with a face!

Her refined ladyship now sang to a different tune, for her mirror advised her to take a husband without delay. Perhaps also her heart harboured the wish. Even superior persons may have longings! This one at last made a choice that people would at one time have thought impossible; for she was very pleased and happy in marrying an ugly cripple.

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