"The Absent Are Always In The Wrong"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As Jean Baptiste Poquelin (1622–1673) took the pen name of Molière, to publish his plays, so Philippe Néricault became known as the popular playwright Destouches, being especially remembered for his comedy of interclass marriage, Le Glorieux (1732) in which the pride of a haughty nobleman takes a fall. L'Obstacle imprévu ou L'Obstacle sans obstacle (The Unforeseen Obstacle or the Obstacle without an Obstacle) achieved popularity when first performed in Paris in 1717. It was later condensed by L. Monrose into three acts. Following the usual classical formula, it observes the unities, taking place in the home of Lisimon, an elderly man. Valère is his foppish son. He is also guardian of Julie, his niece. She and Leandre are in love. Again, according to formula, each of them has a servant who is a friendly adviser, like the gracioso in Spanish comedies. Julie has her confidante Nérine. Leandre has Crispin, and Valère is served by Pasquin. The comedy opens with a discussion between Valère and Pasquin. The son is complaining about his inability to get along with his father, and the servant is trying to stop such talk. If Valère will cease behaving foolishly, there will be no trouble. To push home his point, Pasquin acts out that morning's discussion between father and son about the way the young man had spent the previous evening among a lot of over-dressed dandies, when he should have been thinking about Angelique, to whom his father had arranged a marriage. There is another love complication, one between Julie and Leandre. She has the idea that there is an obstacle to their marriage, and she intends to enter a convent. Nérine, down-to-earth like all classical comedy servants, suggests that if Julie cannot marry Leandre, she look for another sweetheart. Crispin comes to report in a mixed-up speech an overheard and puzzling conversation about confusion between two daughters of an Italian in Paris and some skullduggery between Julie's guardian and her uncle. In Scene vi, Lisimon shows that he intends to marry Julie himself. Her mother is dead. She has been left in his care by her supposed father, now in the Indies, who also gave him power to marry her off. Now he tries to persuade Nérine to work on her mistress to give her consent to marry him. The servant knows the situation and refuses to coöperate, saying that Julie could never love a bilious and choleric old man who wants her only for her inheritance, about which she is ignorant. Julie loves Leandre. All that prevents their marriage is that for the moment neither of them has money. He is trying to keep her from taking her vows until he can earn a living, which he says he will do or die. In Nérine's conversation with Lisimon, she tells him the situation. Here is a translation of the French original.


NÉRINE
They wanted to get married, but when he had to come to the point, Leandre learned that Julie hadn't a centime and that she was living on an allowance from her uncle, ever since her mother had left her in Paris without telling anybody where she was going.
LISIMON
Was the young man rich?
NÉRINE
His riches, present and future, amounted to a large sum of tenderness and beautiful sentiments.
. . .
LISIMON
They could hardly establish a home on that!
NÉRINE
He had a servant, too, named Crispin, who was a nice young man.
LISIMON
Did you like him?
NÉRINE
Must you ask? A maid always yearns for the servant of the man who comes courting her mistress. That's the way it always is, in plays.
LISIMON
Tell me, is your mistress still in love with that Leandre?
NÉRINE
Of course! She's no fickle girl. She's not like me. I was sort of in a hurry, and since the absent are always in the wrong, and Pasquin was on hand, why, I went ahead and married him.