Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vautrin's Advice

For a few magical years, being a lawyer seemed like a cool profession.  You  could make some big bucks, play with nice grownups and even stand  chance to score with the ladies (as we then called them, if memory serves).  I remember one of them being featured in a commercial for Scotch.

Somehow all that  has passed away.  "Like doing homework for a living," I heard Tom Hanks sneer  on a talk show just recently.  It's finally sunk in on us that a lot of lawyers never did make that much money and on the high end, it seems the bankers make infinitely more money and apparently work a lot less.  

Why didn't someone tell us it would end that wa--oh wait, looks like someone did.  That would be the old scoundrel himself, Vautrin, in Balzac's Le Père Goriot, where he tries to school the young Rastignac in the perils of his chosen career.
By the age of thirty, you will be a judge making 1,200 francs a year, if you haven’t yet tossed away your robes. When you reach forty, you will marry a miller’s daughter with an income of around 6,000 livres.  Thank you very much. If you’re lucky enough to find a patron, you will become a royal prosecutor at thirty, with compensation of a thousand écus [5,000 francs], and you will marry the mayor’s daughter. If you’re willing to do a little political dirty work, you will be a prosecutor-general by the time you’re forty.… It is my privilege to point out to you, however, that there are only twenty prosecutors-general in France, while 20,000 of you aspire to the position, and among them are a few clowns who would sell their families to move up a rung. If this profession disgusts you, consider another. Would Baron de Rastignac like to be a lawyer? Very well then! You will need to suffer ten years of misery, spend a thousand francs a month, acquire a library and an office, frequent society, kiss the hem of a clerk to get cases, and lick the courthouse floor with your tongue . If the profession led anywhere, I wouldn’t advise you against it. But can you name five lawyers in Paris who earn more than 50,000 francs a year at the age of fifty?
Quoted in Piketty, Thomas (2014-03-10). Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Kindle Locations 4140-4148). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition. 

Vautrin  then counsels our hero on the more promising path: marry rich.  Sounds like a reasonable choice--except for one whose only marketable skill is "doing homework," where can we expect him to find a rich bride to begin with?  Or is this why they call it "fiction"

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

"Vautrin then counsels our hero on the more promising path: marry rich. "

I once worked in a place where a smashingly beautiful young woman would come to work more or less regularly looking depressed and despairing. More than once, she also came to work with bruises on her face and arms.

The reason became self-evident one day when, after the company house organ invited us to submit the best words of advice we ever got, she submitted her father's: "Remember, you can marry more money in ten minutes than you can earn in a lifetime."

Alas, even that road to riches is paved with potholes and bear traps, as this case illustrates. P.S. He never married her.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank