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The dinner Edna hosts in celebration of her new home is small and exclusive. Her guests include high-society friends from the racetrack, as well as Mademoiselle Reisz, Victor Lebrun, and, of course, Alcée. Adèle, who is unable to come because she is nearing the end of her pregnancy, sends her husband in her place. Edna has decorated the table and surroundings decadently, and the entire room shimmers with gold and yellow accents. She announces that it is her twenty-ninth birthday and proposes that the party drink to her health with a cocktail invented by the Colonel to commemorate Janet’s wedding. Alcée proposes that they drink to the Colonel’s health instead, to celebrate “the daughter he invented.” In her magnificent gown, Edna seems a woman who “rules, who looks on, who stands alone.” However, she is inwardly overtaken with longing and hopelessness, her thoughts fixated on Robert.
Mademoiselle Reisz and Adèle’s husband take their leave and the remaining guests turn their attention to Victor, whom Mrs. Highcamp has decorated with a garland of roses and a silken scarf, which turn him into “a vision of Oriental beauty.” Someone begs Victor to sing and he accepts dramatically, looking at Edna and beginning, “Ah! Si tu savais!” Edna orders him to stop, slamming her glass down so heavily that she breaks it. Victor, however, continues, until Edna clasps her hand over his mouth and repeats her demand. He agrees, kissing her hand with a “pleasing sting,” and the guests sense that the night has come to a close.
Alcée stays with Edna after everyone has left and assists her as she shuts up the big house. He accompanies her to the pigeon house, which he has filled with flowers as a surprise. He tells her he will leave, but when he feels her beginning to respond to his caresses he sits beside her and covers her shoulders with kisses until she becomes “supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties.”
The pigeon-house pleased her . . . There was . . . a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual.
Léonce writes a letter of stern disapproval in response to Edna’s move. He does not question her motives but worries that people will think he is suffering financial difficulties. To avert these suspicions, he arranges to have his home remodeled by a respected architect. In a newspaper, he advertises his intention to take a vacation abroad with Edna while the remodeling is under way. In her husband’s continued absence, Edna feels her sense of individuality and spirituality growing. She visits her children at their grandmother’s country home in Iberville and enjoys herself so much that she continues to think of their voices and excitement throughout her trip back to New Orleans.
Adèle pays Edna a visit. She inquires about the dinner party, inspects her friend’s new home, and complains that Edna has neglected her. She confesses to Edna that she worries about the impulsive and reckless nature of her actions, adding that perhaps she should not be living alone in the little house. As she leaves, she warns Edna to be careful of her reputation, as there is gossip about Alcée’s visits and “his attentions alone are . . . enough to ruin a woman’s name.” After a stream of callers interrupts Edna’s painting, she decides to visit Mademoiselle Reisz. The pianist is not at home, however, so Edna enters the apartment to wait for her. She hears a knock at the door and gasps in surprise when she sees the caller is Robert, who has been back in town for two days. Edna begins to doubt his love, wondering why he hadn’t come to see her immediately. Robert’s speech is rushed and embarrassed; only during a brief pause do his eyes reveal to Edna the same tenderness she had seen on Grand Isle. She asks why he broke his promise to write her, and he replies that he never supposed his letters would interest her. Edna says that she doesn’t believe his excuse, and she decides that she will not wait any longer for Mademoiselle Reisz’s return.
Robert walks Edna home, and she invites him in for dinner at the pigeon house. She revels in the thought that her dreams are now coming true. At first Robert declines her offer, but, when he sees the disappointment and pain in Edna’s face, he soon consents. Inside, Robert discovers a photograph of Alcée that Edna claims she has kept as a study for a sketch. His repeated questions about the photograph manifest his suspicions and Edna quickly changes the subject to Robert’s experiences in Mexico. He tells her that he worked machine-like the whole time, devoting his thoughts solely to the time he spent with Edna on Grand Isle and the Chênière. When he asks about her own experiences in New Orleans, she echoes his nostalgic words almost verbatim. He tells her, “Mrs. Pontellier, you are cruel.” They remain in silence until dinner is announced.
I chose this one for American Literature, and I will support French New Orleans literature.
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