He thought it was very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him and valued so little his conversation.
This scene toward the beginning of the book demonstrates the imbalance in the Pontellier marriage. Léonce returns late at night but expects Edna to wake up and chat with him. Léonce wants everything on his terms, demanding responsiveness to his every need, while still claiming that Edna is what matters most to him. In truth, Edna represents just a small portion of Léonce’s life. In his masculine roles, Léonce has many outside interests, such as work, the club, and travel, while Edna’s world is circumscribed by family. Marriage for Edna, like other women of her era, had limited opportunities.
The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her, gave her no regret, no longing. It was not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui.
Edna has been visiting the Ratignolles, who enjoy a marriage marked by mutual affection and engagement, drastically different from the Pontelliers’ marriage. For Edna, this domestic situation has no appeal. In fact, after sharing a meal with the Ratignolles, she only feels depressed by the blandness of their lives. This scene signifies the emptiness that haunts Edna. As revealed by the narrator, her marriage to Léonce will never satisfy her, and she turns to Robert as a source of fulfillment. She will come to learn, however, that the actual constraints of Victorian marriage are the cause of the problem, not the specific partner.
“It’s a pity Mr. Pontellier doesn’t say home more in the evenings. I think you would be more—well, if you don’t mind my saying it—more united, if he did.”
One evening at a musical soirée at the Ratignolle’s home, Adèle shares her belief that Edna and Léonce would have a closer relationship if they spent more time together. As it is, both Pontelliers pursue their own preferred social outings and share few interests or activities. Clearly Adèle has drawn her own conclusions about the Pontelliers’ indifferent marriage and attempts to impose her formula for a happy marriage on them: shared experiences and conversations.