Summary and Analysis
Edna's father, the Colonel, comes to visit. They spend time at the racetrack, where they socialize with Mrs. Merriman, Mrs. Highcamp, and Alcée Arobin. Dr. Mandelet comes to dinner one night and is alarmed by Edna's high-spirited recollection of their day at the races — he fears she is already enamored of Arobin, a notorious womanizer. During dinner, the doctor tells a story about a married woman who fell in love with another man but returned her devotion to her husband in the end. Edna, nonplussed, counters with a vivid tale of her own about a couple in love who rowed away one night in a small boat and disappeared in the Baratarian Islands, never to be seen again.
This chapter reveals that Edna lacks the art of flirting. This lack of flirtatiousness is ironic, given her later affair with Arobin, which is based entirely on sexual chemistry. Disinterest in coquetry aside, her burgeoning sensuality is evident to others.
Dr. Mandelet notes that Edna is no longer "the listless woman he had known" but reminds him of "some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun." Note that as everyone tells stories at the dinner table, each person's story indicates some measure of the teller's personality. Léonce's tale is a superficial reminiscence of a traditional childhood, while the Colonel, as the retention of his title suggests, still strongly identifies with his role in "those dark and bitter days" of the Civil War. Desiring to instruct Edna, the doctor offers a parable of a woman's love returning her husband, a lesson that is lost on Edna.
Her tale, which she makes up on the spot, is really a description of her ideal resolution to her current situation. The elements of her story are based on her one entire day spent with Robert on the Chênière, including the fictitious disclaimer that she'd heard the story from Madame Antoine. Note that the story lacks true resolution, offering only that "a woman . . . paddled away with her lover one night in a pirogue and never came back." For Edna, this story is not about the ending; it is all about the detail — the experience rather than consequences. While the story lacks a true ending, indicating that Edna herself does not know where her love for Robert will take her, it does not lack for sensual detail. In her telling, she is able to viscerally convey to her listeners the lovers' experience: "They could feel the hot breath of the southern night, they could hear the long sweep of the pirogue through the glistening moonlit water."
Edna's evident emotional involvement in the story and the coincidental meeting with Arobin that day concerns the doctor, who has a keen understanding of human behavior and knows too Arobin's reputation for seducing other men's wives. Ironically, he has cause for concern; two clues dropped previously in the text indicate that Edna has fallen in with a bad crowd. In Chapter 8, Robert defends his platonic relationship with Edna by saying "Now if I were like Arobin — you remember Alcée Arobin . . . and that consul's wife" and in Chapter 17 Léonce tells Edna "the less you have to do with Mrs. Highcamp, the better" because her husband made for a poor business prospect.
perambulation a walking about; a stroll.
soirée musicale an event or party dedicated to musical performance.
coquetry the behavior or act of a coquette; flirting.
bourgeois middle-class; also used variously to mean conventional, smug, materialistic, and so on.
toddy a drink of brandy or whiskey with hot water, sugar, and often, spices.
darky an African-American; a derogatory or contemptuous term.
grosbec any of various passerine birds with a thick, strong, conical bill. Usually spelled grosbeak.
pirogue a dugout canoe.