Summary and Analysis
After dinner one Saturday night, the vacationers attend an impromptu children's musical recital, and the adults dance to Madame Ratignolle's piano playing. Robert tells Edna that Mademoiselle Reisz will perform a piece at Edna's request. Although Mademoiselle Reisz is generally bad-tempered and unwilling to freely display her talents, she agrees to perform because she likes Edna (yet dislikes all the other guests). Edna is deeply shaken by Mademoiselle Reisz's performance, experiencing viscerally the emotions of the piece. Mademoiselle Reisz is pleased by Edna's involved, tearful response. Then, at Robert's suggestion, everyone sets out for a late-night swim.
In Chapter 10, as the group makes its way to the beach, Edna reflects that Robert seems to be avoiding her lately. At the beach, Edna truly swims for the first time, rather than splashing in the shallows. After her ambitious swim, during which she goes farther from shore than she feels is safe, she abruptly leaves for her cottage. Robert accompanies her and sits on the porch, while she settles in the porch hammock. They feel the first stirrings of desire for each other.
In Chapter 11, Edna refuses to leave the hammock and join Léonce inside the cottage at his return, insisting that she is comfortable in the hammock. Although initially irritated, he handles the situation calmly by joining her on the porch. When she goes inside to sleep, just before dawn, Léonce remains on the porch to finish his cigar.
This chapter's opening description of the party lamps also indicates ideal party parameters: "every lamp turned as high as it could be without smoking the chimney or threatening explosion." This description could apply as well to the romantic relations considered ideal by Edna's culture. While the flame of passion may be burning brightly, it should not become so hot as to cause behavior that threatens the monogamous, Catholic values of their culture or besmirch anyone's good reputation with scandal — the social equivalents of smoking the chimney or causing explosions.
The emphasis on good behavior continues as the Farival twins yet again play the musical pieces they've been playing all summer. The parrot seems to object to hearing these pieces repeated, loudly uttering his stock phrase in French "Go away, for God's sake!" The twins' grandfather is angry at this apparent candor and lobbies to have the bird removed. Such punishment for honesty foreshadows the negative reaction Edna will invoke when she starts telling the truth about her dissatisfaction with her life.
Chapter 9 contrasts Madame Ratignolle with Mademoiselle Reisz. Both play piano, but Madame Ratignolle plays as "a means of brightening the home and making it attractive." Playing competently and with spirit, her performances serve only to make her even more attractive than she already is. In stark contrast, Mademoiselle Reisz is disliked by and dislikes almost everyone, lacking interpersonal skills, fashion sense, and physical attractiveness. Yet her performance is that of a master, stirring everyone within earshot with the power of music. Edna is particularly affected by the music, which "sent a keen tremor" down her spine. Note the connection between music and the sea: "the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body." Like the warm Gulf waters, music appeals to Edna's inclination to indulge in the drama of high feeling. Her visceral reaction is an indication of her awakening desire to experience some great passion in her life; "her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth" for the first time.
In Chapter 10, the mock romance Robert has been indulging in with Edna begins to assume a genuine air. In response to Madame Ratignolle's advice, he has been avoiding Edna some days, causing her to miss him "just as one misses the sun on a cloudy day without having thought much about the sun when it was shining" — hardly a passionate state to begin with.
Yet Edna experiences in Chapter 10 a breakthrough in her ability to swim, which symbolizes the blossoming of her desire to leave behind social constraints, "to swim far out, where no woman had swum before." As she realizes the ease with which she can power herself through the water, "She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength." Of course she will engage in such daring later as she begins to flout convention and obey her own desires.
After her initial bold progress into the Gulf, she soon finds that she has swum farther out than she can actually swim back — she has made more progress than she can handle. Again her death is foreshadowed when she is struck by "a quick vision of death" that terrifies her. Léonce fails to appreciate her terror, pointing out that "I was watching you" as if his placid observation from shore could prevent her from drowning, or from later having an affair with Alcée Arobin.
Edna's childlike aspect is emphasized in the description of her as a "little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with over-confidence." Of course, this description applies to not only learning to swim but also to her actions later in the novel when she feels the power of refusing to follow certain social conventions.
Chapter 10 ends with the beginning of Edna's deeper entanglement with Robert. When he tells her the tale of the Gulf spirit whom she has captivated, he is also referring to himself. After the powerful music and the liberating swim, Edna is primed for further emotional stimulation and Robert is there to further his romantic interests with the one woman who may take him seriously in that regard.
Chapter 11 demonstrates Edna's potential for defiance. While Edna's wish to remain in the hammock begins as a caprice, it assumes the character of rebellion after Léonce orders her to come inside. Continuing the portrayal of Edna as childlike, Léonce waits out her display of rebellion as though she is a toddler in the midst of a tantrum. When she insists that she will remain in the hammock as long as she likes, his response is calm and methodical: drinking a glass of wine, offering one to Edna, joining her on the porch, and placing his feet up on the railing. His cigar-smoking presence is stifling to Edna's rebellious mood. In fact, he outdoes her when he remains on the porch after she herself yields to the physical need for sleep and goes inside to bed. As the night begins to edge toward dawn, thwarted by Léonce's smug presence on the porch, she "began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a . . . delicious, grotesque, impossible dream . . . the exuberance . . . yielding to the conditions which crowded her in." As with the swim in the previous chapter, she is delighted to experience a sense of autonomy, which unfortunately dissolves when she tests its limits. These small defeats indicate her greatest weakness: Edna's spirit is strong enough to begin a rebellion but too weak to maintain it.
dedicated to the Blessed Virgin committed by their parents at birth to become nuns.
Chopin [Frédéric] François Chopin (1810-1849); Polish composer and pianist, lived in France after 1831.
Bon Dieu Good God.
pathos the quality in something experienced or observed that arouses feelings of pity, sorrow, sympathy, or compassion.
repose to lie at rest.
grotesque ludicrously eccentric or strange; ridiculous; absurd.