One late spring afternoon, Carol Frazier, the twenty-two-year-old protagonist, is concluding a visit with an acquaintance, Odile Pontmoret, to a Parisian dressmaker, Madame Germain, who is making Carol’s wedding gown. Odile disapproves of the traditional, “unoriginal” gown that Carol chooses. Moreover, to Carol’s annoyance, Odile blabs to the dressmaker that Carol fell in love at first sight with her fiancé, Howard Mitchell, an economist, who, with Carol and Odile, works in a U.S. government agency in Paris. Odile is aware that Carol, perceiving Paris to be the city of romance, wants to believe in the magic of the moment of falling in love. As they leave the dressmaker’s apartment, Carol realizes that Odile is making fun of her romantic notion. This realization occasions a review of the preceding winter months, beginning with her engagement to Howard.
Her engagement and her subsequent relationship with Howard are actually quite prosaic. Three weeks after she met him he proposed to her, not in a romantic setting but at lunch, over a tuna salad. She is not really in love with Howard, but common sense, buttressed by college lectures on marriage, dictates that they have the proper basis for marriage—that is, a similar social and economic background. In choosing Howard, Carol herself dispenses with “the illusion of love,” but having decided that he is the right person for her, she feels the urge to be a part of romantic Paris. She therefore sets about “the business of falling in love” with Howard.
Postwar Paris, with its drab streets and shabby people, is not conducive to this plan, but she persists. Believing that befriending the French would help, she approaches Odile, Howard’s secretary, a thirty-year-old woman. Odile, shabbily dressed, money-conscious, and resentful of American materialism, hardly evokes romantic Paris, nor does Odile’s relationship with her twenty-one-year-old lover, Felix, which Carol considers distasteful....
(The entire section is 808 words.)