Study Guide

Women with Men

by Richard Ford

Women with Men Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Although referred to in its subtitle as stories, Women with Men is in fact a collection of two novellas and one long story. That Ford refers to the works as stories is significant, for he has shown interest in the long story as a separate genre of literature.

The first novella in this volume, The Womanizer, belongs in the long tradition of “Americans in Paris” literature produced by numerous fiction writers in the nineteenth century and the 1920’s. It is ironically named, since the protagonist, Martin Austin, has been “temporarily distracted” by some women far from his home but seems for the most part unsuccessful in his relationships with the opposite sex. Although he loves his wife, Barbara, while in France he attempts to initiate a relationship with a Frenchwoman, Josephine Belliard, hoping to establish some connection that transcends sexuality. His attempts end in confusion and a minor scandal, and the trip he had looked forward to as “romantic,” a chance to open himself to new possibilities, turns out to be the opposite. Like other Ford protagonists, he wants to do good but fails to do so during a crisis involving Leo, Josephine’s young son.

Martin’s wife, who is “systematically optimistic,” exhibiting what he thinks of as the American attitude toward life, accuses him of being distant and unapproachable because “he took himself for granted.” Determined to make the rest of his life “as eventful and important” as what had passed, Martin feels a strong sense of freedom, a belief that his life is entirely under his control, and he is convinced that, although one must live with one’s mistakes, nevertheless “all is potential.” His temporary loss of Josephine’s son, left in his care, and the ensuing police probe leaves him feeling that he had lost “his newly found freedom” and the chance for something new.

The short story “Jealous” is narrated by Larry, who was nineteen at the time of the events he is recalling. Like Martin Austin in The Womanizer, he becomes involved in events over which he has no control, although his instinct is to do good whenever possible. On their way for a Thanksgiving visit with Larry’s mother, who is estranged from his father, Larry and his...

(The entire section is 921 words.)