Why did Edna marry Leonce in The Awakening and is he a model husband?

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Edna felt herself to be in love with a famous tragedian, even kissing the "cold glass" of his picture when she was alone. However, Leonce Pontellier "pressed his suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to be desired." The warmth of Leonce's "ardor" stands in stark contrast...

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Edna felt herself to be in love with a famous tragedian, even kissing the "cold glass" of his picture when she was alone. However, Leonce Pontellier "pressed his suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to be desired." The warmth of Leonce's "ardor" stands in stark contrast with the cold glass of the tragedian. In short, "He pleased her," and she felt flattered by his evident devotion to her. She also thought, at the time, that they shared similar tastes and ways of thinking, though she learned only later that she was wrong about that. In addition to feeling flattered and thinking she and Leonce were a good match, the "violent opposition of her father and sister" meant that "we need seek no further for the motives which led her to accept Monsieur Pontellier for her husband." In other words, then, it sounds as though the final factor in driving Edna to accept Leonce was the fact that her father and sister (who was like a mother-figure at that point) were adamantly opposed to the marriage. Edna, it seems, in true rebellious fashion, wanted to irritate them with her independence and defiance.

Leonce is an ideal husband for his time, yes. The other wives declare "that [he] was the best husband in the world. [Edna] was forced to admit that she knew of none better." However, just because he was an ideal husband for his time does not mean he was truly an ideal husband, at least by our standards. For example, he expects his wife to attend to him at all times, even when she's been fast asleep. He gets angry with her when he feels that she doesn't pay enough attention to him or to their children, even though he cannot charge her with negligence. He seems to want her to be a "mother-woman" like the other Creole wives, but she simply is not; he would have been an ideal husband to one of them, but he is not to Edna. He even expects her to come in and have sex with him when he wants her to, oblivious to her feelings.

She heard him moving about the room; every sound indicating impatience and irritation. Another time she would have gone in at his request. She would, through habit, have yielded to his desire; not with any sense of submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life which has been portioned out to us.

He entreats her and eventually orders her to come inside, but she continues to refuse him. His behavior may have been acceptable—even ideal—then, but it certainly is not now.

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When we first meet Edna and Leonce Pontellier, they seem to have a typical marriage of the late nineteenth century. He goes to work and to the club, while Edna spends her time mostly with other women and with her children. Edna is surprised to find herself upset one night when Leonce wakes her to take care of the children, one of whom he insists is sick, after he's returned home from the club. She recognizes that the scene is not out of the ordinary but for some reason, she feels devastated about it this time. Her awakening has begun, and she slowly becomes conscious of her unhappiness in her marriage and in her position as a woman in this society.

As far as classifying Leonce as the ideal husband, it seems that he is considered so by the community in which the Pontelliers live. When he sends some chocolates to his wife, "the ladies. . . . all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world. Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew of none better." The word "forced" in this quote is important in showing us how Edna's perspective differs from that of the community. It also suggests that she isn't necessarily dissatisfied with Leonce as a husband but is dissatisfied with the state of marriage in general. He may be playing the role of husband as well as can be expected, but she doesn't want to live according to these roles any more.

Later in the novel, we learn how Edna and Leonce met and why she married him. She was actually in love with another man (the tragedian). Edna's marriage to Leonce is described as "an accident," and one of "the decrees of Fate." Leonce fell in love with Edna and "pressed his suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to be desired." She feels "flattered" by "his absolute devotion." At the time, she thought they shared "a sympathy of thought and taste," but she ends up being wrong about that. Edna likes the idea of rebelling against her father, who is against the marriage. Because she couldn't marry the tragedian, Edna feels she has missed out on her chance to have a blissful, romantic life. Once she "awakens" over the course of the novella, she realizes she doesn't want anyone else bending her will or controlling her. She wants to be free and independent. Even though she loves Robert, she does not want to marry him, which is the definitive proof that it is marriage as an institution that oppresses her rather than Leonce in particular.

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The answer is pretty simple here.  Even though Edna says she married Leonce on "accident," she actually marries him because she is influenced by his flattery.  We find this out in chapter seven:

[Leonce] presssed his suit with an earnestness and ardor which left nothing to be desired.  He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her.

Edna has a wish of another suitor, but only has Leonce pursuing her.  Edna hopes the two of them have at least a few things in common.  Further, even though she has family directly opposed to the marriage due to Leonce's Catholicism, Edna wants the dream to cease to be a dream and become reality.

[Edna wished for a] certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams.

I am going to add another idea here that isn't often mentioned.  Edna is also influenced by the security of marrying Leonce.  In short, Leonce has money!  This is enough to keep Edna safe and happy (at least in some way) for the rest of her life. Despite the affairs she ends up having and her "awakening" to the world of sexuality, the security of marrying the Catholic Leonce continues for Edna as long as she stays married.

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Edna married Leonce for several reasons, although she considers that they were all "an accident". First, she did have a slight connection with him as far as sympathy and animosity. Second, the man had a lot of money and a tendency to spoil her. Third, she wanted to make her father, the Colonel, angry especially because Leonce was of a different faith. Fourth, she was really thinking that she would eventually fall in love with him, and that she will find satisfaction in a lavish life. Unfortunately for Edna, she married being way too immature, and knew very little to nothing about life, herself, her sexuality, nor her nature. For this reason, she began a series of sexual affairs.

Was Leonce the model husband? Perhaps. He loved Edna, he lavished her with gifts, attended her every whim, and felt very proud of her. I would call that a keeper.

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In chapter 7 of the novel it is revealed that Edna marries Leonce on "accident."  That seems like a rather strange idea, but as the paragraph follows, the situation becomes more clear.  Edna was actually interested in another man but Leonce was deeply in love and "presssed his suit with an earnestness and ardor which left nothing to be desired.  He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her."  Edna was pleased by the attention of this man partly because she didn't have the attention of the other man.  She also thought they perhaps they had some things in common.

The most forebdoing comment in the paragraph though is what follows.  It is revealed that Edna's father and sister where very opposed to Edna marrying Leonce, who is a Catholic.  Edna seems to take great delight in doing exactly the opposite of what they expect, so she marries Leonce. 

Another reason for marrying Leonce is that Edna thought then that by marrying a man who worshipped her she would "take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams."  She thought this marriage would suit her and that she could maintain an emotional distance, but still have her place in the world. 

These revelations are important to an understanding of Edna's character.  She didn't one day decide she wanted out of the marriage and her responsiblities.  She has had the seeds of discontent and a unique sense of herself since her childhood, and that explains much of her current attitude and behavior.

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