Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 763
“The Country Husband” recounts Francis Weed’s brief rebellion against the mundane norms of his prosperous, dull community. Francis and Julia Weed have long been at the center of social life in Shady Hill, experiencing the conventional joys of suburban marriage and child rearing. Events conspire to jog Francis out of complacency and make him question his satisfaction with life.
The first of these events is a plane crash. Returning from a trip to Minneapolis, Francis and his fellow travelers experience an emergency landing in a field outside Philadelphia. They are shepherded to a nearby barn, and Francis takes a train to New York that arrives in time for him to catch his normal commuter train to Shady Hill. Naturally shaken by this occurrence, Francis is dismayed to discover that no one at home seems able to understand his brush with death. He arrived home on time, he looked fine—all his family went on with their normal routine. In fact, his children are more quarrelsome than usual, and Francis irritably compares his home to a battlefield, sending his wife upstairs in tears.
The next day, Francis is again disconcerted when he recognizes the new French maid at a neighbor’s dinner party. After some pondering, he realizes where he has seen her before: At the end of World War II, he had witnessed her public humiliation by the people of her town in Normandy. She had been accused of living with a German officer during the occupation of France. As punishment, her head had been shaved and she had been made to stand naked before the townspeople. This memory overwhelms Francis, all the more because he does not feel able to share it with anyone, not even his wife. This experience, combined with the trauma of the plane crash, has made Francis suddenly aware of mortality, of danger, of passion, and his senses are heightened. Something is bound to happen.
That something comes, rather anticlimactically, in the form of Anne Murchison, the baby-sitter who is waiting for Francis to drive her home when the Weeds return from the neighbors’ party. Anne strikes Francis as impossibly beautiful—“he experienced in his consciousness that moment when music breaks glass, and felt a pang of recognition as strange, deep, and wonderful as anything in his life.” For the next several days, lustful fantasies about Anne fill his waking thoughts and his dreams. He buys a bracelet for her and carries it in his pocket, awaiting the right moment to give it to her and take her in his arms. Although terms such as “statutory rape” enter his thoughts, he nevertheless imagines sneaking off with her to a lovers’ lane.
Francis’s obsession with Anne has two immediate consequences. On the one hand, it heightens his enjoyment of physical reality. He is thrilled when he sights the first frost of autumn; the view of an express train hurtling down the platform excites him with “the miraculous physicalness of everything.” On the other hand, Francis’s passion makes him dangerously cavalier about the social proprieties on which a town such as Shady Hill depends. Accosted on the train platform by a boring chatterbox, Francis explicitly insults her. Later his wife reminds him that this woman is the town’s social arbiter and might prevent their daughter’s invitation to the important dances. This reminder precipitates a dreary, tearful fight in which Julia accuses Francis of leaving his dirty clothes on the floor to torment her.
The next morning, Francis again escapes this domestic banality by imagining that he sees Anne on the morning train. He chases after her only to discover that he has been mistaken—the woman he has followed is much older than Anne. Later that day, however, he realizes the folly of his obsession. He receives a call asking him to recommend for a job a college boy, Clayton Thomas, who visited the Weeds the night before. During the visit, Clayton—a rather earnest and immature young man—announced his engagement to Anne Murchison. To his own horror, Francis finds himself telling his caller that he cannot recommend Clayton Thomas, that in fact the boy is a thief. Recoiling at what he has done, Francis telephones a psychiatrist.
The story ends with a view of Francis building a coffee table in the cellar of his house: The psychiatrist has recommended woodworking as therapy. He is absorbed in “the holy smell of new wood”; for the moment, at least, his crisis seems to have been resolved in a straightforward way. Life is back to normal.