Chapter 16 Summary
During the next few days, Ralph continues to reflect on his marriage. He realizes that it was three years ago, in Italy, that he felt his happiness had “brimmed over.” Now he believes that in brimming over, his gladness spilled out and now his cup is left completely empty. His marriage, he feels, is only being kept alive through his constant measures to resuscitate it, as if it were a drowned body into which he continues to force breath. He refuses to give up his marriage for dead. He has been afraid of facing the truth that his marriage is a failure.
Undine is also aware of a drastic change in her husband. After she missed their son’s birthday, she has noticed a silence in Ralph, as if he has given up the fight to save their marriage. Whereas Ralph continues to view Undine as his wife no matter how loveless their marriage has proven to be, Undine begins thinking of divorce.
For now, though, Undine is enjoying her social position. She has finally become the beautiful woman with whom New York society “must reckon.” If she could only find the means with which to live as fully as she wants, she would be completely content. Ralph is “sweet,” she concludes, though she is often bored with his advice on how to be more frugal and how to keep herself safe from characters such as Peter Van Degen. The issue of money has been the biggest point of contention between Undine and Ralph. Now that this is temporarily allayed by Peter’s generous offer, Undine relaxes her feelings for her husband. However, Ralph’s recent silence has unnerved her.
As the winter draws on, Undine again becomes restless. Although she buys no new clothes because the money from Peter has dwindled down to almost nothing, she turns to her house. If she cannot move, she can at least redecorate. With her usual extravagance, Undine orders new curtains, rugs, and furniture, and the resulting bills aggravate her husband’s nerves. In consequence, Undine has a “nervous breakdown,” which adds to the budget deficit because she requires doctors and special care.
After she is feeling better, Undine meets with Peter Van Degen. He complains that she has not made any payments on any of the loans he has given her. This is an insinuation that Undine has not shared with Peter any sexual favors. To add pressure to the situation, Peter announces that he is going to Paris on the first of April. Undine senses that she is losing her benefactor. Peter suggests that Undine go to Paris with him. She reminds him that she is married. His retort is that he is too, as if this should not keep them from enjoying one another.