(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Delphine d’Albemar is a rich young widow who marries her guardian after her father’s death. Her husband, who was her tutor in childhood, instills in her the best of sentiments and virtues. As a result of her education, however, she does not wish to submit to the dogmas of society or church. Although she is a member of the French nobility, she is a believer in revolutionary doctrine, a dangerous way of thinking in France during the years immediately preceding the French Revolution. In addition, she, unlike most women of her time and position, refuses to let men do her thinking for her. After her husband’s death, which occurs when she is twenty years old, Delphine is emotionally, intellectually, and financially independent.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Delphine proposes giving away a large part of her fortune to Matilda, a relative of her husband and the daughter of Delphine’s close friend, Madame de Vernon. Despite the warnings of Mademoiselle d’Albemar, Delphine’s sister-in-law, that Madame de Vernon is a very treacherous person, the gift is made so that Matilda can marry Léonce Mondeville, a Spanish nobleman. No one met Léonce Mondeville, for the marriage was arranged by Matilda’s mother, a longtime friend of the proposed bridegroom’s mother.

When Mondeville arrives in Paris, he meets his future wife and Delphine. Much to Delphine’s dismay, she falls in love with him and he with her. To Delphine, who bestowed on Matilda the fortune that is making the marriage possible, it seems that fate plays its worst trick of irony. For a time, it seems as if the two lovers might find a way out of the difficulty. As her confidant in the problem, Delphine takes Matilda’s own mother, Madame de Vernon. Matilda’s mother has no intention of allowing so advantageous a match to slip through her and her daughter’s fingers, and she plots to turn Mondeville against Delphine.

Meanwhile, Delphine is aiding Madame d’Ervin in a love affair with Monsieur de Serbellane. Because de Serbellane is seen going into Delphine’s house late at night, scandal links her name with his, although he went there to see Madame d’Ervin. A short time later, Madame d’Ervin’s husband surprises the two lovers in Delphine’s home. When de Serbellane kills the husband in a duel, scandal names Delphine as the woman in the case. Delphine, desiring to maintain her friend’s honor, does not relate the true cause of the quarrel that precipitates the duel. Anxious to clear herself with Mondeville, however, Delphine asks Madame de Vernon to act as her friend. Instead of telling what really happened, the older woman tells him that Delphine and de Serbellane are...

(The entire section is 1098 words.)