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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1903, Sam Dodsworth marries Fran Voelker, whom he met at the Canoe Club while he was assistant superintendent at the Zenith Locomotive works. Five years later, Sam became vice president and general manager of production for the Revelation Automobile Company. By 1925, the Dodsworths have two children, Emily, who is about to be married, and Brent, who is studying at Yale. When Sam sells his factory to the Unit Automotive Company, he and Fran decide to go to Europe for a leisurely vacation, a second honeymoon.

The first night out on the S.S. Ultima, Sam meets Major Clyde Lockert in the smoking room. Lockert, who says he grows cocoa in British Guiana, quickly becomes friends with Fran and, while Sam looks on like an indulgent parent, squires her about. He continues to see the Dodsworths after they arrive in London. Fran is snobbishly pleased when he takes them to visit his cousins, Lord and Lady Herndon. Between them, Fran and Lockert make Sam feel almost like an outsider. He is a failure at the dinner party the Herndons give, for he is unable to discuss cricket or polo, and he has no opinions about the Russian situation.

One evening, Hurd, manager of the London branch of the Revelation Motor Company, invites Sam to a gathering, along with about thirty representatives of American firms. Sam is surprised to learn that few of them want to go back to the United States except, perhaps, for a visit. They all prefer the leisure and freedom from moral restraint that their adopted land affords. These arguments make Sam see Europe in a different light.

When he returns to the hotel, he finds Fran in tears. Lockert took her out that evening and, on their return, tried to make love to her. Fran, ashamed of the situation and sure that Lockert will laugh at her, asks that they leave for France as soon as possible. They start four days later.

France is a new experience for Sam. When Fran is willing to go sightseeing, he is able to see Paris and observe its people. He is less satisfied when she chooses to be fashionable and take tea at the Crillon with other American tourists. The more he sees of the country, however, the more convinced Sam becomes that he cannot understand the French. In the back of his mind, he is afraid that his inability to accept foreign ways, and Fran’s willingness to adopt them, will drive them apart. He feels lonely for his old friend Tubby Pearson, president of the Zenith Bank.

Before long, Fran has many friends among expatriate Americans of the international set. Given her constant visits to dressmakers and a portrait painter, as well as outings with the leisured young men who escort her and her friends, she and Sam see less and less of each other. When he goes home for his college class reunion that summer, he leaves Fran to take a villa with one of her new friends. He is to join her again in the fall, so that they might go on to the East together.

Back in New York, Sam feels, at first, as if he has become a stranger to the life of noise and hurry he previously took for granted. Nor is he interested in the newest model Revelation that quite competently was developed without his aid. He discovers also that he and his son no longer share common ground. Brent is planning to sell bonds. The newly married Emily, her father observes, is the very capable manager of her own home and needs no assistance. Even Sam’s best friend, Tubby Pearson, goes on without him to new poker-playing and golfing companions.

At first, his letters from Fran are lively and happy. Then she quarrels with the friend who shares her villa over one of their escorts, Arnold Israel, a Jew. Sam grows increasingly anxious as he realizes that the man is trailing Fran from one resort to another and that their relationship is becoming increasingly more intimate. He makes sailing reservations and cables his wife to meet him in Paris.

Sam has no difficulty discovering that his wife was unfaithful to him; she admits as much during their stormy reunion in Paris. With...

(The entire section is 1,172 words.)