Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1172
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 threat that he will divorce her for adultery if she does not agree to drop Israel, he forces her to leave for Spain with him the following day.
The Dodsworths wander across Spain into Italy and, finally, on to Germany and Berlin, and Sam has ample time to observe his wife. Increasingly he notes her self-centeredness, her pretentiousness, but his pity for her restlessness makes him fonder of her. At the home of the Biedners, Fran’s cousins in Berlin, the Dodsworths met Kurt Obersdorf, a ruined Austrian nobleman. Kurt takes them to places of interest in Berlin and becomes Fran’s dancing companion.
When the news comes that the Dodsworths are grandparents, for Emily now has a boy, they do not sail for home. In fact, they do not tell their friends of the baby’s birth because Fran fears that, as a grandmother, she will seem old and faded to them. When Sam goes to Paris to welcome Tubby and his wife, abroad for the first time, Fran remains in Berlin.
Sam and Tubby enjoy themselves in Paris. Then Sam, driven by a longing to see his wife, flies back to Berlin. That night, Fran announces that she and Kurt decided to marry and that she wants a divorce. Sam agrees, on the condition that she wait a month before starting proceedings. Sadly, Dodsworth leaves for Paris and from there goes on to Italy. While he is sitting on the piazza in Venice and reading one of Fran’s letters, he sees Edith Cortright, a widow whom the Dodsworths met during their earlier trip to Italy. Edith invites Sam home to tea with her, and on his second visit, he tells her about his separation from Fran.
Sam spends most of the summer with Edith and her Italian friends. He begins to gain a new self-confidence when he finds that he is liked and respected by these new acquaintances, who admire him and are satisfied with him as he is. He grows to love Edith, and they decide to return to America together. Then Sam receives a letter from Fran telling him that she dropped divorce proceedings because Kurt’s mother objects to his marriage to a divorced American.
Without saying good-bye to Edith, Sam rejoins Fran, homeward bound. He tries patiently to share her unhappiness and loneliness, but before long, Fran is her old self, implying that Sam is at fault for the failure of their marriage and flirting with a young polo player aboard ship. After breakfast one morning, Sam sends a wireless to Edith, making arrangements to meet her in Venice. When the boat docks in New York, Sam leaves his wife forever. Three days later, he sails again to Italy and to Edith.
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