The name of the narrator is not given in "Europe," nor is his exact age, though he is younger than all of the women in the Rimmle household. He is a worldly and well-traveled fellow who speaks of the excitement of cities such as Boston and New York; he has been to Europe several times. He is drawn to the Old World charms of the Rimmle household, and later in the story, he seems hypnotically drawn to revisit the Rimmles time and again, even as the behavior of the women of the household grows stranger.
The narrator exhibits delicate empathy at certain points in the story, especially with the three daughters—elderly spinsters who long to escape the suffocating atmosphere that has been created by their mother. For old Mrs. Rimmle, the narrator has little empathy and exhibits some ruthlessness: he actually wonders if it would be better for everyone if Mrs. Rimmle were killed or encouraged to commit suicide. But he also shows a begrudging, incredulous respect for the old woman, whom he refers to as a "witch" by the end of the story.
Though the narrator does all he can to advise the three daughters and to tell them what he knows about Europe based on his own trips there, he rarely breaks the boundaries of propriety. He does not offer to help any of the daughters. He is basically an observer and shrewdly assesses the situation in the household, and then he leaves.
Mrs. Rimmle is an ancient woman, the matriarch of the Brookbridge family. She has three surviving daughters and is a widow; her husband died thirty years before this tale begins. There is a rumor that Mrs. Rimmle is 110 years old. This is not substantiated, but her daughters are fairly elderly, so it could be true. Also, there is evidence—in the photographs, sketches, and framed letters on the walls—that she and her former husband took an early trip to Europe around the time of the Battle of Waterloo, which happened in 1815. Assuming that this story takes place around the time it was published (in 1899), Mrs. Rimmle seems very old indeed.
Mrs. Rimmle is never seen moving in the story. She is exclusively seen by the narrator sitting in her chair in her parlor. She is waited on hand and foot by her spinster daughters. She wears an old-fashioned head cap. Her demeanor is generally calm, at least during the first part of the story, when all three of her daughters are still at home.
The narrator notes, however, that when he is telling her daughters about Europe, she looks at him with a “cold calm” expression and seems to be accusing him of something. She is a manipulative old woman, and she does not like to be crossed. When any of her daughters actually makes a plan for anyone to go to Europe, Mrs. Rimmle falls “deathly ill,” and the plans must once again be postponed. For reasons that are never made clear, Mrs. Rimmle has no intention of leaving her home again, and she does not want her daughters to leave, either. Mrs. Rimmle likes Europe as a fantasy and nothing more.
Mrs. Rimmle is upset when her daughter Jane dares to escape the household and travel to Europe. Mrs. Rimmle is thrown out of her routine by this move, and she is clearly unnerved. She repeats the words "My daughter has been; my daughter has been—" over and over, referring to Jane’s absence. She also tells the narrator, “She reached New York this morning—she comes on to-day." But daughters Becky and Maria confirm that Jane has not returned: this is only a delusion Mrs. Rimmle has.
Jane never returns, and Mrs. Rimmle descends into madness. She invents the fiction that Jane has died in Europe, and then when Becky actually does die, Mrs. Rimmle tells the narrator that Becky has also gone to Europe. Europe is this woman’s mode of madness. She shuts out reality, and the narrator refers to her as a “wonderful old witch,” the “centenarian mummy” who still sits “in the high chair and the...
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