Chapter 13 Summary

Pure Story

Braithwaite is a doctor; he knows the script to recite to the surviving spouse when a patient dies: Take two of these and develop a hobby. Give it time.

When Ellen died, however, he found that mourning is "full of time; nothing but time." He has tried unsuccessfully to alleviate the misery with drinking and working. He has his "dead foreigner" to distract him. He notes that people think he wants to talk about it, but he quotes from Madame Bovary: "Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity."

Whenever he thinks of Ellen, he thinks of a hail storm that smashed through Rouen, wrecking Croisset's glass melon cloches. Flaubert was delighted and remarked that people think the sun is only there for growing cabbages. After several false starts, Braithwaite gives a short summary of Ellen's life. She was an only child, much loved, easily bruised, and promiscuous. She had had lovers before the children were born and resumed having affairs when they were grown. He was always faithful, and she was always nice. He had no interest in other women. She pursued her interests in other men. He was hurt, but he continued to love her. She lied to him only about her lovers. Unlike Emma Bovary, she did not "coarsen" or overspend. She seemed always the same. Perhaps he loved her more than she could stand to be loved. Braithwaite wonders if he drove her to other men with his doting—maybe he irritated her.

Braithwaite had thought that they were "happy enough" together, but now he is wracked with doubt. Were they happy or unhappy? Is it enough to be happy enough? In middle age, she grew depressed and measured out a proper dosage to killed herself. Her life had been full of all the usual things: husband, children, home, hobbies, plus the lovers. She'd had no thwarted ambitions. She was healthy. He does not believe she suffered from guilt, though he says that her secret life and her secret despair were equally inaccessible to him.

Braithwaite recalls the horrible deaths of Flaubert and others unfortunate enough to die in the nineteenth century. Death, he says, has improved. Ellen, on life support, had not wished to live, and he, as husband and doctor, switched her off. Books come with explanations for why people do what they do. Life comes without explanations.