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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 853

As the story opens, with George Silverton, a solicitor’s clerk, entering his darkened house after a day’s work, there is an immediate sense of unease. George is evidently a sour, dry, secretive man who resents everything about his wife Evadne—her exotic beauty, which can sometimes change to ugliness; her quick,...

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As the story opens, with George Silverton, a solicitor’s clerk, entering his darkened house after a day’s work, there is an immediate sense of unease. George is evidently a sour, dry, secretive man who resents everything about his wife Evadne—her exotic beauty, which can sometimes change to ugliness; her quick, emotional response to things that he regards as trivial; her small, sensual pleasures; and above all her apparent refusal to respond to or even, perhaps, notice his growing irritation.

All of this might seem to be typical of the situation between an ill-matched husband and wife. As the author describes George’s life before marriage, however, George emerges as a misogynist with a neurotic fear and hatred of sex. He had cherished the idea of wife-desertion as a justifiable way for a man to cleanse himself of what he called “the secret obscenity of women.” He married Evadne in the belief that they shared a bond of spiritual purity but quickly came to the conclusion that her interest in the marriage was purely physical. This disgusted him.

Ten years later, he feels cheated and physically defiled. The crisis point is reached when a letter arrives enclosing a handbill announcing that Mrs. Evadne Silverton is to speak at a public meeting in support of Stephen Langton, a Socialist candidate for the town council. Although George is a radical, in the mild reformist meaning of the term, the word “socialism” and the sight of Evadne’s name—his surname—on the handbill appall him. His evaluation of his wife as a woman of emotional and intellectual triviality is undermined by his refusal to acknowledge even to himself that she has become a popular and respected political speaker and writer.

Political bigotry becomes mixed up with sexual bigotry. He tells her that Langton is a man of low morals, and when Evadne tries to defend him, he accuses her of being a “slut” and threatens to throw her out of the house if she speaks at the meeting. She hides her hurt by going into the kitchen and noisily washing up. George follows her and picks up a knife, as if to throw it at her—a presage of the murderous confrontation at the climax of the story. Evadne’s “weapon”—a soggy dishcloth that she decides not to use—is considerably less lethal. George repeats his threat.

When Evadne gathers her outdoor clothes and dashes out of the house, crying for the first time in their married life, he totally misreads her intention. He is convinced that she is going to meet Langton and that Langton is her lover.

As George, in slippered feet, painfully follows Evadne up a hill and into the green fields and the moors beyond, the wild thoughts of secret assignations and sexual betrayal that clutter his mind match the wildness of the countryside. The idea, expressed earlier, of purification through desertion, takes on urgent force. He is determined to witness his wife’s adultery so he can divorce her and be released forever from sexual contact with her.

His humiliation on discovering that Evadne has simply come out for a swim in the lake to cool herself down after the argument leads to the most blistering thought of all: There is no adultery—and therefore no divorce and no escape. Evadne is infected by the intensity of George’s emotions: The two people confront each other with murderous intent. All of their past petty misunderstandings are stripped away to reveal a profound underlying hatred. Evadne, stronger than George, seems ready to kill him, but the weaker side of her nature prevails and he strikes her first. As she falls, she drags him down with her into a raging river.

A long, agonizing description of George’s struggle in the water, crashing painfully against the rocky banks, ends when he manages to grasp hold of a mooring ring. Having hauled himself out, he puts his feet into the water again and strikes a soft surface, which he identifies as the curve of Evadne’s back. He pushes her under the water and holds her down.

Making his painful way home, he has several changes of mood. He is buoyed up with pride in his own strength and masterfulness; then chastened by the thought that he will be hanged for murder; then elated again as he visualizes the ultimate solution—suicide, by gas, in his bedroom. He will thus demonstrate his own strength of purpose and achieve the dignity of purification by death.

The discovery that Evadne, having escaped from what he had imagined to be his deathblow, is now sprawled asleep, wet and muddy, on the bed that he had planned for his own noble death scene, is his final humiliation. He cannot even gas himself, for Evadne has, with her customary thrift, turned off the gas at the mains. Resignedly, he gets into the bed beside her. Her arms slip around him—a warm, unaffected gesture indicating that life will go on as before. This symbol of Evadne’s resilience is perceived by George as total defeat.

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