Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1309

A young widow, Giulietta, the marquise of O——, has placed a notice in the newspaper announcing that she is pregnant and does not know how she came to be pregnant. The notice says that she will marry the man who presents himself as the father of her child. The marquise...

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A young widow, Giulietta, the marquise of O——, has placed a notice in the newspaper announcing that she is pregnant and does not know how she came to be pregnant. The notice says that she will marry the man who presents himself as the father of her child. The marquise already has children and enjoys the respect of her family and community. Her father is a colonel and in command of a fortress, and her late husband, the marquis, had died on a business trip to Paris. After his death, she was urged home by her mother, and she has been living with her parents quietly, pursuing her own education and that of her children while caring for her parents.

War breaks out, disturbing the marquise’s tranquil retreat. Before she and her mother can leave the fort, Russian troops storm in. The wing of the house where the women have taken shelter catches fire, and the marquise flees, separated from her mother and exposed to the invading soldiers. A group of sharpshooters attacks her with the intention of raping her. Russian count F—— comes to her rescue. He fights her attackers, gives her his arm with a polite address in French, and guides her to safety in the other wing of the palace. She perceives her rescuer as an angel. The marquise’s women servants arrive, and the count leaves to return to the fight.

Colonel Lorenzo G——, Giulietta’s father, has been awaiting an opportunity to surrender to the proper authority, and when the count appears he hands over his weapon and asks to see his family. He learns of the attack on his daughter and tells the Russian general who comes to take charge of the fort about the disgraceful behavior of his troops. The count, meanwhile, has been working feverishly to put out the fire in the palace, and when his general asks him to identify the men who insulted the marquise, he says that he was unable to see their faces. The general orders summary execution of the men after finding one wounded participant in the attack who names his partners in crime. The Russian troops, including Count F——, vacate the fort. The marquise tries to contact her hero, but he sends his apologies and does not see her again.

While the family is trying to find a way to thank the count, news arrives that he has been fatally shot in battle, a shot witnessed by the bearer of the message himself. The count’s dying words indicate that the shot is his just punishment for a crime he has committed against a woman named Giulietta. The marquise, hearing this, is amazed that he has been intimate with a woman who shares her first name.

The colonel and his family turn the fort over to the Russian victors and move into a house in the nearby town, where they resume their quiet and ordered life. The daily routine is disrupted when the marquise begins to have symptoms that, in any other woman, she would identify with pregnancy. They all laugh about this impossibility.

The count shocks the family by appearing at their new home. He looks pale, and before they can ask any questions, he inquires about the health of the marquise. She answers that she has been a little ill. He unexpectedly asks her to marry him. The whole family feels astonishment, and they deflect the proposal with questions about his own miraculous recovery from the purportedly fatal bullet wound. He replies that he was on the verge of death and thought only of the marquise. After returning to the army, he reports, he began to write many times, but since he is now en route to deliver messages to Naples, he had decided to come in person. He thinks he will be sent on a longer journey to Saint Petersburg, so he urges an immediate answer to his suit, puzzling the family even more. When he insists on staying with the marquise until she makes a decision—placing him in peril of a court martial—the family decides together that the marquise will wait for him to complete his duty to the army and will then consent, provided the investigation into his lineage and character reveal no obstacles to the match.

The count leaves, and the inquiries proceed with good results. The marquise begins to feel ill again and calls in the family doctor, who states unequivocally that she is pregnant. Greatly distressed, the marquise asks for a midwife, and after an examination, the midwife confirms the pregnancy. The marquise cannot understand her own condition, and her father finds her protested innocence incredible. The colonel dictates a letter to his daughter through his wife, and Giulietta’s tearful mother delivers the verdict that her daughter must leave the house. Giulietta pleads with her father in person. He reaches for his pistol, accidentally firing it into the ceiling. The marquise prepares to leave, and when her father sends for the children, she refuses to part with them.

Strengthened by the knowledge that she is innocent and by her ability to act on her own resolve, she returns to her former husband’s estate to live a cloistered existence. She decides to place a notice in the newspaper, asking for the hand of the father of her child.

The count returns after his longer-than-expected journey and learns that the family has disowned Giulietta because of her pregnancy. He rides at once to find her and discovers her working in the garden of her house. His appearance surprises the marquise. He embraces her and assures her that he fully believes her claim that she is innocent and does not know the father of her child. He reiterates his desire to marry and then kisses her, but she refuses to listen to the secret he wants to whisper—she leaves him. When he returns to the inn where he is staying, he is shown the notice placed by the marquise in the newspaper and recognizes this new opportunity to approach her.

A responding notice appears in the paper requiring the marquise to meet the father of her child at the home of her parents. She contacts her father for permission to meet the unknown man at his house. The colonel suspects a ruse on his daughter’s part, but her mother develops a test of her daughter’s innocence and her father allows her to carry out the plan. The marquise’s mother goes to her daughter with the news that a penniless groom had fathered the child as she slept. Giulietta readily accepts this fiction, proving her purity. Father and daughter are reconciled, though mother insists that the colonel humble himself and ask his daughter’s forgiveness. He does so, and he and the marquise spend hours in his study in a rapt embrace before mother returns and calls them to a joyful dinner.

On the morning when the father of the child is to present himself, the household vibrates with tension. The count appears, wholly unexpected. Although the family is inclined to be relieved that he is the prospective husband and the father, Giulietta refuses to speak with him and storms out of the room. Because of her pregnancy, the marriage continues as planned, and the two are united in a cold, formal ceremony at the church. The count withdraws, and the marquise proceeds with life as if she had no husband.

The child is born and the count has been living in town for some time without attempting to contact or disturb his wife or child in any way. His consistent respect for her wishes finally wins her over. The marquise says that she could only see him as a demon—until now—because she had first seen him as her savior.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615

Although a comedy with several amusing scenes, this tale illustrates serious themes in Kleist’s works: the crisis of trust and the inaccessibility of vital knowledge. The riddle of rape, its moral implications, and the father-daughter relationship in this story have been controversial. Like other Kleist narratives, this one opens with an enigma: a newspaper announcement in which a woman asks that her child’s father, who impregnated her without her knowledge, make himself known so that she can marry him. A long flashback follows to explain how the marquise came to write this.

The marquise’s calm life with her family was rudely interrupted when Russians bombarded the citadel where they lived. Close to being sexually assaulted by enemy soldiers, she was rescued by a Russian count, who brought the fainting woman to a safe place. The Russian army left the next morning, denying the marquise a chance to thank her savior in person.

The count suddenly reappears twice to court the marquise. The first is a surprise because he is believed to have been killed in battle; the second is also a surprise because he enters her garden surreptitiously. His respectful, polite demeanor remains in tension with expressions of emotion, such as blushing and abrupt gestures. The demands of his military career and social conventions constantly thwart his desire to wed the marquise.

Despite her decision not to remarry on principle, there are indications that the marquise feels attracted to the count. Her equilibrium is upset not only by his wooing but also by her own fainting and nausea spells reminiscent of pregnancy. After hearing from a doctor and a midwife that she is pregnant, she is first insulted and then desperate. Catapulted into crisis, she suffers because her body’s condition contradicts her innocent conscience, because her mother condemns her as a deceitful liar, and because her father disowns her and demands she vacate the house.

After this nadir, she begins to be active and angry rather than suffering and depressed. Insisting that her children accompany her and against her father’s command, she moves into her late husband’s estate and begins fixing it up. She resolves to cherish the coming child, though she is bothered that in the world’s eyes it will be illegitimate. At this point she pens the announcement in the paper.

The count’s next two proposals are angrily rebuked by the marquise, who reviles him and runs away. He had renewed his suit after hearing about her pregnancy and her parents disowning her; after that, he turns up in answer to the newspaper advertisement.

Before the unknown father is scheduled to appear, the marquise is reconciled with her parents. Visiting to test her innocence with a ruse, her mother pretends she knows who the father is to see how her daughter reacts. After the marquise passes this test, her mother tearfully reaffirms her faith in the marquise’s innocence. Her mother arranges the reconciliation with her father, the commandant, a scene that has stimulated lots of discussion because of the prolonged passionate kissing between father and daughter.

When the day arrives to meet the baby’s father, all are astonished that the count walks in. Lambasting him as a devil, the marquise takes to her bed with a fever. Her parents’ pleas for her to marry the count fall on deaf ears. Only after he promises to fulfill all the duties of a husband, without enjoying any of his rights, does the marquise agree to this marriage-in-form-only. The count lives apart from her while the baby is born and afterward for about a year. Then the marquise and he joyfully celebrate a second, real marriage.

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