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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 521

In chronicling a marriage and its disintegration, William Dean Howells begins with the courtship of Bartley Hubbard and Marcia Gaylord. Bartley, though he began as a poor orphan, has worked his way through college and now writes for the small town Maine newspaper where Marcia’s father is the editor. Bartley, a smart but casual young man, is popular because of his “free, joking way.” Bartley’s ambition includes moving to the big city, which they do after they marry rather suddenly, without a proper wedding. The young man is very self-centered, however; Howells makes it clear that their love matters more to the bride.

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The spectacle of a love affair in which the woman gives more of her heart than the man gives of his is so pitiable that we are apt to attribute a kind of merit to her, as if it were a voluntary self-sacrifice for her to love more than her share.

Before long, Bartley is getting his articles accepted and published and is elected to a newsman’s club. Howells describes the zeal with which the club's young writers pursue their stories.

To each of those young men, beginning the strangely fascinating life as reporters and correspondents, his paper was as dear as his king once was to a French noble; to serve it night and day, to wear himself out for its sake, to merge himself in its glory, and to live in its triumphs without personal recognition from the public, was the loyal devotion which each expected his sovereign newspaper to accept as its simple right.

Putting together every dime they can, they manage to buy a house. But sooner than the couple anticipates, Marcia is pregnant, and they have a daughter. Bartley spends more time pursuing stories and out with his cronies. Drinking too much and living off credit, Bartley deludes himself that he is in control of the situation. When he crosses the line into plagiarism, Marcia is furious when she finds out. He realizes their relationship has changed.

[T]here had been an alienation in her behavior toward him, different from any former resentment. She was submissive and quiescent; she looked carefully after his comfort, and was perfect in her housekeeping; but she held aloof from him somehow, and left him to a solitude in her presence in which he fancied, if he did not divine, her contempt.

After another quarrel, when Marcia accuses him of having an affair with a woman from back home, Hubbard impulsively decides to leave. Without thinking things through, he sets off for the train to Chicago. This will ultimately mark the end of their marriage.

He . . . hurried away through the rain to the Albany Depot, where he bought a ticket for Chicago. There was as yet nothing definite in his purpose, beyond the fact that he was to be rid of her: whether for a long or short time, or forever, he did not yet know; whether he meant ever to communicate with her, or seek or suffer a reconciliation, the locomotive that leaped westward into the dark with him knew as well as he.

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