Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1205
The difference in the way Fanny and Jane wait for a letter from Farou, who is in Paris, points up the contrast between their personalities. The beautiful, heavy-set Fanny, whose dark Mediterranean beauty had long ago won Farou’s devotion, sleeps on the sofa, while Jane, a thin, nervous, ash-blond woman nearly thirty years old, stands weeping quietly on the veranda. Fanny’s stepson, Jean, awakes her when the letter arrives. Farou writes enthusiastically about a young lady who is obviously his new mistress. Fanny is amazed at Jane’s violent reaction to this news and wonders why, despite her companion’s affection and indispensability, she does not regard Jane as a close friend.
Fanny’s and Jane’s lives quicken with Farou’s return. Jane is happy, busy taking dictation as Farou works on his play. To Fanny, Farou’s roaring voice and the murmur of the bees sounds in the heat like the office of the Mass. Farou’s immense presence completely absorbs them. When Fanny is alone with him, it is clear that she both depends upon him and supports him. He is her one love, and in this knowledge she is proud. Farou and his son are uneasy when together. Jean has developed an unhappy passion for Jane, and he watches her and Farou very closely. When Jane goes for a walk, he climbs into the lime tree to see where she went.
Farou’s establishment dates from a time before his plays had become successful. At one point, Jean had contracted typhus, Farou’s last play had failed, and the secretary had left. Then Jane arrived; she nursed Jean, worked for Farou, and established an easy relationship of affection and respect with Fanny. After the crisis passed, Jane begged to stay, and the Farous were glad to keep her on as a secretary for Farou and a companion for Fanny.
Soon afterward, the family leaves for their first summer in the Franche-Comté, and they are now spending their second summer there. During the hot days, Fanny, whose intelligence is more an emotional awareness than an intellectual penetration, cannot consider Jean and his father objectively. The household revolves around Farou, and they all rejoice when he sells a play. Their practical dependence on Jane continues. Jean’s restlessness increases, and at last he wins Farou’s unwilling permission to leave France for South America after the summer.
Once, when Jean and Fanny are on the balcony and hear Jane and Farou talking in the garden, Jean leaps to the wall to watch them. Fanny joins him. Both are suddenly aware of the intimate nature of Jane’s relationship with Farou. When Farou returns to the balcony, Fanny feels nothing but unaltered devotion toward him. Only later does she feel vulnerable, even indignant that she should have been pulled into one of Farou’s affairs. This realization, however, does not significantly alter her feelings for Jane.
Fanny sleeps little that night. At dawn she hears Jane moving about. Fanny realizes that she is disturbed by the fact that Jane, too, suffers over Farou and that no longer does she alone, as it were, possess his unfaithfulness. The sight of Farou sleeping intensifies her emotions of hurt and tenderness and emphasizes her need for self-control.
One morning, Fanny finds Jean lying on the path leading from the village where she had been to shop. He fainted from the heat and from his agony over Jane and Farou’s relationship. He is scornful of the telegram Fanny is bringing, a message that summons Farou to Paris, and he mocks its theatricality. Farou, meeting them, calls Jane to arrange their return to Paris. Fanny becomes convinced that her moral duty is to feel wounded, but instead she is afraid of the possible disruption in their lives. Jean is angered by her obvious lack of pride and emotion.
Surprisingly, Fanny is regretful when they leave the house the next day. Farou teases Jane, who immediately tells him to help Fanny. Suddenly, Fanny remembers how often Jane had done that. In the train, Jane tries to persuade Fanny to read or sleep, but Fanny declares that she is managing very well. Then she is surprised to find that what she had said is true.
In Paris, Fanny entertains the friends who gather around toward the end of rehearsals for Farou’s new play. Farou is harsh and demanding with Jane. Fanny scolds him and defends Jane—terrified that their relationship will somehow be exposed. The women dine together after Farou leaves for the theater. When Jean finds them amicably reading, he taunts Jane for her endless companionship with Fanny, a relationship he despises because he thinks it hypocritical.
Farou’s nervousness and Fanny’s jealousy and feeling of responsibility increases as the confusions of the rehearsals continue. One day, upon returning from her dressmaker, Fanny sees Farou kiss Jane. She realizes then that she will have to face the fear of desertion within her own home, which had previously been inviolate. Hoping that they had not seen her, Fanny pretends to be ill. Jane and Farou are solicitous, but Jean, because of his own obsession with Jane, is anxious only to learn what exactly has upset Fanny. When Farou returns home exhausted from the rehearsal, Fanny pretends to be asleep instead of soothing him; her loss is at least as great as his.
By the time of the dress rehearsal, Fanny is utterly exhausted, and Jane and Jean are tense. Farou is approaching the state of boredom from which he always suffers when a new play is finally out of his hands. After the rehearsal, critics pronounce the play strong, direct, and dynamic. Fanny wonders whether Farou’s reputation, if he had been small and wiry instead of being massive and having the head of a pagan god, would have been for subtlety and insight instead of force and power. On the way home, Fanny fears that the relaxation after weeks of strain might precipitate a crisis in the taxi. She dreads the prospect that this might happen before she has time to prepare herself for it or while she is not protected by the familiarities of her home.
The next day, Fanny reluctantly tells Jane that she knows that Farou is her lover. She is discomposed when Jane sees the matter as a joint problem. They keep reasonably calm. Jane appeals to her friendship, explaining that she is no longer Farou’s mistress and reproaching herself because she has helped to create the situation by disregarding Farou’s infidelities in the past. Farou interrupts them and, discovering the situation, wonders why Fanny has spoken at all. He reminds her that it is she who has always commanded his greatest passion and devotion. This fact makes him confident that Fanny will reorder their lives satisfactorily.
Fanny and Jane spend the rest of that evening together. As Jane prepares to leave, Fanny realizes that she could not bear to be alone, abandoned to Farou’s moods, absences, and frequent inarticulateness. Gently, and with only a few words, it is arranged that Jane should stay and that in this solution will lie a measure of security for them all.
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