Last Updated on May 15, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454
The story begins with Charles and Eleanor determined to retain their freedom within their marriage, which they insist will not ‘‘touch the individuality of either; that was to be preserved intact.’’ Priding themselves on their progressive attitudes, they make an unconventional decision to separate for most of the year while Eleanor pursues her desire to study French. After they part, each feels the pang of separation, but they are confident in the rightness of ‘‘a situation that offered the fulfillment of a cherished purpose.’’
Soon, however, jealousy interferes with the couple’s determination to maintain their personal freedom. Charles’s loneliness prompts him to seek out the company of the Beatons, especially their young, attractive daughter Kitty. Assuming that reason will temper any other emotion, he tells Eleanor of his attraction to the girl. Naturally, Eleanor cannot contain her jealousy and delays her customary letter to Charles. When the letter finally arrives, it contains ‘‘an inexplicable coldness.’’ Charles experiences his own bout with jealousy when he arrives in Paris. After he comes across a handsome Parisian in the company of his wife, he becomes uneasy. His mood affects his vision of the beautiful city as he finds ‘‘the inadequacy of every thing that is offered to his contemplation or entertainment.’’
His jealousy ‘‘drove him to ugly thoughts,’’ which are compounded when he sees Eleanor and the Frenchman in high spirits, riding in a carriage. Incensed, Charles contemplates tearing ‘‘the scoundrel from his seat and paint the boulevard red with his villainous blood.’’ He is eventually able to temper his emotions with reason. Yet, the incident prompts him to reevaluate his insistence on freedom in marriage. He admits, ‘‘here was the first test, and should he be the one to cry out, ‘I cannot endure it.’’’
By the end of the story, the dynamic of Charles and Eleanor’s relationship shifts from freedom to repression. Both have already experienced emotions that, they determine, need to be repressed because they are illogical. Yet Charles’s suspicions of Eleanor’s potential infidelity prompt him ‘‘to wonder if there might not be modifications to this marital liberty of which he was so staunch an advocate.’’
Eleanor also comes to the conclusion that absolute freedom of expression is not appropriate in a successful relationship. When Charles is stunned by her admission of jealousy in response to his feelings for Kitty, she admits, ‘‘I have found that there are certain things which a woman can’t philosophize about, any more than she can about death when it touches that which is near to her.’’ Ultimately, her desire to strengthen her relationship with her husband supersedes her desire for independence, and she decides to return home with Charles.
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