(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator goes night after night to a theater in Paris to sit at the feet of Aurélie, an actress who approximates his distant feminine ideal. Aurélie remains distant. She is said to love a pale young man who echoes the romantic ideal then in fashion in a society where the narrator seems to be a marginal participant. When the narrator leaves Paris and returns to the Valois in the countryside, he remains equally an outsider, referred to by his old friends as “the Parisian.”

Several associations, begun when a newspaper headline reminds him of a country festival from his past, have prompted the narrator to hasten to the Valois in time to see his childhood friend Sylvie at an all-night dance honoring Saint Bartholomew’s Day. His destination, however, recalls another festival, at which he once abandoned Sylvie for the fascinating but unattainable Adrienne. A daughter of a noble family of the region, Adrienne had enchanted him with her singing, but her family expected her to follow a religious vocation.

Back in the country, the narrator quickly finds Sylvie. Once again he is torn between two societies, a somewhat mythic past that he associates with Adrienne and the traditions she represented, and the present, where Sylvie lives. Alone on a path at night, he alternately races toward a convent that may house Adrienne and the village where, in the morning, he is reunited with Sylvie.

Sylvie seems to appropriate some of the...

(The entire section is 458 words.)