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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

The unnamed narrator, a French professor at a New England women’s college, runs into D., whom he has not seen for several years, and hears about the recent death of Cynthia Vane. Four years earlier, the narrator knew D. and Cynthia in the small town where he still teaches literature. He is surprised to find D., a former instructor at his school, revisiting the site of unpleasant memories. D.’s shame is an extramarital affair that he had conducted with Cynthia’s younger sister, Sybil, who was one of the narrator’s students.

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Cynthia once summoned the narrator to Boston and begged him to make D. end his relationship with her sister and to have D. kicked out of the college if he refused to comply. When the narrator met with D., the latter told him that he had already decided to end the relationship; he was about to quit his teaching job and join his father’s firm in Albany, New York. The next day, Sybil seemed normal when she took her examination in the narrator’s French literature class. Later, however, when the narrator read her essay, he found it full “of a kind of desperate conscientiousness, with underscores, transposes, unnecessary footnotes, as if she were intent on rounding up things in the most respectable manner possible.” At its end it contained what appeared to be a suicide note:Cette examain est finie ainsi que ma vie. Adieu, jeunes filles! Please, Monsieur le Professeur, contact ma soeur and tell her that Death was not better than D minus, but definitely better than Life minus D.

Immediately after reading this note the narrator phoned Cynthia, who told him that Sybil was already dead, then rushed to see her. As Cynthia read Sybil’s note, the narrator pointed out its grammatical mistakes. Amused by her sister’s use of an exclamation mark, Cynthia was strangely pleased by its trivialities. She then took the narrator to Sybil’s room to show him two empty pill bottles and the bed from which her body was removed.

After Cynthia moved to New York a...

(The entire section contains 535 words.)

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