(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Professor Arnold Rubek, a noted sculptor, and his young wife Maia return to their home on the coast of Norway after four years abroad. At the baths and the hotel they admit to being bored, and to break the summer tedium they plan to sail northward around the coast. Rubek becomes world-renowned with the fashioning of his masterpiece, “The Resurrection Day,” and success brings him worldly riches. Other visitors at the baths are a sportsman named Ulfheim, called the bear-killer, and a strange pale woman, Madame von Satow, who, with a companion dressed in black, takes the nearby pavilion for the summer. As Rubek and Ulfheim converse, the dark Sister passes from the pavilion to the hotel, and Ulfheim says her passing is a portent of death. Maia accepts his invitation to see his sledge dogs fed, but Rubek remains seated on the lawn. The lady in white emerges from the pavilion. Rubek feels strangely drawn to her. Years before, he wanted to create a sculpture that would represent Woman awakening from the dead on the Resurrection Day after the sleep of death. After he found Irene, he saw in her the perfect model for his composition, and she became his great inspiration. Irene wanted his human love, but he felt that if he touched her his soul would be profaned.

Now Rubek recognizes the strange woman in white as Irene. When he questions her about her life since she left him, she declares that she died then and is not really alive now, though she married a South American diplomat who later committed suicide, and then a Russian who owned gold mines in the Urals. Rubek admits that after she left him he made no marble creations of lasting beauty but instead began doing portrait busts that were, literally, double-faced, because behind the visible face he hid the face of the animal that the artist maliciously considered the subject of the portrait to be. He tells Irene that he and Maia are leaving the next day on a sea voyage. She suggests that he might prefer the mountains where she is going. At that moment Maia returns and announces that she will not make the sea voyage; instead, she wants to go to the mountains with the bear-killer. To her surprise Rubek does not object. Maia runs out to inform Ulfheim. Meanwhile, unseen near the pavilion door, the Sister of Mercy watches intently.

The next day the bear-killer goes off to hunt with his...

(The entire section is 959 words.)