A Woman's Life Summary
In the spring of 1819, Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds and her parents go to live in an old chateau, The Poplars, on the Normandy coast. Baron Simon-Jacques Le Perthuis des Vauds was left a large inheritance, but he so reduces it by his freehandedness that he is eventually forced to reconcile himself for the remainder of his days to a simple country life.
Jeanne, who spent the preceding five years in a convent, looks forward happily to her new life and dreams of the day when she will find the man who loves her. All her expectations are fulfilled. She finds a beautiful countryside to wander over and the sea to bathe in and to sail on. She meets a neighbor, the handsome young Viscount Julien de Lamare, who comes to call, and they quickly become good friends. When the baron presents his daughter with a boat, he invites the village priest and his acolytes to christen it. To Jeanne, the ceremony seems like a wedding, and under the spell of her illusion, she accepts his proposal when Julien asks her to marry him. The wedding takes place that summer, six weeks after they became engaged.
At Jeanne’s wish, the couple journeys to Corsica on their honeymoon. She was romantically in love with her husband before her marriage, but during the two months she is away from home with him her emotion grows into a passion. Thus she is amazed, when they stop in Paris on their way home, to find that Julien is not perfect. She gives him her filled purse, her mother’s present, to look after, and when she requests it back to buy some gifts for her family, he gruffly refuses to dole out more than a hundred francs. Jeanne is afraid to ask for more.
When Jeanne and Julien return to The Poplars, Julien takes over the management of the estate. During the long, monotonous days of winter, he begins to wear old clothes and he no longer bothers to shave. He pays little attention to his wife. Having sold the carriage horses to save the cost of their feed, he uses the tenants’ nags and becomes furious when Jeanne and her parents laugh at the ugly team.
In January, Jeanne’s parents go to Rouen and leave the young couple alone. It is then that Jeanne becomes completely disillusioned with her husband. One day, the maid, her foster sister Rosalie, has a child. Julien insists that the mother and her illegitimate infant should be sent off immediately, but Jeanne, who is fond of Rosalie, opposes him. A few weeks later, she finds the pair in bed together.
The shock is so great that Jeanne can only think of getting away from her husband. Still in her nightclothes, she runs out of the house to the edge of the cliffs that hang over the sea. There Julien finds her and brings her back to the house before she can jump. For several weeks, the young wife is ill as the result of her exposure. When she begins to recover and has an opportunity to convince her parents of her discovery, Rosalie confesses that Julien seduced her on the first day he came to call at the house.
The maid and her baby are sent away. Jeanne prefers separation from her husband, but the knowledge that she is pregnant and the priest’s intercession on Julien’s behalf cause her to agree to a reconciliation.
Jeanne’s baby is born in July, nearly a year after her marriage. She lavishes all the love that Julien does not accept on the infant Paul. After the baby’s birth, the de Lamares become friendly with their neighbors, the Count and Countess de Fourville. The count is passionately in love with his wife, Gilberte de Fourville, but she rides alone with Julien almost every day. One morning, as Jeanne is walking her horse through the woods where Julien proposed, she finds her husband’s and Gilberte’s horses tied together.
Shortly afterward, the baroness dies after an illness that kept her partly crippled for many years. To Jeanne, who was deeply attached to her mother, it comes as a great shock to find that she, too, was not above an affair, documented in the letters she saved.
Jeanne keeps the secret of...
(The entire section is 1,432 words.)