*Normandy. Largely agricultural region on western France’s Atlantic coast in which the novel’s fundamental settings—both literal and symbolic—are established in the opening chapter. In that chapter’s very first image, seventeen-year-old Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds looks out over rainy Rouen, a major city in Normandy. She has just left a convent after spending five years within its walls absorbing a proper education. She awaits her father, who will take her home to the country again.
Walls are one key motif that appears early in the novel—the walls of the convent, the confines of the city. Indeed, Jeanne looks forward to returning to the family estate, Les Peuples, where she and her parents will spend the summer. The convent is thus constraint, while the beautiful countryside is the essence of freedom: sun, open pastures, trees and flowers, the seaside. The landscape seems to Jeanne to represent a bright, wide-open future.
Les Peuples (lay PUHP-luh). Perthuis family estate. Jeanne longs for—dreams of—freedom. Indeed, “dreams” may be the novel’s key word. But ultimately, one might argue that Jeanne’s dreams are her weakness. She expects life to conform to her fantasies of perfection—her dreams of a great passion, a handsome lover, the perfect marriage and family. She marries a local nobleman of low degree, Julien de Lamare. According to plan, Jeanne’s parents give the newlyweds Les Peuples as their home.
Instead of fulfilling Jeanne’s dream of freedom, her beloved...
(The entire section is 649 words.)