Edna Pontellier grows increasingly bored and dissatisfied with her married life and begins an affair with another man, reawakening her emotions and passions. Set in the late 19th century, the novel begins with Edna, her husband Leonce, and their two children vacationing for the summer at Grand Isle, and island off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. The estate is managed by Madame Lebrun, who maintains and rents out cottages and beach bathhouses to families during the summer. Edna spends the summer socializing with the other wives, particularly Madame Ratignolle, a dedicated housewife, while her husband Leonce spends the day gambling and smoking at the island's club. As the summer progresses, Edna forms a close relationship with Robert Lebrun, Madame Lebrun's son. Robert accompanies her to the beach, watches as Edna sketches, and reads books with her.
Though Edna is comfortable in her life, she begins to feel overwhelmed by the boredom, monotony, and expectation that dominates and dictates her life and her choices. She is often reprimanded by her husband for showing a lack of affection or interest in their children or the household chores. A discussion with Madame Ratignolle reveals that Edna would sacrifice many things for her children, but would never sacrifice herself.
Madame Ratignolle notes Edna and Robert's close relationship. Though she is aware that Robert often flirts with the wives during the summer, she nevertheless warns him to keep his distance and be mindful that Edna may begin to take his show of affection seriously.
A few weeks later, Madame Lebrun hosts a dinner and dancing party for her cottage guests at her home. At the party, Edna asks Robert to request one of the guests, Mademoiselle Reisz, to play a few pieces on the piano. Mademoiselle Reisz, an older, unmarried woman whom no one gets along with except Edna, acquiesces. Edna, simultaneously realizing the passion of the music and the comparative dullness of her own life, is moved to tears by Mademoiselle Reisz's playing. The other guests are similarly affected, and a plan is made to go down to the beach and swim in the moonlight.
At the beach, Edna ventures out into the water, although she had never successfully learned how to swim. On this night, she trusts her body to navigate through the water, and she swims far out into the ocean. As she looks back, she sees her family and the other guests left far behind on the beach. The physical distance she puts between herself and the others represent the mental and emotional distance she feels from the conventions and expectations the guests represent. Later that night, Robert escorts her home.
The next morning, she requests Robert to accompany her to the Cheniere Island for Sunday mass. During the mass, Edna falls ill, and Robert escorts her to his friend's home, where Edna rests for the remainder of the afternoon. After she wakes up from her nap, she spends the rest of the evening with Robert under the orange trees of Cheniere Island, and they return to Grand Isle later that night. Robert then escorts her home. She spends the rest of the night fondly remembering the day she had spent with Robert, and wishes that he had not left.
A few days later while dining at Madame Lebrun's, Edna learns that Robert is leaving for Mexico that very night. Shocked and upset that Robert was leaving and had not even informed her, she abruptly leaves the dinner and returns to her cottage. Before leaving, Robert visits Edna one last time at the cottage. Edna expresses her displeasure at Robert's abrupt and unannounced departure. He reassures her he will write to her from Mexico, and then departs. As she watches Robert leave, Edna finally acknowledges her feelings for him.
A few weeks later, the Pontelliers return to their home in New Orleans. Edna begins to feel suffocated and uneasy and begins to avoid conventional social contact. Instead, she devotes more time to her sketches and paintings. She makes frequent visits to Mademoiselle Reisz, who often receives letters from Robert and shares them with Edna. Mademoiselle Reisz senses that Edna is in love with Robert and tells her that based on the letters, which almost exclusively contain questions about Edna, Robert is in love with her too.
Mr. Pontellier grows increasingly concerned with Edna's seemingly erratic and distant behavior, and he approaches a well-known New Orleans doctor, Dr. Mandelet. He describes the nature of Edna's “illness” to the doctor, who then suggests that Edna simply needs some space and time to herself and will eventually return to normal. Mr. Pontellier mentions that he is travelling to New York for a few months, and asks the doctor whether he should take Edna along on the trip. The doctor advises Mr. Pontellier to let Edna decide whether she wants to accompany him or not.
Edna chooses to stay behind in New Orleans, and her husband departs for New York. Soon after, her children leave to spend some time with their paternal grandmother, leaving Edna in the house by herself. She feels extremely relieved to be free, at least temporarily, from the mundane lifestyle of a housewife and mother. She uses this time to further develop her paintings and sketches, which she begins to sell, and to socialize. One day at the racetrack, she meets Alcee Arobin, a notorious flirt who begins to show interest in Edna. Though initially hesitant to interact with Arobin, Edna eventually forms a close friendship with him.
Edna eventually decides to move out of the family home and rent her own apartment a few streets away. She writes to her husband telling him of her intentions, and he is both shocked and extremely displeased. However, he spreads the news that their family home is being renovated, thus avoiding a social fallout from Edna's move to the apartment. The evening before her departure, Edna hosts a fancy dinner party for her friends. The party goes smoothly until Victor Lebrun, Robert's brother, begins singing the song that Robert often sang to Edna. This greatly upsets her, and the guests gradually disperse. Arobin stays behind and escorts her to the new apartment, where he successfully seduces her. Edna feels guilty about her association with Arobin because she considers this unfaithful to Robert (rather than her husband).
A few days later, on one of her usual visits to Mademoiselle Reisz's apartment, Edna is surprised to run into Robert, who has just returned from Mexico. He walks her back to her apartment and dines with her. They converse about his trip to Mexico and reminisce about their time on Grand Isle, and then Robert departs. Though Edna is happy he has returned, she is disappointed that he seems distant from her.
Robert continues to remain distant and reserved, and Edna continues to see Arobin, although this relationship has become more a habit than an expression of passion. One day, Edna runs into Robert at a coffee shop, and he once again walks her home. There, he finally confesses his feelings for her. He reveals that his trip to Mexico was only a pretense to stay away from Edna, as he knew their relationship would be impossible. The two are delighted to express their passion for one another, but are interrupted by the news that Madame Ratignolle is going into labor and has requested Edna to come immediately. Edna reluctantly leaves Robert and asks him to stay and wait for her.
Though Madame Ratignolle was in pain, she still manages to converse with Edna and offers her one piece of advice: think of the children. Edna, accompanied by Dr. Mandelet, leaves soon after, and Madame Ratignolle's advice haunts her. Sensing that something is wrong and remembering Mr. Pontellier's earlier concerns, the doctor urges Edna to come see him and talk about her state of mind. Edna only says that she will consider it.
Upon returning from Madame Ratignolle's home, she finds that Robert has left. He left only a short note, saying “I love you. Good-by [sic]—because I love you.” Edna is extremely upset upon reading the note, realizing that Robert has left her forever.
Soon after, Edna returns to Grand Isle, much to the surprise of Victor Lebrun, who is running the estate in the off-season. Edna makes her way down to the beach and goes for a swim in the ocean. Her arms and legs grow tired, and she knows that soon she will run out of energy and will be unable to continue. She swims on, thinking of her family and all she is leaving behind, and eventually drowns.
Best part of story, including ending:
I respect this story because it was very bold and unusual for its time. Though infidelity is not a taboo topic in contemporary society, the quest and struggle to know and be comfortable with one's life and decisions is still very real and relevant.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Edna swam out into the ocean for the first time--for me, this symbolized her first step towards independence and a reflection of her own situation and choices thus far.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked that in the process of asserting her independence and individuality, Edna also developed some of the skills that were important to her, such as sketching and painting, through which she was able to secure financial independence.
Edna Pontellier wakes up one day and realizes that her life has become devoid of meaning. Unhappy in her marriage and even unhappier in her role as a mother Edna makes the choice of finding happiness. Edna finds happiness in having an affair with another man. The references are not detailed and are made as illusions but the concept was shocking for the late 1890's. The book for those times was as bad as a modern porno but for our times the intimate affair lacks description.
The only person that Edna is concerned with is herself and after her affair ends she looks back at it with satisfaction though her life is still not completely satisfying to how she would like to live.
The review of this Book prepared by Daniela Lo Presti