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The Awakening
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READ STUDY GUIDE: Chapters XV–XIX

 

Part XIX

Edna could not help but think that it was very foolish, very
childish, to have stamped upon her wedding ring and smashed the
crystal vase upon the tiles. She was visited by no more outbursts,
moving her to such futile expedients. She began to do as she liked
and to feel as she liked. She completely abandoned her Tuesdays at
home, and did not return the visits of those who had called upon her.
She made no ineffectual efforts to conduct her household en
bonne menagere, going and coming as it suited her fancy, and,
so far as she was able, lending herself to any passing caprice.
Mr. Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as
he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife. But her new and
unexpected line of conduct completely bewildered him. It shocked
him. Then her absolute disregard for her duties as a wife angered
him. When Mr. Pontellier became rude, Edna grew insolent. She had
resolved never to take another step backward.
"It seems to me the utmost folly for a woman at the head of a
household, and the mother of children, to spend in an atelier days
which would be better employed contriving for the comfort of her
family."
"I feel like painting," answered Edna. "Perhaps I shan't
always feel like it."
"Then in God's name paint! but don't let the family go to the
devil. There's Madame Ratignolle; because she keeps up her music,
she doesn't let everything else go to chaos. And she's more of a
musician than you are a painter."
"She isn't a musician, and I'm not a painter. It isn't on
account of painting that I let things go."
"On account of what, then?"
"Oh! I don't know. Let me alone; you bother me."
It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier's mind to wonder if his
wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see
plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that
she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious
self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the
world.
Her husband let her alone as she requested, and went away to
his office. Edna went up to her atelier—a bright room in the top
of the house. She was working with great energy and interest,
without accomplishing anything, however, which satisfied her even
in the smallest degree. For a time she had the whole household
enrolled in the service of art. The boys posed for her. They thought
it amusing at first, but the occupation soon lost its attractiveness
when they discovered that it was not a game arranged especially for
their entertainment. The quadroon sat for hours before Edna's
palette, patient as a savage, while the house-maid took charge of
the children, and the drawing-room went undusted. But the
housemaid, too, served her term as model when Edna perceived that the
young woman's back and shoulders were molded on classic lines, and
that her hair, loosened from its confining cap, became an
inspiration. While Edna worked she sometimes sang low the little
air, "Ah! si tu savais!"
It moved her with recollections. She could hear again the
ripple of the water, the flapping sail. She could see the glint of
the moon upon the bay, and could feel the soft, gusty beating of
the hot south wind. A subtle current of desire passed through her
body, weakening her hold upon the brushes and making her eyes burn.
There were days when she was very happy without knowing why.
She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being
seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the
luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to
wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered
many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found
it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested.
There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know
why,—when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive
or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and
humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable
annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies
to stir her pulses and warm her blood.
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