When Leonce receives Edna’s letter telling him of her plans to move into her own little house, he is concerned about how this move might look to his current and prospective clients. Feeling that they’ll think he can’t afford the large house, he contracts long-distance with architects and workers to renovate his mansion, and places a notice in the paper announcing the renovations and also the Pontelliers’ intention to spend the summer abroad while work is completed. He never considers that Edna might have left him, not merely the house. Meanwhile, Edna makes the little pigeon house her own home.
She then spends a week with her children and mother-in-law in the country. Edna relishes her time with the boys and leaves them with a great regret, which disappears by the time she reaches New Orleans where she feels once again freed by the solitude and simplicity of her new life.
How ironic that this chapter opens with Leonce’s strong objections to Edna’s moving when the previous chapter provided far more serious grounds for his displeasure. Leonce, true to his character, places prime importance on their reputations, seeking to shield his reputation in the business world. He is not concerned with Edna’s feelings, the emotional causes of her move, but implores her “to consider first, foremost, and above all else, what people would say.” Handicapped by a lack of jealousy or understanding of passion, he never considers that his wife might have undertaken the move to free herself of him. Instead he acts quickly and decisively to stage an alibi for Edna’s inexplicable action, arranging long-distance a renovation of the house. Chopin employs a rarely used and well-placed exclamation point to convey his relief at effectively remedying the situation (and to indicate his main priority): “Mr. Pontellier had saved appearances!”
Contrasting sharply with Leonce’s frenetic materialism is Edna’s quiet, decisive growth towards realizing her true self. “There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding . . . [ascent] in the spiritual.” In her small house filled with a few simple items, having shed not only the large house but the public-relations lifestyle that came with it, she is freed to “look with her own eyes . . . to apprehend the deeper currents of life.”
Significantly, she chooses this point in time to spend a week with her children at their grandmother’s. She had told Madame Ratignolle in Chapter 16 that “I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” During this visit, however, “giving them all of herself, and . . . filling herself with their young existence,” she does give her self but takes emotional sustenance and vitality from them in return. This exchange marks a return to the theme of sensuality as the realm of childhood. Edna’s approach to her marital situation seems somewhat childish: When the boys ask where they and Leonce will sleep in her new house, she tells that “the fairies would fix it all right.” In fact she has no recourse other than fairies to resolve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. “Conditions would some way adjust themselves, she felt,” when in Chapter 26 she considered what would happen when Leonce returned. Like her story about the two lovers disappearing in the night, her attitude toward Leonce’s return indicates that Edna is more focused on the experience rather than consequences.
During her stay with the boys, Edna is overjoyed to see them, leaving them “with a wrench and a pang,” carrying the experience of them with her like a song in her head — a song that disappears from her mind by the time she reaches her new home. In contrast, the song that Robert sang to her, “Si tu savais,” haunts her still, an indication of her deeper allegiance to him and all he represents.
menage a household; domestic establishment.
snuggery a snug or comfortable place, room, and so on.
frescoing painting with watercolors on wet plaster.