Summary and Analysis Chapter 36


Edna again encounters Robert accidentally, this time in a deserted garden cafe. When she asks him why he hasn’t come to see her, he responds emotionally, again calling her cruel for forcing him into disclosure of his feelings. She withdraws from emotional topics and they chat a while in the cafe before he sees her home. Once inside the house, without warning she kisses him and he responds by holding her close and admitting his love. Edna tells him that she is her own woman, not a possession of Leonce’s to be released, but is called away to Madame Ratignolle’s before she can explain herself. Robert begs hers to stay with him, but Madame Ratignolle is in labor and Edna had promised to attend the birth. Before she leaves, she makes Robert promise to remain there and wait for her to return home.


Because Edna has “abandoned herself to Fate” (as noted in the Chapter 35), she is not surprised when Robert appears in the garden cafe, despite its out-of-the-way location. This indifference to circumstances recalls Mademoiselle Reisz’s reaction in Chapter 26 to Edna’s news that she was moving into her own house: “Nothing ever seemed to astonish her very much.” Mademoiselle Reisz has perhaps imparted to Edna some of her knowledge of human nature and the workings of the world. As Edna has become more independent, taking streetcars and walking alone through the city, she has learned that “we women learn so little of life on the whole.” By striking out on her own, she has learned much about not only that is new to her, but also how much she never knew — about herself, men like Arobin, and women like Mademoiselle Reisz.

Another parallel between characters in this scene is in Robert’s angry accusation that in her pointed questions she is, on an emotional level, asking him to “bare a wound for the pleasure of looking at it, without the intention or power of healing it.” This reference recalls the physical scar that Arobin showed Edna, and emphasizes the emotionality of Edna’s relationship with Robert as opposed to the physicality of her relationship with Arobin.

Edna has gleaned much from Arobin about initiating and pursuing a physical relationship. In stark contrast with the prudery of her personality at the beginning of the novel, Edna boldly and without warning kisses Robert with a “voluptuous sting,” indicating that she has learned to express herself sexually.

Overall she has learned some valuable life lessons from both Mademoiselle Reisz and Arobin — both of whom are frowned upon by the polite society she left behind: Mademoiselle Reisz for her harsh if honest opinions of others; Arobin for not respecting sexual boundaries.

Yet she gives all the credit to Robert: “It was you who awoke me last summer out of a lifelong, stupid dream,” she tells him. While he may have played a part in her awakening sensuality and the accompanying sense of self discover, she has grown beyond him. She clearly is somewhat amused by the way he phrases his revelation of love, repeating back to him “Yes, we have heard of such things” when he tells her of his desperate fantasies of running away with her, another man’s wife. She has her own revelation — that she is no longer Leonce’s to give. In response, Robert’s “face grew a little white. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.” While his physical reaction may spring from excitement about the possibilities, given his pattern of not following through, more likely he is frightened that at last someone is calling his bluff and inviting him to commit to daring adventure. His is not a brave, defiant soul as Edna’s is. Her declaration that “we shall love each other . . . Nothing else in the world is of any consequence,” is still ringing in his ears as she leaves for Madame Ratignolle’s. He is enthralled by her newly acquired power of seduction for the moment — but he is gone when she returns, unable yet again to follow through.


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