Arobin visits Edna that night. She is still exhilarated at the thought of Robert’s imminent return but does not reveal the reason for her good mood to Arobin. She does tell him about Mademoiselle Reisz’s unusual gesture of feeling Edna’s shoulder blades “to see if my wings were strong,” and her explanation that Edna must have strong wings to fly beyond society’s expectations. As she relates this anecdote to Arobin, he is stroking her hair and face. Then he leans his face forward to kiss her and she responds immediately with ardor, pulling him toward her. It is the most physically charged kiss of her life.
Chapter 28 reveals that after Arobin leaves, Edna feels a storm of emotions, even crying briefly, but overall feels no shame. Having experienced the thrill of an intensely sexual kiss for the first time, she regrets only that it was not with Robert.
Significantly, Edna does not tell Arobin the true reason for her high spirits. Not only does she see a great need for secrecy about her feelings for Robert but knowledge of them may ruin the atmosphere of sexual tension that is firmly in place around herself and Arobin. She loves Robert but she enjoys Arobin’s skilled attention and seductive manner, “the touch of his fingers through her hair.” The chemistry between them is such that even her lack of emotional connection with him doesn’t detract from the intensity of the kiss, “the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.”
Now she knows the experience of a passionate sexual connection, which has been missing so far in her life. Even before the kiss occurs, she refers to herself as “a devilishly wicked specimen” of womankind, according to conventional morality, for loving Robert and endeavoring to move out of her husband’s house. “But some way I can’t convince myself that I am” — she is instinctively judging herself by another code of ethics, one in which being true to herself takes priority over commitments erroneously made in the ignorance of youth.
To adhere to this alternate set of morals requires personal strength, however, as Mademoiselle Reisz is fully aware of. She tests Edna metaphorically, physically feeling for her symbolic wings, and warns her explicitly about the fate of those who seek to “soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice” but who lack the fortitude to maintain flight and end up “bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” Mademoiselle Reisz’s warning serves as a grim foreshadowing of Edna’s final scene, when she reaches the beach on Grand Isle and sees a bird with a broken wing sinking ominously through the air to the water.
Yet this evening Edna is far from sinking, exhausted, to earth. She does feel the reproach of the other men in her life both internally, as her love for Robert protectively increases in response to Arobin’s kiss, and externally, surrounded as she is by Leonce’s household goods. Overall, however, she is gratified by the discovery of a red-hot kiss, a kiss that exemplifies the passion of lovers throughout history, which she herself has never experienced first hand.
Her passionate attachments had always been to men unavailable for a stolen kiss; her attraction to Leonce, as related in Chapter 7, was based more on “his absolute devotion” to her, which she found quite flattering but did not inflame her with love or lust. Only now, with Arobin’s kiss, does she get to know the results of potent sexual chemistry, again “appealing to the animalism that stirred impatiently within her” (Chapter 26).
Yet because the appeal of the experience was purely sensual, she regrets that it was not further augmented by an emotional connection, that it was lust and “not love which had held this cup of life to her lips.”
tabouret a low, upholstered footstool. Also spelled taboret.
multitudinous very numerous; many.