BESIDE THE DRAWING-BOARD.
She accepts the duties of life as an equivalent for its happiness, i.e., for the happiness of love. She has been drawing from the cast of a hand—enraptured with its delicate beauty—thinking how the rapture must have risen into love in the artist who saw it living; when the coarse (laborious) hand of a little peasant girl reminds her that life, whether beautiful or not, is the artist’s noblest study; and that, as the uses of a hand are independent of its beauty and will survive it, life with its obligations will survive love. “She has been a fool to think she must be loved or die.”
She makes the final sacrifice to her husband’s happiness, and leaves him. But in so doing she pays a last tribute to the omnipotence of love. She knows there is nothing in her that will claim a place in his remembrance. She knows also that if he had loved her, it might be otherwise. Love could have transformed her in his sight as it has transfigured him in hers. Their positions might even have been reversed. If one touch of such a love as hers could ever come to her in a thought of his, he might turn into a being as ill-favoured as herself. She would neither know nor care, since joy would have killed her.
We learn from the two last monologues, especially the last, that James Lee’s wife was a plain woman. This may throw some light on the situation.
“THE WORST OF IT” is the cry of anguish of a man whose wife has been false to him, and who sees in her transgression only the injury she has inflicted on herself, and his own indirect part in its infliction. The strain of suppressed personal suffering betrays itself in his very endeavour to prove that he has not been wronged: that it was his fault, not hers, if his love maddened her, and the vows by which he had bound her were such as she could not keep. But the burden of his lament—“the worst of it” all—is, that her purity was once his salvation, her past kindness has for ever glorified his life; that she is dishonoured, and through him, and that no gratitude of his, no power of his, can rescue her from that dishonour. In his passionate tenderness he strives to pacify her conscience, and again, as earnestly to arouse it. “Her account is not with him who absolves her, but with the world which does not; with her endangered womanhood, her jeopardized hope of Heaven.” He implores her for her own sake to return to virtue though not to him. For himself he renounces her even in Paradise. He “will pass nor turn” his “face” if they meet there.