Out of the eleven invited, nine attend Edna’s party: Arobin, Mademoiselle Reisz, Mrs. Highcamp, Monsieur Ratignolle, Victor Lebrun, and two couples—Mr. and Mrs. Merriman, a pretty woman and her dull husband, and Miss Mayblunt and Gouvernail, who are self-described intellectuals. The table is beautifully arranged, the food is expensive, and Edna herself looks splendid. It is her twenty-ninth birthday.
Edna’s party is the culmination of her efforts at a controlled revision of her life. She can carefully arrange her party in every detail—the food, the guests, the dress and jewels. However, it should be noted that such desperate control over appearances often extends from inner vagueness and helplessness.
Monsieur Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz talk a little awkwardly about music, but the Mlle is mostly interested in the fine food and wine. Mr. Merriman tries to tell a story, but it falls flat. Mrs. Merriman talks about books eagerly with Gouvernail, who is not very forthcoming. Mrs. Highcamp is fascinated by Victor. Edna is glamorous and queenly, but a familiar vague despair overcomes her for no reason she can understand. All in all, the party is very happy.
Edna’s mood changes so suddenly because she shifts her attention from the brilliant exterior to the cloudy interior, which is no more clear despite all the party’s bright lights. The guests seem helpless too, with their clumsy conversation, transparent pretentions, and mismatched interests. The romance of the party is in its failure, not its success.
Monsieur Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz go home. Mrs. Highcamp drapes some flowers and her write scarf over Victor, who suddenly looks very lovely and statuesque. He begins to sing a French love song to Edna; when she claps her hand over his mouth, he kisses it passionately. Soon, all the other guests (except Arobin) drift home.
Victor is the model of spontaneity, romance, and callous boyishness. His romantic adventurousness is more innocent than Arobin’s, who is calculating and deceitful. When Arobin rejects social conventions, he feels (and becomes) wicked; Victor blithely ignores them, and lives peacefully.