Birdsong

by

Sebastian Faulks

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Isabelle Azaire Character Analysis

René Azaire’s wife and Stephen Wraysford’s lover. Isabelle is born the youngest of five daughters, and it is always expected that she will remain at home and care for her indifferent and aging parents; however, Isabelle is independent and opinionated, and her father quickly arranges her marriage to René. Isabelle serves to underscore the oppression of women in a sexist society, as she has little control over her life and men decide her fate. René is a cruel husband, and when Stephen comes into her life, she is starved for attention. Her wildly sensuous affair with Stephen satisfies her sexual needs, but in the end she is unable to fully return his love. After she becomes pregnant, Isabelle is deeply ashamed of her choices and runs into the accepting arms of her sister, Jeanne. Isabelle gives birth to Stephen’s child, Françoise, but she doesn’t tell him. She is fiercely protective of her baby and doesn’t want to further hurt Stephen. She ultimately falls in love with Max, a Prussian soldier, and her difficult decisions throughout the novel and multiple love affairs upend traditional stereotypes of women as demure and chaste. Isabelle is paralyzed and disfigured during an attack in Amiens during the war, and she later dies of the flu, never having told Stephen about Françoise.

Isabelle Azaire Quotes in Birdsong

The Birdsong quotes below are all either spoken by Isabelle Azaire or refer to Isabelle Azaire. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and the Future Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Birdsong published in 1993.
Part One: France 1910 Quotes

“This morning I was out doing some errands in the town. There was a window open in a house near the cathedral and someone was playing the piano.”

Madame Azaire’s voice was cool and low […].

Monsieur and Madame Bérard looked startled. It was evidently not the kind of thing they had expected. Azaire spoke with the soothing voice of one use to such fancies. “And what was the tune, my dear?”

“I don’t know. I had never heard it before. It was just a tune like Beethoven or Chopin.”

“I doubt it was Beethoven if you failed to recognize it, Madame,” said Bérard

gallantly. “It was one of those folksongs, I’ll bet you anything.”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Monsieur Bérard (speaker), Stephen Wraysford, Madame Bérard
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

“Madame,” said Azaire, “I assure you that Isabelle has no fever. She is a woman of a nervous temperament. She suffers from headaches and various minor maladies. It signifies nothing. Believe me, I know her very well and I have learned how to live with her little ways.” He gave a glace of complicity toward Bérard who chuckled. “You yourself are fortunate in having a robust constitution.”

Related Characters: René Azaire (speaker), Isabelle Azaire, Monsieur Bérard, Madame Bérard
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Yet despite her formality toward him and her punctilious ease of manner, Stephen sensed some other element in what he had termed the pulse of her. It was impossible to say through which sense he had the impression, but somehow, perhaps only in the tiny white hairs on the skin of her bare arm or the blood he had seen rise beneath the light freckles of her cheekbones, he felt certain there was some keener physical life than she was actually living in the calm, restrictive rooms of her husband’s house with its oval door handles of polished china and its neatly inlaid parquet floors.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Azaire’s gaze had filled with something like amusement. “I don’t’ like to think of you having some kind of fit. I could easily—.”

“For goodness’ sake, René,” said Madame Azaire. “He’s told you there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t you just leave him alone?”

Azaire’s fork made a loud clatter as he laid it down on his plate. For a moment his face had an expression of panic, like that of the schoolboy who suffers a sudden reverse and can’t understand the rules of behaviour by which his rival has won approval. Then he began to smile sardonically, as though to indicate that really he knew best and that his decision not to argue further was temporary indulgence he was granting his juniors. He turned to his wife with a teasing lightness of manner.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

“And have you heard your minstrel again in your wanderings in the town, my dear?”

She looked down at her plate. “I was not wandering, René. I was doing errands.”

“Of course, my dear. My wife is a mysterious creature, Monsieur,” he said to Stephen. “No one knows—like the little stream in the song—whither she flows or where her end will be.”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

She was the only one who did not respond to Bérard’s promptings. She barely contributed when he invited her to do so, but would speak, unbidden, on a subject of her own choice. This appeared to leave Bérard no choice but to cut her off. He would apologize with a small bow of his head, though not for some minutes, and not until he had taken the conversation safely down the path he wanted. Madame Azaire would shrug lightly or smile at his belated apology as though to suggest that what she had been about to say was unimportant.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire, Monsieur Bérard
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes from the safety of the sitting room he would fix his eyes on the group and the vital, unspeaking figure of Madame Azaire. He didn’t ask himself if she was beautiful, because the physical effect of her presence made the question insignificant. Perhaps in the harshest judgement of the term she was not. While everything was feminine about her face, her nose was slightly larger than fashion prescribed; her hair had more different shades of brown and gold and red than most women would have wanted. For all the lightness of her face, its obvious strength of character overpowered conventional prettiness. But Stephen made no judgements; he was motivated by compulsion.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford, Isabelle Azaire
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

[René] saw the production of further children as important proof of his standing in society and a confirmation that this was a balanced match in which his age and the difference in tastes were not important. He approached his wife in a businesslike and predatory manner; she reacted with the submissive indifference which was the only response he left open to her. He made love to her each night, though, once embarked on it, he seemed to want it to be over quickly. Afterward he never referred to what they had done together. Madame Azaire, who was initially frightened and ashamed, slowly became frustrated by her husband’s attitude; she could not understand why this aspect of their lives, which seemed to mean so much to him, was something he would not talk about, nor why the startling intimacy of the act opened no doors in her mind, made no connections with the deeper feelings and aspirations that had grown in her since childhood.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire, René Azaire
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

René Azaire had no suspicions of what was happening in his house. He had allowed his feelings toward Isabelle to become dominated by anger and frustration at his physical impotence and by what he subsequently experienced as a kind of emotional powerlessness toward her. He did not love her, but he wanted her to more responsive toward him. He sensed that she felt sorry for him and this infuriated him further; if she could not love him then at least she should be frightened of him.

Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

[René] remembered the pleasure he had taken in being the first man to invade that body, much younger than him, and the thrill he could not deny himself when she had cried out in pain. He remembered the puzzled look in her eyes when she gazed up at him. He could feel that she, more than his first wife, had the capacity to respond to the physical act, but when he saw the bewildered expression in her face he was determined to subdue it rather than to win her by patience. At that time Isabelle, though too willful for the father’s taste, was still docile and innocent enough to have been won over by a man who showed consideration and love, but with Azaire these things were not forthcoming. Her emotional and physical appetites were awakened but then left suspended as her husband turned his energy toward a long, unnecessary battle with his own shortcomings.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire, René Azaire
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

“I don’t want this.” Isabelle shook her head. The words came from her mouth without thought or calculation in their purity of feeling. “I don’t know what to do or how to behave now. I could be happy in the simplest way, like any other woman with a family of her own, without this terrible pain I’ve caused. I won’t listen to ether of you. Why should I? How do I know that you love me, Stephen? How can I tell?” Her voice fell to the low, soft note Stephen had heard when she spoke on his first evening in the house. It was a beautiful sound to his ears: pleading and vulnerable, but with a sense of strength in its own rightness. “And you, René, why should I trust you when you have given me so little reason even to like you?”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford, René Azaire
Page Number: 92-3
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Birdsong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Birdsong PDF

Isabelle Azaire Character Timeline in Birdsong

The timeline below shows where the character Isabelle Azaire appears in Birdsong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One: France 1910
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The Azaires are already seated at the table. Madame Azaire stands up and her husband, René, introduces her quickly and dismissively. The children, Lisette, who... (full context)
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...about new machinery that threatens to replace their labor. As Lisette flirts obviously with Stephen, Madame Azaire avoids eye contact with him. Just as dinner ends, the doorbell rings and Monsieur Bérard... (full context)
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René suggests a game of cards, and Madame Azaire excuses herself, claiming that she has a “slight headache.” Madame Bérard is appropriately concerned, but... (full context)
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...to investigate. He hears crying and the unmistakable sound of someone being struck. He recognizes Madame Azaire ’s voice begging René, and Stephen clenches his fists in anger, before slipping back up... (full context)
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...Bérard and his wife, but he is surprised to discover that he has not mentioned Madame Azaire in the journal at all. (full context)
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...support and agreement in his argument. Stephen quickly agrees and turns his thoughts back to Madame Azaire , momentarily disturbed by how easily he acquiesced to René. Meyraux refuses to continue the... (full context)
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Later, back in his room, Stephen uses the code word “pulse” for Madame Azaire in the pages of his journal. He thinks of her as perfect; attractive and fashionable,... (full context)
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Madame Azaire quickly tells René to leave Stephen alone. After all, she says, he says he’s fine.... (full context)
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...“authority on the important families in town” and himself of “superior breeding,” commands the conversation. Madame Azaire mostly ignores him, interrupting occasionally to introduce topics of her own choosing, leaving Bérard “no... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen finds Madame Azaire in the garden cutting roses. He boldly approaches her and removes the shears from her... (full context)
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Stephen thinks to himself that Madame Azaire has “intrigue and worldliness beyond her obvious position,” and in the course of their short... (full context)
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Madame Azaire begs Stephen to let go of her hand, yet she doesn’t loosen her grip. Stephen... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen is eating his lunch in a café when he sees Madame Azaire walk by. He quickly pays and runs to catch up with her. She is surprised... (full context)
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...lives in a small apartment in the building with five other people. Lucien turns to Madame Azaire and, addressing her comfortably, asks if she has heard the good news about the men... (full context)
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Madame Azaire turns to Stephen, sensing his confusion, and explains that she brings food to Lucien to... (full context)
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Madame Azaire was born Isabelle Fourmentier, the youngest of five girls to a family in the city of Rouen. Isabelle’s... (full context)
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Years earlier, at her sister Béatrice’s wedding, Isabelle had met an infantry officer named Jean Destournel. Jean courted Isabelle for a year, but... (full context)
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Isabelle was heartbroken after Jean left her, but over the next three years she grew into... (full context)
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Isabelle has had little problem transitioning to become Madame Azaire. She is fond of Lisette and... (full context)
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René believes children are “important proof of his standing in society,” and Isabelle agrees to have more. René approaches sex with his wife in a “businesslike and predatory... (full context)
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When Isabelle does not become pregnant, René blames himself, and his frustration affects his ability to perform... (full context)
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...of them to a seat on the boat, and Stephen is seated directly across from Isabelle. (full context)
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...is stagnant, and Stephen tries to situate his feet so that he does not touch Isabelle across from him. He notes her attractive ankles and calves as he positions himself. (full context)
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...and who lives where, referring to the dank riverbed as beautiful. Stephen tries to catch Isabelle’s eye, but she avoids his gaze. Exhausted in the heat, Bérard allows René to captain... (full context)
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...rats swim by and the entire area seems to be in a state of decay. Isabelle too is miserable, and she loosens the neck of her dress in the unbearable heat.... (full context)
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...to remark on how wonderful the day has been and how beautiful the river is. Isabelle becomes suddenly aware of the placement of her leg and sits upright, rigidly. (full context)
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...diamonds appears in the left pile before the jack of clubs lands on the right, Isabelle will be his. He smiles to himself, recognizing the ridiculousness of his game. (full context)
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...by the man’s wife comment. The worker informs him that “Lucien and the boss’s wife [Isabelle] are very good friends.” (full context)
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...as Stephen’s hand begins to swell, he realizes that he has fallen in love with Isabelle. At dinner, René comments on the disruption at the factory and Stephen tells him he... (full context)
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...feels like a child home sick from school who is “eavesdropping on this female life.” Isabelle directs the maids and the cook, and she receives a delivery from the butcher boy. (full context)
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Isabelle asks Stephen if he will be taking lunch with her and Lisette, as Grégoire is... (full context)
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With Lisette gone, Stephen grabs Isabelle’s arm, and when she protests, he kisses her. He confesses his love for her and... (full context)
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Isabelle quickly turns and leaves, and Stephen is afraid he won’t find the right room in... (full context)
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Stephen begins to tear Isabelle’s clothes from her body, and “the more she imagines the degradation of her false modesty... (full context)
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Afterward, filled with “desire and happiness,” Stephen and Isabelle remain silently side-by-side on the bed, listening to the sounds of birds in the garden... (full context)
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...his workers, and Bérard and his wife are planning a visit after dinner. René asks Isabelle how her day was, and she tells him that she spent some time reading. René... (full context)
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 Stephen arrives at the dining room door for dinner, and he briefly acknowledges René and Isabelle before quickly sitting in a chair. Stephen ignores Isabelle throughout dinner, engaging René instead about... (full context)
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Isabelle wonders how long she will be able to “maintain the falsity of her position,” and... (full context)
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After their time together, Isabelle still must tend to the “practical matters” of their affair. She has to launder the... (full context)
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Isabelle doesn’t have the time or the privacy to wash the red bedcover without drawing attention,... (full context)
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...visit, and they all stand to move to another room for cards and drinks. As Isabelle stands, she is suddenly aware of Stephen’s eyes on her body. She feels naked and... (full context)
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Alone in her room, Isabelle hears a soft knock on her door. Stephen appears, having come to check that she... (full context)
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...to the factory for a few more days, and he cannot bear to be around Isabelle without sharing parts of himself. With Isabelle, Stephen feels “an impulse to disclose” his life,... (full context)
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...he prays “instinctively, without knowing what he did.” He asks God to save him and Isabelle. (full context)
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When Stephen returns to the mansion, he finds Isabelle reading in a small study. As she stands to greet him, he begins to kiss... (full context)
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...right there in the study, fully clothed and standing against the wall. “I love you,” Isabelle tells Stephen as she pulls away from him and runs her hands up and down... (full context)
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“The red room,” Isabelle says, standing up. “In ten minutes.” She turns to leave, and Stephen kills time cleaning... (full context)
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After they wake, Stephen again asks Isabelle about the night he heard sounds from her bedroom. Isabelle tells Stephen that René “becomes... (full context)
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Isabelle tells Stephen that René hits her, and while it is not terribly painful, she finds... (full context)
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Meanwhile, René has no reason to suspect Isabelle and Stephen’s affair. He is not threatened by Stephen, and he is not in love... (full context)
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...small café, Stephen and the Azaires eat unappealing fish and drink wine. Sitting across from Isabelle, Stephen knows he will never return to London. He feels too strongly for Isabelle, but... (full context)
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...in the garden from an open window, and she had also heard Stephen sneak into Isabelle’s room later that night to check on her. (full context)
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One day while in the red room, Stephen tells Isabelle about Lisette’s advances. Isabelle asks him if he thinks Lisette is ready to make love... (full context)
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Stephen reminds Isabelle that Lisette and Grégoire are not her children, and he informs her that he is... (full context)
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Later René tells Stephen and Isabelle that he heard a “strange story” about someone visiting Lucien during the strike and delivering... (full context)
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Isabelle confesses suddenly. “I don’t think it’s strange. It was me.” Isabelle tells René that the... (full context)
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Isabelle apologizes to René, claiming it was not done to hurt him. René demands to know... (full context)
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“What can you expect from a woman you have treated as you have treated Isabelle?” Stephen asks. René, clearly embarrassed that Stephen knows his secret impotence, kicks him out of... (full context)
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“I don’t want this,” Isabelle claims. She states that she doesn’t know how to behave now or whom to love.... (full context)
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Isabelle tells René that she is going to her room to pack, and as she leaves... (full context)
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Isabelle packs a few dresses and her framed pictures of her family and meets Stephen in... (full context)
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...as René goes from room to room, tearing apart beds and searching for evidence of Isabelle and Stephen’s affair. He goes through every room in the house before giving up, forgetting... (full context)
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Stephen and Isabelle board a train and end up in the spa town of Plombières. Finally alone together,... (full context)
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Stephen tells Isabelle that a social reformer named Vaughan showed an interest in him and became his guardian.... (full context)
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Stephen and Isabelle arrive in St.-Rémy-de-Provence, near Isabelle’s cousin, and Jeanne wires them money to secure an apartment.... (full context)
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Their life together is quiet but comfortable, and Isabelle doesn’t miss her life with René. They spend most of their time together, even in... (full context)
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After two months, Isabelle has settled comfortably into her new life when she misses her menstrual cycle. Isabelle notes... (full context)
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On day while walking in town with Stephen, Isabelle becomes faint and must sit down. Stephen begins to fuss over her, and she nearly... (full context)
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Isabelle is convinced that Stephen won’t understand her connection to her unborn baby. She imagines it... (full context)
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Now, in the street with Stephen, Isabelle cannot bring herself to tell him her secret. He offers her a piece of cake... (full context)
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“Jesus Christ!” Stephen yells in response to the bird. Isabelle can’t understand. “It’s only a pigeon,” she says. She swats the bird away and turns... (full context)
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The next week, Isabelle feels a sharp pain in her stomach and goes to visit a doctor. He gives... (full context)
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Later, Isabelle writes a letter to Jeanne. She tells her of her pregnancy and her hesitancy to... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Stephen thinks of his grandfather’s cottage and considers taking Isabelle there. He does not feel sentimental for the cottage or his grandfather, but he wants... (full context)
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When Stephen returns home, he finds Isabelle and most of her personal belongings gone. Many of her dresses still hang in the... (full context)
Part Two: France 1916
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Weir engages the topic of love, and Stephen tells him about Isabelle. He says that after she left, he didn’t pursue her. Instead, he “let her go.”... (full context)
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He thinks of Isabelle, and while Stephen can still taste her flesh, he remembers little else about her. “What... (full context)
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Stephen had remained in St.-Rémy for an entire year after Isabelle left, in case she needed him, and when she never returned, he boarded a train... (full context)
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...and tells them that they “have been the dearest Mum and Dad,” and Stephen writes Isabelle, even though he knows the letter will never reach her. He tells her that “some... (full context)
Part Four: France 1917
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Stephen takes Ellis to the café where he had once seen Isabelle walking past the window, but it has changed and is a sad sight. The new... (full context)
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...approaches the woman in the street, she appears to know him as well. It is Isabelle’s sister, Jeanne, and she agrees to talk with Stephen. He asks about Isabelle, and Jeanne... (full context)
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...is suspicious of her presence in Amiens, and Jeanne admits to coming to care for Isabelle. After Isabelle left Stephen, Jeanne says, Isabelle returned to Rouen and eventually went home to... (full context)
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Stephen tells Jeanne that he wants to see Isabelle. She won’t take him to her, but she agrees to tell her about his request.... (full context)
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The next night, Stephen meets Jeanne as planned, and she tells him that Isabelle has agreed to see him, and she is to take him to the apartment they... (full context)
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Isabelle waits for him in a darkened room, and as Stephen enters he is shocked. Isabelle’s... (full context)
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Isabelle tells him not to worry; it looks bad but doesn’t cause any pain. She tells... (full context)
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Isabelle tells Stephen what came of her after she left him. While she did go home... (full context)
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It was not long before the war broke out, Isabelle says, and after Amiens was occupied by the Germans, René was taken as a prisoner.... (full context)
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The house on the boulevard du Cange was taken over by the Germans, and Isabelle met a Prussian soldier named Max. Max was kind to Isabelle, and while his nationality... (full context)
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Isabelle does not tell Stephen about the child. She had fallen in love with Max in... (full context)
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Isabelle goes on to tell Stephen that Grégoire will join the army next year and that... (full context)
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Stephen asks Isabelle if he may touch her, and when she answers yes, he gently runs his hand... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen receives a letter from Jeanne in Amiens. Isabelle has left for Munich to be with Max (he was injured in enemy fire), but... (full context)
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...can visit Jeanne in Amiens. He arrives to the dark apartment and finds that in Isabelle’s absence, the curtains have been opened and a brightness fills the rooms. (full context)
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Stephen asks Jeanne if she will be returning home to Rouen now that Isabelle no longer needs her. Jeanne is undecided, but is “drawn to the idea of independence”... (full context)
Part Six: France 1918
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Bérard sent her father a letter telling him about Isabelle and Max, Jeanne says, and when she wrote Isabelle, she wasn’t surprised to hear it.... (full context)
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...arms around her thighs. He lays his face between her legs and begins to weep. “Isabelle,” he cries. “Isabelle.” (full context)
Part Seven: England 1979
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...knew that the dates didn’t add up. Françoise asks if there is a woman named Isabelle in the journals. Yes, says Elizabeth, “an old girlfriend.” Françoise tells her that Isabelle, Jeanne’s... (full context)