In a restaurant in London on a Saturday night, Marlene sits alone at a table set for six. She orders a bottle of wine from a waitress, and then welcomes her first dinner party guest, Isabella Bird, a nineteenth-century writer, explorer, and naturalist. They greet each other like old friends, and Isabella congratulates Marlene. Marlene wishes she could take a vacation to somewhere like Hawaii to celebrate her recent success, but has settled for a dinner party instead. Isabella reminisces about her own time in Hawaii—when she first traveled there, she wanted to stay forever, and even sent for her sister, Hennie, to come join her on the islands. Isabella asks if Marlene has a sister, and Marlene says that she does.
By beginning the play with a scene that combines elements of the real and the unreal, Churchill establishes that this scene will reveal more about Marlene’s inner state than her physical circumstances. It’s also significant that Marlene has just had a great thing happen to her—but instead of celebrating with friends, family, or coworkers, she is assembling women from history, art, and legend—imaginary friends, so to speak.
Marlene’s second guest, Lady Nijo, arrives at the party. Lady Nijo was a thirteenth-century concubine who eventually became a Buddhist nun. Marlene greets Nijo excitedly, and introduces her to Isabella. The waitress returns and pours all the women some wine—Marlene remarks that she could use a drink, as it has been a big week for her. Nijo reflects on her own time at court, and how the men always used to get drunk while she passed around sake. One night, she says, her father and the Emperor became very drunk, and the Emperor asked for Nijo’s father to send her to live as his concubine come springtime.
As the women begin arriving for the dinner party, it’s clear they need only the slightest association to begin divulging secrets from their pasts. This eagerness to share stories—and the idea of the play as a space to validate these women’s stories—is at the heart of Churchill’s thematic vision for the play, which encompasses the importance of women learning from each other’s tales of triumph, despair, and struggle.
As Nijo tells her story, Marlene and Isabella interject with their own opinions. Isabella recalls once meeting the Emperor of Morocco, while Marlene asks Nijo whether the emperor was old or not. Nijo states that he was twenty-nine; she herself was fourteen. She describes sending back the Emperor’s gift of an eight-layered gown, even though her own gowns were thin and badly ripped. Marlene asks if the Emperor raped Nijo—“Of course not,” Nijo replies, stating that she belonged to the Emperor; service to him “was what [she] was brought up for from a baby.” Soon after she became the Emperor’s concubine, Nijo found herself feeling sad if he ever stayed away for more than a day or so, and dreaded bringing “other women to him.”
Nijo was brought up from birth to be a concubine, or mistress, to the powerful Emperor. Though this created a fundamental imbalance of power, Nijo found herself actually enjoying the Emperor’s company and her own role in his court.
Isabella remarks that she never saw her own father drunk, as he was a clergyman. She adds that she did not marry until she was fifty. Nijo replies that her own father was religious, too; before he died, he advised Nijo to enter the holy order if she ever fell out of favor at court. Isabella points out that Nijo eventually became a wandering nun—surely going against her father’s wishes, as he probably wanted her to stay put in a convent. Nijo defends herself, stating that at the end of the day, she “still did what [her] father wanted,” or at least tried to.
As Isabella and Nijo compare their life stories and seek to find points of connection, Marlene fades mostly into the background—she is not revealing anything about herself, and is instead listening to and absorbing the information her guests are sharing with one another.
Dull Gret arrives at the party. Marlene introduces Gret to Nijo, while Isabella greets Gret as if they already know one another. The waitress has brought the women their menus, and Marlene wonders aloud if they should wait for Joan before they put their orders in; the last guest, Griselda, she says, is going to be late. Isabella begins describing her own attempt to be a dutiful clergyman’s daughter. She took up needlework, music, and “charitable schemes”; after an operation to have a tumor removed from her spine, she was forced to spend much of her time recovering on the sofa, reading and studying poetry and convincing herself that she enjoyed intellectual pursuits.
The conversations the women will have over the course of the evening aren’t necessarily related to one another. For instance, here, Isabella ignores the shift in conversation and returns to what she feels is important to share about her own life. Churchill’s choice to imbue her characters with the desire to make themselves heard speaks to her thematic preoccupation with the necessity of sharing and validating women’s stories.
Nijo interjects that she herself comes from a line of eight generations of poets. Isabella states that she was always more suited to manual work such as cooking, mending, and horseback riding, and longed to live “a rough life in the open air.” Nijo says that she did not enjoy her own “rough life”—the high point of her life, she says, was being the Emperor’s favorite and wearing fine silks.
Nijo and Isabella find that their lives were marked by very different interests. Nijo enjoyed being a kept woman, while Isabella longed to expand her horizons and push herself out of her comfort zone in the outdoors.
Isabella attempts to engage Gret in conversation, asking if she ever had any horses. Gret replies with one word only: “Pig.” Pope Joan arrives at the party—Marlene is grateful that their group can at last order some food. Marlene asks Joan if she knows everyone, and tells Joan that they were all just talking about “being clever girls.” She asks Joan what excited her when she was ten; Joan gives an esoteric answer about angels. The women all laugh and look at their menus. As they continue sharing stories, the waitress comes around to take orders.
The characters’ vastly different backgrounds are played to comic effect in this passage. Gret’s almost surly, gruff demeanor is in contrast with Nijo and Isabella’s florid speech and desire to share, while Joan’s contemplative interiority and thoughts on the divine are exactly what all these women might expect from a woman who was Pope.
The conversation turns to death, as Isabella recalls her father’s death, and Nijo recalls her father’s, too. Joan states that “death is the return of all creatures to God.” The women begin discussing religion; Isabella identifies herself as a member of the Church of England, and Marlene states that though she hasn’t been to church for years, she enjoys Christmas carols. She admits to not doing any “good works.” Nijo says that the first half of her life was “all sin,” and the second “all repentance.” The women talk over each other, ordering appetizers and more wine. They continue comparing their religious beliefs, and eventually Joan and Nijo begin to snipe at one another over heresy. When Isabella remarks that they all should have kept off the topic of religion, Joan confesses that she is “a heresy” herself.
Here, Churchill is playing with the form of a traditional dinner drama. Religion is a taboo topic for any kind of dinner party—but especially one where a devout and powerful religious figure is in attendance. Churchill is drawing lines between joke formats and clichés from traditional plays and the surrealist, absurd world of this opening scene, and commenting on the ways in which people often tiptoe around one another conversationally. These women, though, get right down to the tough topics.
The food arrives, and Marlene seems to hope the conversation will turn away from religion, but Nijo presses on. She says that when she fell out of favor at court, she had nothing, and so chose to turn to religion, which she saw as a “kind of nothing.” Marlene tries to distract Nijo by offering her wine, but Nijo just grows more morose, asking the other women if they have ever felt like their lives were over and they were “dead already.” Marlene admits to feeling that way when she first came to London, and when she returned from her travels in America—“but only for a few hours.”
In this passage, Churchill demonstrates the vast difference between Marlene’s life and Nijo’s. Marlene is a modern woman, and has not known the deep existential pain and traumatic suffering Nijo has—her only point of comparison to the emotions Nijo is describing only lasted “a few hours.” In sharing their experiences, though, Nijo and Marlene are growing to understand more about one another.
Isabella reflects on a time when she thought her life was over—at forty, she was sent on a cruise to Australia for her health. She looked and felt miserable and suicidal. Nijo commiserates, saying she felt the same way when she began dressing as a nun. Marlene is surprised to hear Isabella and Nijo admit to such feelings, as she thought travelling cheered them both up. Nijo says she is not a cheerful person; she just laughs a lot. Isabella, on the other hand, admits that travelling did eventually bolster her; on a trip from Australia to the Sandwich Islands, she “fell in love with the sea.” She woke up each morning of the journey grateful to be freed from having to get dressed up. Nijo comments that her favorite part of her role as a concubine was the luxurious clothing.
Nijo’s claim that she is not a cheerful person, but merely laughs a lot, demonstrates how she has changed herself to survive in the patriarchal world she was raised in. She has made herself softer and more pleasant to mask her true feelings. The ways in which women change themselves to survive in a patriarchal world will develop as a major theme as the play progresses, and Churchill intends to keep her audience constantly questioning which parts of her characters’ personalities are genuine and which parts are adjustments they’ve made in order to get ahead in a world constructed for and by men.
Pope Joan declares that she herself dressed as a boy as early as she could. She ran away with a male friend a few years older than her—she wanted to study in Athens, but women were not allowed in libraries in the Middle Ages. Isabella states that in all her travels she never dressed as a man. Marlene says that she never wears trousers in the office—she could, but she chooses not to. Joan describes traveling with her friend, sharing a bed with him, and masquerading as poor students. “I think I forgot I was pretending,” she says.
Joan’s choice to disguise herself in order to take part in a part of the world restricted only to men—and Marlene’s follow-up comment about her choice to dress femininely for work in a male-dominated corporate atmosphere—is in keeping with Churchill’s investigation of what changing oneself in order to survive within the patriarchy looks like in different times. Joan’s comment that she forgot she was pretending shows just how dangerous such changes can be, and how it becomes increasingly challenging, the more one changes, to discern what aspects of oneself are genuine and what aspects are learned.
Isabella tells the women about a mountain man she encountered in her travels through America who fell in love with her. She knew she could not marry him, though, and so returned to England—she mournfully tells the women she never saw him again, though she had a vision of him in a dream; later, she learned that the day of her vision had been the day of his death. Lady Nijo tells the women that one of her lovers died, too—he was a priest named Ariake. Joan adds that her friend from her travels died—they all have dead lovers, she observes.
As the conversation turns to love, the amount of sadness, pain, and loss which has dominated these women’s lives where romance is concerned becomes overwhelming. They find common ground in their sorrow and broken hearts.
Nijo begins telling Isabella the story of Ariake—she met him when she was still at court. He was a Buddhist priest, and shared his beliefs about the afterlife and reincarnation with her. Joan, meanwhile, tells Marlene about her friend, with whom she’d passionately debated scripture and theology. After her friend died, Joan says, she decided to continue pretending to be man, and to devote her life to learning. She went to Rome, she says, because Italian men at the time did not grow beards.
Joan and Nijo both pursued love affairs that fed them intellectually as well as emotionally. Both of these women also found themselves shaped by the serious conversations they had with their lovers—Nijo would later become a Buddhist priest like Ariake, and Joan would pursue religious debate and education even after losing her lover.
Isabella says that she never fell in love with the mountain man—rather the loves of her life were her sister, and her “dear husband”—the doctor who nursed her sister, Hennie, through her illness and death. When Hennie died, Isabella felt that half of her had “gone,” and she saw no way to continue her travels. The only thing that brought her solace was seeing how the doctor, Doctor Bishop, had the same “sweet character” as Hennie, and had been tenderly devoted to Hennie throughout her illness. For this reason, she decided to marry him. Nijo says that she thought the Emperor had a sweet character, as well, as he was supportive of her affair with Ariake—but really, she understands now, he had just stopped caring for her, and began arranging for her to sleep with other men from court.
For Isabella, love was less about finding her intellectual match than it was about feeling comforted and cared for—and knowing that her male partner would treat her well, since she had seen him treat her sister with great care and tenderness.
Isabella was only married for a short time before her husband also fell ill and died. She herself was afflicted with gout, and fell into a depression. Nijo reflects on how, without the Emperor’s favor, she felt she had “nothing” in her life. As for Joan, she reveals that she devoted herself entirely to her studies—as she became more and more well-known as a teacher, she became famous, and huge crowds gathered to hear her speak. As Marlene listens to Joan’s story, she remarks that “success is very…” but trails off as Joan, Isabella, and Nijo’s stories continue. Isabella, at fifty-six, decided to leave her grief behind and set off for Tibet; Nijo left court on foot and wandered Japan for the next twenty years; Joan was chosen to be Pope, and became excited at the prospect of finally getting to “know God.”
Isabella has the sunniest disposition of all the women present—and yet her story is still full of heartbreak, disappointment, and physical struggle. The women commiserate about how difficult it is to fill the gap left by loss of love—but Marlene cannot contribute to the conversation, as she is so devoted to her success that she has shirked romance entirely; she has no point of reference for this kind of pain. Similarly, Joan, having suffered pain in romance, buried herself in work and attaining success for herself.
Marlene orders more wine from the waitress; though Griselda still isn’t present, she says that she wants to make a toast to the gathered women. Isabella points out that they are all gathered to celebrate Marlene’s success. Joan asks what exactly Marlene has achieved; Marlene replies that while she hasn’t been made Pope, she has been made managing director of her firm, an employment agency called Top Girls. Nijo admires Marlene for being promoted “over all the women [at the firm,] and the men [as well.]” The women all toast Marlene, and Marlene toasts them in return. She raises a glass to her friends’ success and her own: “To our courage and the way we changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements.”
As the women toast Marlene, they express pride in her accomplishments. Nijo’s remark that Marlene beat out everyone else for the role is just a little off—Churchill is demonstrating both that Nijo is growing increasingly drunk, and that the women can see transparently how badly Marlene wants to beat both the women and the men she is in professional competition with.
Joan continues her story. She found that once appointed to the papacy, God did not speak to her: “he knew I was a woman,” she says. Marlene is amazed that no one else suspected Joan to be a woman. Joan reveals that she took a lover at the Vatican—one of her servants. When Nijo asks what the man was like, Joan replies only that “he could keep a secret.” Joan enjoyed being Pope, but worried when she received news of earthquakes and plagues in Italy and France that she had brought misery to Europe through her false claim to the papacy.
Joan worried that she was being punished for having tried to gain power normally reserved only for men. Her failure to communicate with God, plus the news of plague-like atrocities unfolding throughout Europe, made Joan feel as if she had trespassed, and was being punished.
If it hadn’t been for the baby, Joan says, she would’ve ruled to an old age. Nijo asks Joan to tell them what happened to her baby; she says that she herself had “some babies.” Marlene asks Joan if she thought of getting rid of the child; Joan points out that that would have been a worse sin than having the baby. Joan admits that at first she didn’t know what was happening; she thought she was just getting fatter. When her lover pointed out what had happened, she “didn’t want to pay attention” to the matter; “it was easier to do nothing.”
As Joan begins talking about her pregnancy, she reveals that she had entered into a deep state of denial. Joan had grown so disconnected from her womanhood that she chose not to pay attention to her own body, even as it grew, changed, and began to house new life. This denial of womanhood is exactly what Churchill worries that the attempt to assimilate into the world of the patriarchy will to do women—strip them of their essential femininity, which is a beautiful thing, and should not be seen as an albatross or a weakness.
Nijo begins talking about her own pregnancies. Her first child was the Emperor’s and it died as an infant; her second was one of her lovers’, a man named Akebono. To disguise the fact that the child was not the Emperor’s, Akebono and Nijo conspired to deliver the baby in secret. The baby was a girl, and Akebono took the child away from Nijo as soon as it was gone. Nijo told the Emperor she had miscarried as the result of an illness, and “the danger was past.”
The recurrent motif of lost children will intensify as the play goes on. Nijo and Joan are not the only women to have experience with the terrible pain of having lost a child—Marlene, Gret, and Griselda all have stories to share on the topic, too, though some will be more reluctant than others to share their experiences.
Joan tells Nijo that she wasn’t used to having a woman’s body—she had all but forgotten that she could get pregnant in the first place, and so couldn’t plan to have the child in secret or give it away. On the day of a major religious procession, Joan went into labor, and delivered her baby right in the street in front of her attendants and commoners alike. The cardinals immediately dragged Joan out of town by the feet and stoned her to death. When Nijo asks if the child died, too, Joan says that she doesn’t know what happened to it. Isabella blithely states that she never had any children and was instead fond of horses. Nijo recalls seeing her daughter by Akebono only once—the child was being “brought up carefully so she could be sent to the palace” as a concubine one day, just like Nijo.
The idea of motherhood as a punishable offense is explored in this short passage. Joan is stoned to death for having been a woman, and for having borne a child during her tenure as Pope; Nijo is cruelly made to realize that her only daughter is bring brought up to meet the same exact fate she herself did, being just one more individual in an endless cycle of servitude and debasement. Only Isabella, who never had children, is exempt from this particular kind of torture.
Nijo continues talking about her own children—her third child was the son of Ariake, the priest, as was her fourth. She never saw either of them after they were born, but oddly, she says, by the fourth child she “felt nothing.” Marlene asks Gret, who has been nearly silent thus far, how many children she had; Gret replies “ten.”
Nijo feels less and less as each of her children is systematically removed from her care until she is entirely inured to the experience. The revelation that Gret had ten children—an enormous number—seems to indicate that she, too, suffered a similar breakdown of emotion to Nijo’s.
Marlene asks aloud why she and her guests are “all so miserable.” Isabella talks about her extensive charity work in England, which she undertook between adventures around the word. Joan tells the women that after her, the Vatican introduced a special chair with a hole in the seat, which each new pope had to sit on while clergymen looked up his skirts to make sure he was a man. Griselda arrives, but everyone is so delighted by Joan’s anecdote about the chair that no one notices. It is clear that at this point, everyone is “quite drunk.”
Marlene does not talk all that much or express her inner emotions during this scene—or really during the rest of the play—but her frank declaration that she and her friends are all living “miserable” existences as women is a tacit admission that she knows her own attempts to escape pain and suffering by playing by the rules of the patriarchy are in vain.
Marlene notices Griselda and greets her—Griselda apologizes for her lateness. Though the women have all finished their dinners, Marlene asks Griselda if she’d like to order something, but Griselda declines. Marlene tells Griselda they are all ordering dessert, and Griselda agrees to have some.
Griselda shows herself from the very moment she’s introduced to be demure and self-sacrificing, more comfortable putting her own needs on the back burner than making a fuss over herself.
Marlene tells everyone that Griselda’s life is “like a fairy story,” except her marriage to a prince is only the start of the tale. The women begin asking Griselda about herself, and she reveals that she was married at fifteen. She had seen the Marquis riding by, but she was only a peasant girl, and never thought he’d noticed her. On the Marquis’s wedding day, Griselda went outside to see the procession—the wedding had been announced, but not the bride. As Griselda joined the other peasants who were waiting anxiously to get a glimpse of the lucky woman, the carriage stopped at Griselda’s cottage—the Marquis spoke to Griselda’s father, and then proposed marriage to Griselda himself. He warned her, though, that if she said yes to him, she would have to obey him always and in everything.
The pattern of Griselda’s life does follow the pattern of a traditional fairy tale—only the circumstances are horribly twisted. Instead of telling the story of a woman finding joy and respect in her marriage and being elevated out of miserable circumstances into a carefree life of luxury, Griselda will meet only pain when she leaves her parents’ home, and will be tested in cruel and unusual ways.
Griselda agreed, and the Marquis’s ladies-in-waiting dressed her in white silk and adorned her hair. Marlene interjects to remark how “normal” the Marquis seemed at first. Griselda laments that Marlene is “always so critical of him.” Marlene tells Griselda that the Marquis did, after all, take away her children. Griselda explains to the rest of the women that the Marquis had a hard time believing Griselda loved him and would obey him, so he decided to test her. Marlene remarks that the Marquis didn’t “like women.”
Marlene is remarkably comfortable calling out inequity and abuse at the hands of men when she sees it in the stories of her friends, but is not self-aware enough to see how her own life is completely dictated by the demands of the patriarchy, as well.
Griselda begins telling the other women how her first child, a girl, was taken away at only six weeks old. Nijo commiserates about how awful it is to have a child taken away. Though Griselda feared that the Marquis was going to kill the child, she allowed him to take it—after all, she had promised obedience. Marlene, unable to stand Griselda’s story, gets up to go to the bathroom. The waitress brings in dessert as Griselda continues. Nijo empathizes with Griselda—she understands that the Marquis was Griselda’s whole life.
Marlene’s disgust for the Marquis’s behavior is out of character for her—she does not acknowledge the ways in which the patriarchy has warped her own life, only the lives of her guests. Marlene’s refusal to apply the lessons of her guests to her own life demonstrates her deep state of denial—she is grateful for her success and does not want to admit that it came at the cost of abandoning the same values that her friends did.
Four years later, Griselda says, she gave birth to a boy—but when he was two years old, the Marquis took that child away, too. Griselda allowed him to do so again. Nijo asks if the second time was easier or harder—Griselda replies that “it was always easy because [she] always knew [she] would do what he said.” Twelve years later, she continues, he tested her again—he sent her away, explaining that his people wanted him to marry someone else. Griselda left in just a shift, and returned to her father’s house, where “everyone was crying” except Griselda herself. Soon, though, the Marquis sent for her again, asking her to help prepare his wedding.
Griselda’s intense devotion to her husband seems genuine—she does not seem to remember feeling any anger, resentment, or even real pain as a result of his actions. She simply bends to his will, submitting to the whims of the male power in her life and never considering that the treatment she is receiving is not merely unjust but also inhumane. Griselda’s seemingly willful blindness in this regard, then, mirrors Marlene’s current state of denial.
At the ceremony, the Marquis’s sixteen-year-old bride and her younger brother, serving as her page, arrived. The Marquis then embraced Griselda and told her that the girl and the page were none other than her son and daughter. Marlene says that the Marquis was a “monster.” Joan, incredulous, asks if Griselda forgave the Marquis—she says that she did, and returned to her life with him, where she was dressed again in cloth of gold. Nijo begins crying, and says that nobody ever gave her back her children.
Marlene’s guests have found solace in the similarities their stories all share—but here, Nijo is brought to tears by the differences between her own narrative and Griselda’s. Griselda was reunited with her children, but Nijo was denied the chance to ever do so. Nijo’s sorrow is deep and enduring as she confronts the injustice of the world she lives in.
Joan comforts Nijo, telling her not to cry. Nijo talks about the deaths of her father and the Emperor—she was not allowed in the palace while the Emperor was dying, and had to sneak in to visit his coffin. Nijo wonders if she would have been allowed to wear full mourning garb if she had still been at court.
Nijo recalls how, after her life of service to the Emperor, she was denied even the chance to mourn him.
Nijo, now on a tear, begins talking about a time when she was eighteen years old, and subjected to a Full Moon Ceremony during which all of the women at court were beaten across the loins with sticks so that they would bear sons, not daughters. The Emperor beat all of his concubines—though this was “normal,” Nijo says, what made her angry was that the Emperor told his attendants that they could beat the women, as well. She and one of the other concubines made a secret plan to hide in the Emperor’s room that night—when the Emperor came in to go to bed, her conspirator seized him and held him while Nijo beat him until he promised “he would never order anyone to hit [them] again.”
Nijo’s story of rising up against the power structures that had entrapped her in a humiliating cycle of submission and exploitation since her youth is rebellious, bold, and slightly out of character for Nijo, who has portrayed herself in her own anecdotes up to this point as demure and submissive. Her resistance against the patriarchy in this violent and unmissable way speaks to her inner strength and her capacity for protecting herself—in spite of the fact that she was raised all her life to succumb to the whims of men.
The waitress comes and pours everyone more brandy. Joan drunkenly begins reciting a long prayer in Latin, part of which, in translation, expresses the calm feeling of watching the suffering of others from a distance. The women, all drunk, talk over one another. Griselda says it would’ve been “nicer” if her husband hadn’t taken away her children. Isabella asks everyone why she should be made to live as a lady. Nijo reflects on hitting the Emperor, over and over, with a stick.
Joan’s prayer about watching the suffering of others from a distance more or less sums up the events of the evening. The women have each borne witness to each other’s pain and suffering—they have shared their stories with one another, and have all had the chance to be heard, but whether this shared knowledge they all have will be of use to them seems dubious at best.
Finally, Gret begins talking. She describes pillaging Hell with the other women of her village. Marlene urges Joan, who is still chanting in Latin, to be quiet so they all can hear Gret speak. Gret describes a nightmarish, surreal scene of her village on fire, invaded by demons. She and the women of the village tried to beat the demons back, but they refused to back down. Their village had “had worse,” though; when the Spanish invaded, many women had to watch their children die. Gret describes seeing her son’s corpse be picked at by birds. With the invasion of the demons, Gret says, she’d had enough. Recalling the charge against the demons, Gret says she gave the devils “such a beating.”
Gret finally speaks up, and the speech she delivers is as triumphant as it is tortured. Gret has suffered just as much pain and loss as the other women—and yet she chose to fight back against it in a no-holds-barred crusade against the very forces of evil which had so marred the landscape of her life. The story is both painful and beautiful, full of misery and grotesque images but also somehow hopeful that the “devils” that plague women from all walks of life can indeed be beaten back.
Joan resumes her chanting. Isabella describes returning to Morocco on one last journey, in her old age. Nijo begins laughing and crying simultaneously; Joan vomits, and Griselda comforts her. Isabella proudly declares that she was, at seventy, the only European woman to have ever seen the Emperor of Morocco. Though she knew the return of her strength was “only temporary,” it was “marvelous while it lasted.”
The women, completely inebriated at this point, begin to break down and fall apart. The evening has been too much for all of them—reliving their individual and shared pain, regret, and loss has caused old traumas to resurface. Isabella, however—ever intrepid and optimistic—recalls how “marvelous” it felt to roam the world. Her happy reminiscence can be read as a moment in which she is oblivious to the others’ pain, or a cruelly ironic and vaguely melancholic meditation on the fleeting nature of happiness, and the fact that suffering and tragedy often overwhelm women’s lives.