Rebecca West

Indissoluble Matrimony

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Indissoluble Matrimony Summary

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“Indissoluble Matrimony” is a short story by British author Rebecca West. Initially published in 1914, as part of the avant-garde journal BLAST, it is considered a manifesto in the Vorticist sub-genre. The story’s themes are often interpreted as an exhortation to its audience to come together in an artistic revolution to upend certain normative conceptions of race and gender. It elucidates them through the characters George and Evadne Silverton, whose marriage collapses as they each unleash their primal aggressions on each other.

“Indissoluble Matrimony” begins by introducing George. He returns home from working as a clerk for a solicitor’s office. As he enters his home in the night, before turning on the lights, he feels an instinctive anxiety about his safety. He is quickly characterized as resentful of Evadne, choosing to lead a bitter and self-isolating life. Evadne, on the other hand, is portrayed as uniquely beautiful, though quick to anger, passionate to a fault about the minutiae of life, and deliberately oblivious to her husband’s unhappiness. George fantasizes about leaving her, repulsed by the physicality of human relationships.

George receives mail announcing a public event headline led by Evadne to support a Socialist running for a seat in the town government. George is taken aback to see Evadne endorsing the man, though he hypocritically considers himself radical, because he hates the idea of women being independent and intellectuals. He gets into a fight with Evadne before the event, threatening her with a knife. When she leaves the house sobbing, he assumes that she is leaving to have an affair with Langton, the socialist.

George takes off after Evadne, overwhelmed with anger at his wrongly perceived slighting by his wife. He resolves to catch her committing adultery to justify a divorce and finally regain sexual independence. To his surprise, Evadne merely leaves to swim in the lake to cool off. Rather than comfort George, this enrages him, since had actually hoped he would have an opportunity to divorce her. Both husband and wife become malicious towards each other, realizing that the emotions that are manifesting have always lurked just beneath their public facades. They begin to fight; after George strikes the first blow, Evadne drags him into a river.

George flounders in the rapids, injuring himself when he hits the craggy rocks, but eventually getting hold of a stable boat dock at the edge of the water. He finds Evadne under the water, seemingly unconscious; he holds her under, believing that this is his chance to kill her. Satisfied, he goes home, experiencing a spectrum of positive and negative emotions over having fought with and killed his wife. He fantasizes about the method by which he will be killed under the death penalty, deciding to exert control over it preemptively by killing himself.

At the end of the story, George is appalled to see that Evadne escaped from the rapids. He enters their home and sees her lying in bed, her body soaked and covered in mud. Irritated that she chose to lie on the same bed where he planned to commit suicide, he, nonetheless, goes to lie next to her. She rolls over and hugs him warmly, sending the nonverbal signal that their marriage can still proceed as it always has. Evadne’s act of forgiveness, and her physical resilience, effectively defeats George, and the short story ends on a note of bitterness as the husband feels totally emasculated and alienated.