The Muse's Tragedy by Edith Wharton
Danyers afterwards liked to fancy that he had recognized Mrs. Anerton at
once; but that, of course, was absurd, since he had seen no portrait of
her—she affected a strict anonymity, refusing even her photograph to
the most privileged—and from Mrs. Memorall, whom he revered and
cultivated as her friend, he had extracted but the one impressionist
phrase: "Oh, well, she's like one of those old prints where the lines have
the value of color."
He was almost certain, at all events, that he had been thinking of Mrs.
Anerton as he sat over his breakfast in the empty hotel restaurant, and
that, looking up on the approach of the lady who seated herself at the
table near the window, he had said to himself, "That might be she."
Ever since his Harvard days—he was still young enough to think of
them as immensely remote—Danyers had dreamed of Mrs. Anerton, the
Silvia of Vincent Rendle's immortal sonnet-cycle, the Mrs. A. of the Life
and Letters. Her name was enshrined in some of the noblest English
verse of the nineteenth century—and of all past or future centuries,
as Danyers, from the stand-point of a maturer judgment, still believed.
The first reading of certain poems—of the Antinous, the Pia
Tolomei, the Sonnets to Silvia,—had been epochs in
Danyers's growth, and the verse seemed to gain in mellowness, in
amplitude, in meaning as one brought to its interpretation more experience
of life, a finer emotional sense. Where, in his boyhood, he had felt only
the perfect, the almost austere beauty of form, the subtle interplay of
vowel-sounds, the rush and fulness of lyric emotion, he now thrilled to
the close-packed significance of each line, the allusiveness of each word—his
imagination lured hither and thither on fresh trails of thought, and
perpetually spurred by the sense that, beyond what he had already
discovered, more marvellous regions lay waiting to be explored. Danyers
had written, at college, the prize essay on Rendle's poetry (it chanced to
be the moment of the great man's death); he had fashioned the fugitive
verse of his own storm-and-stress period on the forms which Rendle had
first given to English metre; and when two years later the Life and
Letters appeared, and the Silvia of the sonnets took substance as Mrs.
A., he had included in his worship of Rendle the woman who had inspired
not only such divine verse but such playful, tender, incomparable prose.
Danyers never forgot the day when Mrs. Memorall happened to mention that
she knew Mrs. Anerton. He had known Mrs. Memorall for a year or more, and
had somewhat contemptuously classified her as the kind of woman who runs
cheap excursions to celebrities; when one afternoon she remarked, as she
put a second lump of sugar in his tea:
"Is it right this time? You're almost as particular as Mary Anerton."
"Yes, I never can remember how she likes her tea. Either it's lemon
with sugar, or lemon without sugar, or cream without either, and
whichever it is must be put into the cup before the tea is poured in; and
if one hasn't remembered, one must begin all over again. I suppose it was
Vincent Rendle's way of taking his tea and has become a sacred rite."
"Do you know Mrs. Anerton?" cried Danyers, disturbed by this
careless familiarity with the habits of his divinity.
"'And did I once see Shelley plain?' Mercy, yes! She and I were at school
together—she's an American, you know. We were at a pension
near Tours for nearly a year; then she went back to New York, and I didn't
see her again till after her marriage. She and Anerton spent a winter in
Rome while my husband was attached to our Legation there, and she used to
be with us a great deal." Mrs. Memorall smiled reminiscently. "It was the
"The winter they first met?"
"Precisely—but unluckily I left Rome just before the meeting took
place. Wasn't it too bad? I might have been in the Life and Letters.
You know he mentions that stupid Madame Vodki, at whose house he first saw
"And did you see much of her after that?"
"Not during Rendle's life. You know she has lived in Europe almost
entirely, and though I used to see her off and on when I went abroad, she
was always so engrossed, so preoccupied, that one felt one wasn't wanted.
The fact is, she cared only about his friends—she separated herself
gradually from all her own people. Now, of course, it's different; she's
desperately lonely; she's taken to writing to me now and then; and last
year, when she heard I was going abroad, she asked me to meet her in
Venice, and I spent a week with her there."
Mrs. Memorall smiled and shook her head. "Oh, I never was allowed a peep
at him; none of her old friends met him, except by accident.
Ill-natured people say that was the reason she kept him so long. If one
happened in while he was there, he was hustled into Anerton's study, and
the husband mounted guard till the inopportune visitor had departed.
Anerton, you know, was really much more ridiculous about it than his wife.
Mary was too clever to lose her head, or at least to show she'd lost it—but
Anerton couldn't conceal his pride in the conquest. I've seen Mary shiver
when he spoke of Rendle as our poet. Rendle always had to have a
certain seat at the dinner-table, away from the draught and not too near
the fire, and a box of cigars that no one else was allowed to touch, and a
writing-table of his own in Mary's sitting-room—and Anerton was
always telling one of the great man's idiosyncrasies: how he never would
cut the ends of his cigars, though Anerton himself had given him a gold
cutter set with a star-sapphire, and how untidy his writing-table was, and
how the house-maid had orders always to bring the waste-paper basket to
her mistress before emptying it, lest some immortal verse should be thrown
into the dust-bin."
"The Anertons never separated, did they?"
"Separated? Bless you, no. He never would have left Rendle! And besides,
he was very fond of his wife."
"Oh, she saw he was the kind of man who was fated to make himself
ridiculous, and she never interfered with his natural tendencies."
From Mrs. Memorall, Danyers further learned that Mrs. Anerton, whose
husband had died some years before her poet, now divided her life between
Rome, where she had a small apartment, and England, where she occasionally
went to stay with those of her friends who had been Rendle's. She had been
engaged, for some time after his death, in editing some juvenilia which he
had bequeathed to her care; but that task being accomplished, she had been
left without definite occupation, and Mrs. Memorall, on the occasion of
their last meeting, had found her listless and out of spirits.
"She misses him too much—her life is too empty. I told her so—I
told her she ought to marry."
"Why not, pray? She's a young woman still—what many people would
call young," Mrs. Memorall interjected, with a parenthetic glance at the
mirror. "Why not accept the inevitable and begin over again? All the
King's horses and all the King's men won't bring Rendle to life-and
besides, she didn't marry him when she had the chance."
Danyers winced slightly at this rude fingering of his idol. Was it
possible that Mrs. Memorall did not see what an anti-climax such a
marriage would have been? Fancy Rendle "making an honest woman" of Silvia;
for so society would have viewed it! How such a reparation would have
vulgarized their past—it would have been like "restoring" a
masterpiece; and how exquisite must have been the perceptions of the woman
who, in defiance of appearances, and perhaps of her own secret
inclination, chose to go down to posterity as Silvia rather than as Mrs.
Mrs. Memorall, from this day forth, acquired an interest in Danyers's
eyes. She was like a volume of unindexed and discursive memoirs, through
which he patiently plodded in the hope of finding embedded amid layers of
dusty twaddle some precious allusion to the subject of his thought. When,
some months later, he brought out his first slim volume, in which the
remodelled college essay on Rendle figured among a dozen, somewhat
overstudied "appreciations," he offered a copy to Mrs. Memorall; who
surprised him, the next time they met, with the announcement that she had
sent the book to Mrs. Anerton.
Mrs. Anerton in due time wrote to thank her friend. Danyers was privileged
to read the few lines in which, in terms that suggested the habit of
"acknowledging" similar tributes, she spoke of the author's "feeling and
insight," and was "so glad of the opportunity," etc. He went away
disappointed, without clearly knowing what else he had expected.
The following spring, when he went abroad, Mrs. Memorall offered him
letters to everybody, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Louise Michel.
She did not include Mrs. Anerton, however, and Danyers knew, from a
previous conversation, that Silvia objected to people who "brought
letters." He knew also that she travelled during the summer, and was
unlikely to return to Rome before the term of his holiday should be
reached, and the hope of meeting her was not included among his
The lady whose entrance broke upon his solitary repast in the restaurant
of the Hotel Villa d'Este had seated herself in such a way that her
profile was detached against the window; and thus viewed, her domed
forehead, small arched nose, and fastidious lip suggested a silhouette of
Marie Antoinette. In the lady's dress and movements—in the very turn
of her wrist as she poured out her coffee—Danyers thought he
detected the same fastidiousness, the same air of tacitly excluding the
obvious and unexceptional. Here was a woman who had been much bored and
keenly interested. The waiter brought her a Secolo, and as she bent
above it Danyers noticed that the hair rolled back from her forehead was
turning gray; but her figure was straight and slender, and she had the
invaluable gift of a girlish back.
The rush of Anglo-Saxon travel had not set toward the lakes, and with the
exception of an Italian family or two, and a hump-backed youth with an abbé,
Danyers and the lady had the marble halls of the Villa d'Este to
When he returned from his morning ramble among the hills he saw her
sitting at one of the little tables at the edge of the lake. She was
writing, and a heap of books and newspapers lay on the table at her side.
That evening they met again in the garden. He had strolled out to smoke a
last cigarette before dinner, and under the black vaulting of ilexes, near
the steps leading down to the boat-landing, he found her leaning on the
parapet above the lake. At the sound of his approach she turned and looked
at him. She had thrown a black lace scarf over her head, and in this
sombre setting her face seemed thin and unhappy. He remembered afterwards
that her eyes, as they met his, expressed not so much sorrow as profound
To his surprise she stepped toward him with a detaining gesture.
"Mr. Lewis Danyers, I believe?"
"I am Mrs. Anerton. I saw your name on the visitors' list and wished to
thank you for an essay on Mr. Rendle's poetry—or rather to tell you
how much I appreciated it. The book was sent to me last winter by Mrs.
She spoke in even melancholy tones, as though the habit of perfunctory
utterance had robbed her voice of more spontaneous accents; but her smile
was charming. They sat down on a stone bench under the ilexes, and she
told him how much pleasure his essay had given her. She thought it the
best in the book—she was sure he had put more of himself into it
than into any other; was she not right in conjecturing that he had been
very deeply influenced by Mr. Rendle's poetry? Pour comprendre il faut
aimer, and it seemed to her that, in some ways, he had penetrated the
poet's inner meaning more completely than any other critic. There were
certain problems, of course, that he had left untouched; certain aspects
of that many-sided mind that he had perhaps failed to seize—
"But then you are young," she concluded gently, "and one could not wish
you, as yet, the experience that a fuller understanding would imply."
She stayed a month at Villa d'Este, and Danyers was with her daily. She
showed an unaffected pleasure in his society; a pleasure so obviously
founded on their common veneration of Rendle, that the young man could
enjoy it without fear of fatuity. At first he was merely one more grain of
frankincense on the altar of her insatiable divinity; but gradually a more
personal note crept into their intercourse. If she still liked him only
because he appreciated Rendle, she at least perceptibly distinguished him
from the herd of Rendle's appreciators.
Her attitude toward the great man's memory struck Danyers as perfect. She
neither proclaimed nor disavowed her identity. She was frankly Silvia to
those who knew and cared; but there was no trace of the Egeria in her
pose. She spoke often of Rendle's books, but seldom of himself; there was
no posthumous conjugality, no use of the possessive tense, in her
abounding reminiscences. Of the master's intellectual life, of his habits
of thought and work, she never wearied of talking. She knew the history of
each poem; by what scene or episode each image had been evoked; how many
times the words in a certain line had been transposed; how long a certain
adjective had been sought, and what had at last suggested it; she could
even explain that one impenetrable line, the torment of critics, the joy
of detractors, the last line of The Old Odysseus.
Danyers felt that in talking of these things she was no mere echo of
Rendle's thought. If her identity had appeared to be merged in his it was
because they thought alike, not because he had thought for her. Posterity
is apt to regard the women whom poets have sung as chance pegs on which
they hung their garlands; but Mrs. Anerton's mind was like some fertile
garden wherein, inevitably, Rendle's imagination had rooted itself and
flowered. Danyers began to see how many threads of his complex mental
tissue the poet had owed to the blending of her temperament with his; in a
certain sense Silvia had herself created the Sonnets to Silvia.
To be the custodian of Rendle's inner self, the door, as it were, to the
sanctuary, had at first seemed to Danyers so comprehensive a privilege
that he had the sense, as his friendship with Mrs. Anerton advanced, of
forcing his way into a life already crowded. What room was there, among
such towering memories, for so small an actuality as his? Quite suddenly,
after this, he discovered that Mrs. Memorall knew better: his fortunate
friend was bored as well as lonely.
"You have had more than any other woman!" he had exclaimed to her one day;
and her smile flashed a derisive light on his blunder. Fool that he was,
not to have seen that she had not had enough! That she was young still—do
years count?—tender, human, a woman; that the living have need of
After that, when they climbed the alleys of the hanging park, resting in
one of the little ruined temples, or watching, through a ripple of
foliage, the remote blue flash of the lake, they did not always talk of
Rendle or of literature. She encouraged Danyers to speak of himself; to
confide his ambitions to her; she asked him the questions which are the
wise woman's substitute for advice.
"You must write," she said, administering the most exquisite flattery that
human lips could give.
Of course he meant to write—why not to do something great in his
turn? His best, at least; with the resolve, at the outset, that his best
should be the best. Nothing less seemed possible with that mandate
in his ears. How she had divined him; lifted and disentangled his groping
ambitions; laid the awakening touch on his spirit with her creative Let
there be light!
It was his last day with her, and he was feeling very hopeless and happy.
"You ought to write a book about him," she went on gently.
Danyers started; he was beginning to dislike Rendle's way of walking in
"You ought to do it," she insisted. "A complete interpretation—a
summing-up of his style, his purpose, his theory of life and art. No one
else could do it as well."
He sat looking at her perplexedly. Suddenly—dared he guess?
"I couldn't do it without you," he faltered.
"I could help you—I would help you, of course."
They sat silent, both looking at the lake.
It was agreed, when they parted, that he should rejoin her six weeks later
in Venice. There they were to talk about the book.
Lago d'Iseo, August 14th.
When I said good-by to you yesterday I promised to come back to Venice in
a week: I was to give you your answer then. I was not honest in saying
that; I didn't mean to go back to Venice or to see you again. I was
running away from you—and I mean to keep on running! If you
won't, I must. Somebody must save you from marrying a disappointed
woman of—well, you say years don't count, and why should they, after
all, since you are not to marry me?
That is what I dare not go back to say. You are not to marry me. We
have had our month together in Venice (such a good month, was it not?) and
now you are to go home and write a book—any book but the one we—didn't
talk of!—and I am to stay here, attitudinizing among my memories
like a sort of female Tithonus. The dreariness of this enforced
But you shall know the truth. I care for you, or at least for your love,
enough to owe you that.
You thought it was because Vincent Rendle had loved me that there was so
little hope for you. I had had what I wanted to the full; wasn't that what
you said? It is just when a man begins to think he understands a woman
that he may be sure he doesn't! It is because Vincent Rendle didn't
love me that there is no hope for you. I never had what I wanted, and
never, never, never will I stoop to wanting anything else.
Do you begin to understand? It was all a sham then, you say? No, it was
all real as far as it went. You are young—you haven't learned, as
you will later, the thousand imperceptible signs by which one gropes one's
way through the labyrinth of human nature; but didn't it strike you,
sometimes, that I never told you any foolish little anecdotes about him?
His trick, for instance, of twirling a paper-knife round and round between
his thumb and forefinger while he talked; his mania for saving the backs
of notes; his greediness for wild strawberries, the little pungent Alpine
ones; his childish delight in acrobats and jugglers; his way of always
calling me you—dear you, every letter began—I never
told you a word of all that, did I? Do you suppose I could have helped
telling you, if he had loved me? These little things would have been mine,
then, a part of my life—of our life—they would have slipped
out in spite of me (it's only your unhappy woman who is always reticent
and dignified). But there never was any "our life;" it was always "our
lives" to the end....
If you knew what a relief it is to tell some one at last, you would bear
with me, you would let me hurt you! I shall never be quite so lonely
again, now that some one knows.
Let me begin at the beginning. When I first met Vincent Rendle I was not
twenty-five. That was twenty years ago. From that time until his death,
five years ago, we were fast friends. He gave me fifteen years, perhaps
the best fifteen years, of his life. The world, as you know, thinks that
his greatest poems were written during those years; I am supposed to have
"inspired" them, and in a sense I did. From the first, the intellectual
sympathy between us was almost complete; my mind must have been to him (I
fancy) like some perfectly tuned instrument on which he was never tired of
playing. Some one told me of his once saying of me that I "always
understood;" it is the only praise I ever heard of his giving me. I don't
even know if he thought me pretty, though I hardly think my appearance
could have been disagreeable to him, for he hated to be with ugly people.
At all events he fell into the way of spending more and more of his time
with me. He liked our house; our ways suited him. He was nervous,
irritable; people bored him and yet he disliked solitude. He took
sanctuary with us. When we travelled he went with us; in the winter he
took rooms near us in Rome. In England or on the continent he was always
with us for a good part of the year. In small ways I was able to help him
in his work; he grew dependent on me. When we were apart he wrote to me
continually—he liked to have me share in all he was doing or
thinking; he was impatient for my criticism of every new book that
interested him; I was a part of his intellectual life. The pity of it was
that I wanted to be something more. I was a young woman and I was in love
with him—not because he was Vincent Rendle, but just because he was
People began to talk, of course—I was Vincent Rendle's Mrs. Anerton;
when the Sonnets to Silvia appeared, it was whispered that I was
Silvia. Wherever he went, I was invited; people made up to me in the hope
of getting to know him; when I was in London my doorbell never stopped
ringing. Elderly peeresses, aspiring hostesses, love-sick girls and
struggling authors overwhelmed me with their assiduities. I hugged my
success, for I knew what it meant—they thought that Rendle was in
love with me! Do you know, at times, they almost made me think so too? Oh,
there was no phase of folly I didn't go through. You can't imagine the
excuses a woman will invent for a man's not telling her that he loves her—pitiable
arguments that she would see through at a glance if any other woman used
them! But all the while, deep down, I knew he had never cared. I should
have known it if he had made love to me every day of his life. I could
never guess whether he knew what people said about us—he listened so
little to what people said; and cared still less, when he heard. He was
always quite honest and straightforward with me; he treated me as one man
treats another; and yet at times I felt he must see that with me it
was different. If he did see, he made no sign. Perhaps he never noticed—I
am sure he never meant to be cruel. He had never made love to me; it was
no fault of his if I wanted more than he could give me. The Sonnets to
Silvia, you say? But what are they? A cosmic philosophy, not a
love-poem; addressed to Woman, not to a woman!
But then, the letters? Ah, the letters! Well, I'll make a clean breast of
it. You have noticed the breaks in the letters here and there, just as
they seem to be on the point of growing a little—warmer? The
critics, you may remember, praised the editor for his commendable delicacy
and good taste (so rare in these days!) in omitting from the
correspondence all personal allusions, all those détails intimes
which should be kept sacred from the public gaze. They referred, of
course, to the asterisks in the letters to Mrs. A. Those letters I myself
prepared for publication; that is to say, I copied them out for the
editor, and every now and then I put in a line of asterisks to make it
appear that something had been left out. You understand? The asterisks
were a sham—there was nothing to leave out.
No one but a woman could understand what I went through during those years—the
moments of revolt, when I felt I must break away from it all, fling the
truth in his face and never see him again; the inevitable reaction, when
not to see him seemed the one unendurable thing, and I trembled lest a
look or word of mine should disturb the poise of our friendship; the silly
days when I hugged the delusion that he must love me, since
everybody thought he did; the long periods of numbness, when I didn't seem
to care whether he loved me or not. Between these wretched days came
others when our intellectual accord was so perfect that I forgot
everything else in the joy of feeling myself lifted up on the wings of his
thought. Sometimes, then, the heavens seemed to be opened....
All this time he was so dear a friend! He had the genius of friendship,
and he spent it all on me. Yes, you were right when you said that I have
had more than any other woman. Il faut de l'adresse pour aimer,
Pascal says; and I was so quiet, so cheerful, so frankly affectionate with
him, that in all those years I am almost sure I never bored him. Could I
have hoped as much if he had loved me?
You mustn't think of him, though, as having been tied to my skirts. He
came and went as he pleased, and so did his fancies. There was a girl once
(I am telling you everything), a lovely being who called his poetry "deep"
and gave him Lucile on his birthday. He followed her to Switzerland
one summer, and all the time that he was dangling after her (a little too
conspicuously, I always thought, for a Great Man), he was writing to me
about his theory of vowel-combinations—or was it his experiments in
English hexameter? The letters were dated from the very places where I
knew they went and sat by waterfalls together and he thought out
adjectives for her hair. He talked to me about it quite frankly
afterwards. She was perfectly beautiful and it had been a pure delight to
watch her; but she would talk, and her mind, he said, was "all
elbows." And yet, the next year, when her marriage was announced, he went
away alone, quite suddenly ... and it was just afterwards that he
published Love's Viaticum. Men are queer!
After my husband died—I am putting things crudely, you see—I
had a return of hope. It was because he loved me, I argued, that he had
never spoken; because he had always hoped some day to make me his wife;
because he wanted to spare me the "reproach." Rubbish! I knew well enough,
in my heart of hearts, that my one chance lay in the force of habit. He
had grown used to me; he was no longer young; he dreaded new people and
new ways; il avait pris son pli. Would it not be easier to marry
I don't believe he ever thought of it. He wrote me what people call "a
beautiful letter;" he was kind; considerate, decently commiserating; then,
after a few weeks, he slipped into his old way of coming in every
afternoon, and our interminable talks began again just where they had left
off. I heard later that people thought I had shown "such good taste" in
not marrying him.
So we jogged on for five years longer. Perhaps they were the best years,
for I had given up hoping. Then he died.
After his death—this is curious—there came to me a kind of
mirage of love. All the books and articles written about him, all the
reviews of the "Life," were full of discreet allusions to Silvia. I became
again the Mrs. Anerton of the glorious days. Sentimental girls and dear
lads like you turned pink when somebody whispered, "that was Silvia you
were talking to." Idiots begged for my autograph—publishers urged me
to write my reminiscences of him—critics consulted me about the
reading of doubtful lines. And I knew that, to all these people, I was the
woman Vincent Rendle had loved.
After a while that fire went out too and I was left alone with my past.
Alone—quite alone; for he had never really been with me. The
intellectual union counted for nothing now. It had been soul to soul, but
never hand in hand, and there were no little things to remember him by.
Then there set in a kind of Arctic winter. I crawled into myself as into a
snow-hut. I hated my solitude and yet dreaded any one who disturbed it.
That phase, of course, passed like the others. I took up life again, and
began to read the papers and consider the cut of my gowns. But there was
one question that I could not be rid of, that haunted me night and day.
Why had he never loved me? Why had I been so much to him, and no more? Was
I so ugly, so essentially unlovable, that though a man might cherish me as
his mind's comrade, he could not care for me as a woman? I can't tell you
how that question tortured me. It became an obsession.
My poor friend, do you begin to see? I had to find out what some other man
thought of me. Don't be too hard on me! Listen first—consider. When
I first met Vincent Rendle I was a young woman, who had married early and
led the quietest kind of life; I had had no "experiences." From the hour
of our first meeting to the day of his death I never looked at any other
man, and never noticed whether any other man looked at me. When he died,
five years ago, I knew the extent of my powers no more than a baby. Was it
too late to find out? Should I never know why?
Forgive me—forgive me. You are so young; it will be an episode, a
mere "document," to you so soon! And, besides, it wasn't as deliberate, as
cold-blooded as these disjointed lines have made it appear. I didn't plan
it, like a woman in a book. Life is so much more complex than any
rendering of it can be. I liked you from the first—I was drawn to
you (you must have seen that)—I wanted you to like me; it was not a
mere psychological experiment. And yet in a sense it was that, too—I
must be honest. I had to have an answer to that question; it was a ghost
that had to be laid.
At first I was afraid—oh, so much afraid—that you cared for me
only because I was Silvia, that you loved me because you thought Rendle
had loved me. I began to think there was no escaping my destiny.
How happy I was when I discovered that you were growing jealous of my
past; that you actually hated Rendle! My heart beat like a girl's when you
told me you meant to follow me to Venice.
After our parting at Villa d'Este my old doubts reasserted themselves.
What did I know of your feeling for me, after all? Were you capable of
analyzing it yourself? Was it not likely to be two-thirds vanity and
curiosity, and one-third literary sentimentality? You might easily fancy
that you cared for Mary Anerton when you were really in love with Silvia—the
heart is such a hypocrite! Or you might be more calculating than I had
supposed. Perhaps it was you who had been flattering my vanity in
the hope (the pardonable hope!) of turning me, after a decent interval,
into a pretty little essay with a margin.
When you arrived in Venice and we met again—do you remember the
music on the lagoon, that evening, from my balcony?—I was so afraid
you would begin to talk about the book—the book, you remember, was
your ostensible reason for coming. You never spoke of it, and I soon saw
your one fear was I might do so—might remind you of your
object in being with me. Then I knew you cared for me! yes, at that moment
really cared! We never mentioned the book once, did we, during that month
I have read my letter over; and now I wish that I had said this to you
instead of writing it. I could have felt my way then, watching your face
and seeing if you understood. But, no, I could not go back to Venice; and
I could not tell you (though I tried) while we were there together. I
couldn't spoil that month—my one month. It was so good, for once in
my life, to get away from literature....
You will be angry with me at first—but, alas! not for long. What I
have done would have been cruel if I had been a younger woman; as it is,
the experiment will hurt no one but myself. And it will hurt me horribly
(as much as, in your first anger, you may perhaps wish), because it has
shown me, for the first time, all that I have missed....