The first part of the novel – Odile – is written on behalf of Philippe Marsen and is addressed to Isabel de Chaverni. Philip wants to truthfully and humbly tell her his whole life, for their friendship “has outgrown the time of flatter recognition alone.”
Philip was born in the estate of Gandumas in 1886. The family of Marsen occupies a very prominent position in the district – thanks to the energy of his father Philippe, a tiny paper factory turned into a big factory. Marsen accepts the world for a decent earthly paradise; neither the parents of Philip, nor Uncle Pierre and his wife, do not tolerate frankness; it is believed that generally accepted feelings are always sincere, and this is more the result of spiritual purity than hypocrisy.
Already in his childhood, Philip shows a thirst for self-sacrifice in the name of love, and then in his imagination is formed the ideal of a woman, whom he calls the Amazon. In the Lyceum he is still faithful to the image of his Queen, now acquired the features of Homeric Helena. However, in conversations with peers about women and about love, he appears as a cynic. The reason for this – a friend of his relatives, Denise Aubrey; Philip, in boyish love with her, once involuntarily overheard how she negotiated with her lover about a date… From this moment, Philip refuses romance and develops an unerring tactic of seduction, which invariably proves successful. Denise becomes his mistress, but soon Philip disappointed in it; and while Denise is getting attached to him more and more, Philip, one by one, conquers, without loving, young women, who meets in the cabin of her aunt Cora, the Baroness de Shuen. But deep down he still worships the ideal image of Elena Spartan.
Having survived the winter of 1909 with bronchitis, Philip, on the advice of a doctor, goes to the south, to Italy. On the first day of his stay in Florence, he notices in the hotel a girl of unearthly, angelic beauty. At a reception in a Florentine house, Philip acquainted with her. Her name is Odilia Male, she is also a Frenchwoman, traveling with her mother. From the very first moment, young people treat each other with unconfident credulity. Every day they spend together. Odile has a happy quality that the family of Marsen lacks – she has a taste for life. She opens Philip a new world – a world of colors, sounds.
Engaged in Florence, on their return to Paris, young people become husband and wife, despite the fact that the family of Marsen disapproves of frivolous, “weird”, Male. During the honeymoon spent in England, Philip and Odile are unusually happy. But upon arrival in Paris, the dissimilarity of their characters is revealed: Philippe is engaged all day in the affairs of the Gandhumas factory and likes to spend the evenings at home, together with his wife, while Odilia prefers theaters, night cabarets, fair fairs. Odile does not like serious friends of Philip; he is jealous of Odilia to her male friends; comes to the point that the only person who is equally pleasing to both of them is only Odile Mise’s friend, Philip suffers, but only Misa and his cousin René can guess this.
When Miza is getting married and leaving, Odile is even closer to her friends. Philip’s jealousy is growing. He harasses himself and his wife, stubbornly trying to overtake her with a nonexistent lover. Catching her on the contradictions, he requires an exact answer to the questions about where she was and what she was doing, for example, between two and three o’clock in the afternoon. The answer is “I do not remember” or “It does not matter” he considers a lie, sincerely not realizing how insulting Odile such interrogations are. Odile once, referring to a headache, for a few days goes to the village. Philip arrives without warning, confident that now his suspicions will be confirmed, and he is convinced that he was mistaken. Odile then admits that she wanted to be alone, because she was tired of him. Subsequently, Philip learns that Odilia never betrayed him… until Francois de Crozan appeared.
They met at a dinner at the Baroness de Shrn. Philip François is disgusting, but women, all as one, find him charming. With pain Philip watches for the development of relations Odile and Francois; he carefully analyzes the words of his wife and sees how love permeates every phrase of her… Odile for the correction of health must go to the sea, and with amazing perseverance she begs to let her go not to Normandy, as always, but to Brittany. Philip agrees, confident that François in Toulon – he serves in the Navy. After her departure, he learns that François is temporarily transferred to Brest, and his wife’s insistence becomes understandable. A week later,... Philip meets Misa, who becomes his mistress and tells him about the relationship between Francois and Odile. When Odile returns from Brittany, Philip gives her the words of Miz. Odile denies everything and breaks off a relationship with a friend.
After that, the couple leave for Gandiums. A solitary life in the bosom of nature brings them closer, but not for long – once upon return to Paris the shadow of Francois again darkens their relationship. Philip feels that he is losing Odile, but unable to part with her – he loves her too much. She starts a conversation about divorce.
They diverge. Philip gravely experiences a loss, but does not share his grief with anyone except Cousin Rene; he returns to the youthful manner of the behavior of the cynical libertine. From friends he learns that Odilia was the wife of Francois, but their family life is not quite smooth. And one day comes the news that Odilia committed suicide. Philip begins a nervous fever with delirium, and, having recovered, he becomes self-absorbed, throws things, he is completely absorbed in his grief.
This continues until the First World War. The second part, “Isabella,” was written on behalf of Isabella after the death of Philip: she wants for herself to capture her love for him – just as Philip recorded on paper his love for Odile to explain Isabella herself.
As a child, Isabella felt unhappy: his father ignored her, and her mother believed that her daughter should be tempered for life battles and therefore brought up very strictly. The girl grew timid, unsociable, unsure of herself. In 1914, with the outbreak of the war, Isabella goes to work as a nurse of mercy. The hospital, where she falls, is in charge of Rene Marsen. The girls immediately became friends.
One of the wounded, Jean de Chaverni, becomes Isabel’s husband. Their marriage lasts only four days – Jean returned to the front and was soon killed.
After the war, Reneh arranges Isabella in the same laboratory where she works herself. From Rene, in love with her cousin, the girl constantly hears about Philip, and when she meets with him at Madame de Schouen, he immediately inspires her with confidence. Isabella, Philip and René begin to leave three times several times a week. But then Philip only invited Isabel… Gradually, friendship grows into a more gentle and deep feeling. Isabella leaves work to avoid embarrassment in relations with Rene and devote herself entirely to the love of Philip. Making the decision to marry Isabella, Philippe wrote her a letter, and Isabella tries to become what Philip wanted to see Odile.
Initially, Isabella is very happy, but Philip sadly begins to note that his calm and methodical wife is not like the Amazon. Roles have changed: now Philip, as once Odile, pulls on the fairgrounds, and Isabella, as once Philip, seeks to spend the evening at home, together with her husband, and in the same way he is jealous of Philip to his friends of the opposite sex, then he was jealous of Odile. Isabella persuades her husband to spend Christmas in Saint-Moritz – only together, but at the last moment Philip invites Villiers to join them.
During this trip, Philip strongly converges with Solange Villiers – a woman in whom the power of life, a woman who with her ardent soul strives for “adventures”, is the key. In Paris, they do not interrupt relations. Isabella soon has no doubt that they are lovers – she painfully notes how Philip and Solange influence each other: Solange is reading Philip’s favorite books, and Philip suddenly fell in love with nature, like Solange. Isabella suffers.
Solange leaves for his estate in Morocco, and Philip – on a business trip to America. Returning, Philip spends almost all of his time with his wife. Isabella is happy, but the thought that the reason for this is the absence of Solange in Paris, somewhat overshadows her happiness. Philip is jealous; she once was the object of his jealousy – maybe, if she began to flirt, she could return the love of her husband… but she deliberately refuses it. All her thoughts – only about the happiness of Philip and their newborn son, Alain.
And Solange throws Philip – she begins the next novel. Philip struggles to hide his torment. In order not to see Solange, he moves to Gandumas with his wife and son. There he calms down and seems to fall in love with Isabella again. The spouses find harmony. This is the happiest time of their life together. alas, it was short-lived.
Having caught cold, Philip gets bronchopneumonia. Isabella takes care of him. She holds Philip’s hand in his last hour.
“It seems to me that if I could save you, I would know how to give you happiness,” Isabella finishes her manuscript, “but our destinies and our will almost always act inappropriately.”