How is the relationship between Stephen and Isabelle started and developed in Part one of Birdsong? Part one of Birdsong begins in France 1910 which involves young Englishman Stephen Wraysford coming to Amiens to learn more about the textile industry and to stay with the Azaire family. This sets the context and is relevant as it is a period of industrial and civil unrest. The novel is written in the third person and Stephen’s presence allows for an outsider’s view of the family with him not stating his opinion and being neutral between sides.
From the start there’s a mutual attraction between Stephen and Isabelle. Stephen finds this in some assets of Isabelle’s character firstly when Isabelle comments on a beautiful piece of music she has heard, Berard then attempts to belittle her but she puts him aside with a look. “Stephen watched as Madame Azaire turned her head slowly so that her eyes met those of Berard. He saw them open wider as they focused on his smiling face of which perspiration stood out in the still air of the dining room” Stephen admires this and cannot believe she is the mother of Lisette and Gregoire.
Stephen finds a certain trust in Isabelle as she seems to be discrete unlike the characteristics of Azaire. He thinks that secrets will be kept safe with her. Stephen hears the sob and pleading of a woman and is sure that it is Isabelle however he returns to his room with no cause of action despite his “sense of confused anger”. Stephen thinks he could be the one to save her from violence. This shows his emotions developing for Isabelle as “He saw, with some surprise, that what had struck him most he had not written about at all”.
Azaire demonstrates a patriarchal influence as he treats his work and Isabelle with the same heavy-handedness and this shows his desire to rule in both his public and private life. Azaire seems to be too traditional, old and contemporary for Isabelle. With the violence, an unhappy marriage and a lot of time spent with Stephen an affair is inevitably going to happen between him and Isabelle. Stephen’s thoughts drift at work one day and his thoughts consist of Isabelle, only. The narrative then shifts to how he describes her and his feelings of her in his notebook, they are summed up in a single word ‘Pulse’.
Stephen’s growing attraction towards Isabelle become increasingly apparent with his awareness of the way she moves and noticeably how she eats and drinks. “Her white hands seemed barely to touch the cutlery when they ate at the family dinner table and her lips left no trace of their presence on the wine glass”. Isabelle’s suppressed emotions are connected with her position as a bourgeois woman. Stephen’s attempt to get closer to her when finding her in the garden highlights why she acts with restraint.
The language reiterates this earlier in the text before Stephen has a relationship with Isabelle she is referred to as Madame Azaire. Isabelle greets Stephen as ‘Monsieur’ on his returns from work. She asks him to ‘respect her position’ when Stephen takes her hand in his in the garden. She is seen to react in accordance with her social standing. Without regard Isabelle offers little in the way of resistance when he takes her hand. However these thoughts come from Stephen’s perspective and there are little insight given into Isabelle’s emotions.
The theme of desire is broached and made relevant as Stephen sits opposite Isabelle on the boat on the return home from a trip to the water gardens. As they touch each other and do not move away, his desire for her is heightened. “Isabelle’s foot touches his leg; neither moves”. Stephen hits a man who defamed Isabelle; Azaire suggests that it is best if he stays at the house for a while until all is settled. This section is mainly significant for when Stephen and Isabelle make love, the earlier parts of the novel have been building up to this as the sexual tension is released between both characters.
The act is instigated initially by Steven when he pulls her towards him once Lisette leaves however it is continued by Isabelle when she asks him to come to the red room. This scene however is slightly different as it has connotations of a fairy tale. “By the time Stephen turned round she had gone. The red room. He panicked. He was sure it would be one of those he had once seen but could never refind; it would be like a place in a dream that remains out of reach; it would always be behind him” this may be due to the recognition of both their optimum feelings towards each other.
The scene in the red room is also relevant for what it reveals about Isabelle’s thought processes “She wanted him to bring alive what she had buried, and not to demean, destroy her fabricated self” this describes how she sees Stephen as her saviour. They continue to make love secret; he asks her to come to England. Azaire hears a rumour of Isabelle having an affair with Lucien and helping the strikers families, Isabelle admits to helping the families as she is no long afraid of her husband as she is no under the protection of Stephen.
She says she has been having an affair with Stephen, not Lucien. Stephen takes the blame saying he ‘seduced’ her feeling pity for Azaire. They leave for the South of France. In the last section Isabelle discovers that she is pregnant; she decides not to tell Stephen. There is a significant use of dramatic irony in this as Isabelle believes Stephen to be distant even about his own life, whereas he has been considering taking her to his grandparents’ old home because he wishes to share his past with her now.
This is because ‘his life’s concern’ is her ‘well-being’. Ironically, it is the fear for the well-being of her child that impels her to go to Jeanne rather than stay with him. When he discovers she has left, the effect is compared to that of a block of wood being split, This simile cleverly describes his emotional state because, although he shows no outward sign to his co-workers, he is ripped apart inside “No shred or fibre escaped he sundering”. His emotions are left in pieces by their relationship.
Courtney from Study Moose
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