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Mrs. Bridge

Mrs. Bridge - Evan S. Connell when i was in mcnally jackson on my last visit to new york, i dragged greg over to a table, asking him about [b:Son of the Morning Star|227144|Son of the Morning Star|Evan S. Connell|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348716111s/227144.jpg|641343], the evan s. connell book i'd set out to read several years ago before stumbling upon this book, mrs. bridge, instead. i was concerned about the small font size in the morning star edition the store carried and wanted to know if b&n had a bigger-fonted one. when we returned to the book there was a man standing there looking at mrs. bridge, stationed just beside connell's other famous work, and i accosted him with enthusiasm.. i told him how wonderful it was and then reiterated my constant refrain that even though written ten years apart, the two books are perfectly matched, i feel strongly that both mrs. bridge and mr. bridge together should, and must be read. individually, they are accomplished works; together they are magic. he nervously shied away and i did not sell a book for mcnally-jackson that day (though i did buy a cabell through their book expresso machine). you are welcome to sneak away from my exhortations, but i will just feel sorry for you that you deprived yourself of these exquisite portraits.

considering mrs. bridge, i have learned that connell began trying to write it in the early 1950s, attempting a more straightforward narrative but eventually set upon its final form: a series of vignettes, a stack of literary polaroids taken by a budding family photographer if you will, organized in an album in such a way that these scattered moments, that overlap and sometimes gap but come together to quietly and intimately reveal mrs. bridge's character to the reader, alleviating the growing distance that she feels the longer she lives, and echoing the album she will take refuge in late in life. some twelve of these vignettes were published starting in 1955 in the paris review, and eventually the full book saw light of day in 1959. i think that structure coupled with connell's consummately concise yet compassionate prose allowed me to connect with this WASP-y woman in a way that would never happen in real life, seeing as i am practically everything she has ever suppressed, or repressed. she would never know what to make of me, even if she were to read a book about me, even if evan s. connell had written it. and she would certainly not want me to go bowling with her douglas. i imagine she'd size me up the way she does the lucky paquita:

"The girl was a gypsy-looking business with stringy black uncombed hair, hairy brown arms jingling with bracelets, and glittering mascaraed eyes in which there was a look of deadly experience.
"How do you, Paquita?" she said, smiling neutrally, after Douglas had mumbled an introduction. The girl did not speak and Mrs. Bridge wondered if she understood English."

and yet, i felt a lot of compassion for mrs. bridge. she's not a very strong woman, she's not very bright either, and she's not exceptionally beautiful. she's not especially great at anything, really, beyond collecting silver, and making every effort to be respectable. but she means well, or at least wants to, and she feels she ought to be better, and to know more. sometimes being better means reinforcing segregation, or stifling creativity, imposing limitations not only on her children but herself, to ensure that she is the right kind of person because she is doing the best job she can to be the best wife and mother to her three children that she can be. yet she has self-doubt and the turmoil she feels is represented by the time she spends with madge arlen, the ladies' club lady, and grace barron, who plays baseball with her kids and goes to art galleries. it's mrs. bridge's tragedy to be just a little self-aware, to be cognizant of the distance, and the lacks in her life, of intimacy, and of passion of any kind. there are sometimes flickers but she extinguishes them almost as soon as they begin to burn. This passage comes early on in the book and is the beginning of understanding her:

"She was not certain what she wanted from life, or what to expect from it, for she had seen so little of it, but she was sure that in some way - because she willed it to be so - her wants and her expectations were the same.
For a while after their marriage she was in such demand that it was not unpleasant when he fell asleep. Presently, however, he began sleeping all night, and it was then she awoke more frequently, and looked into the darkness, wondering about the nature of men, doubtful of the future, until at last there came a night when she shook her husband awake and spoke of her own desire. Affably he placed one of his long white arms around her waist; she turned to him then, contentedly, expectantly, and secure. However, nothing else occurred, and in a few minutes he had gone back to sleep."

and a longer one from "voting", which demonstrates one of her closest breakthroughs: (if interested, the paris review versions of the 1955 stories were reposted online to honour connell's death in january of this year: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/01/11/the-beau-monde-of-mrs-bridge/ i found it most edifying to see how much revision these saw before inclusion in the novel.)

"This was how she defended herself to Mable Ong after having incautiously let slip the information that her husband always told her how to vote.
"Don’t you have a mind of your own?" Mabel demanded, looking quite grim. "Great Scott, woman, you’re an adult. Speak out! We've been emancipated." She rocked back and forth from her heels to her toes, hands clasped behind her back, while she frowned at the carpet of the Auxiliary clubhouse.
"You’re right, of course," Mrs. Bridge apologized, discreetly avoiding the stream of smoke from Mabel's cigarette. "But don't you find it hard to know
what to think? There’s so much scandal and fraud everywhere you turn, and I suppose the papers only print what they want us to know." She hesitated, then spoke out boldly, "How do you make up your mind?"
Mabel Ong, without removing the cigarette from her small lips, considered the ceiling, the carpet, and squinted critically at a Degas print on the wall, as though debating on how to answer such an ingenuous question, and finally she suggested that Mrs. Bridge might begin to grasp the fundamentals by a deliberate reading of certain books, which she jotted down on the margin of a tally card. Mrs. Bridge had not heard of any of these books except one, and this was because its author had committed suicide, but she decided to read it anyway.

The lady at her favourite rental library had never heard of the book, which was somehow gratifying; even so, having resolved to read it, Mrs. Bridge set out for the public library. Here, at last, she got it and settled down to the deliberate reading that Mabel had advised. The author’s name was Zokoloff, which certainly sounded threatening, and to be sure the first chapter was about bribery in the circuit courts.

When she had gotten far enough along that she felt capable of discussing it she left it on the hall table; however Mr. Bridge did not even notice it until it had lain there for three days. She watched him pick it up, saw his nostrils flatten as he read the title, and then she waited nervously and excitedly. He opened the book, read a few sentences, grunted, and dropped the book on the table. This was disappointing. In fact, now that there was no danger involved, she had trouble finishing the book; she thought it would be better in a magazine digest. But eventually she did finish it and returned it to the library, saying with a slight air of sophistication, "I can't honestly say I agree with it all but he’s certainly well informed."

Certain arguments of Zokoloff remained with her and she found that the longer she thought about them the more penetrating and logical they became; surely it
was time, as he insisted, for a change in government. She decided to vote liberal at the next election, and as time for it approached she became filled with such enthusiasm and with such conviction and determination that she planned to discuss her new attitude with her husband. She became confident that she could persuade him to change his vote also. Politics were not mysterious after all. However, when she challenged him to discussion he did not seem especially interested; in fact he did not answer. He was studying a sheaf of legal papers and only glanced across at her for an instant with an annoyed expression. She let it go until the following evening when he was momentarily unoccupied, and this time, he stared at her curiously, intently, as if probing her mind, and then all at once he snorted.

She really intended to force a discussion on election eve. She was going to quote from the book of Zokoloff. But he came home so late, so exhausted, that she had not the heart to upset him. She concluded it would be best to let him vote as he always had, and she would do as she herself wished; still, on getting to the polls, which were conveniently located in the country-club shopping district, she became doubtful and a little uneasy. And when the moment finally came she pulled the lever recording her wish for the world to remain as it was."

poor mrs. bridge. as you can see, in all things, she means well. and when we look at ourselves in her mirror, we identify with her despite our differences. at least i did to a very great degree. an amazing novel. apparently there are others cut from this cloth but i do not feel any desire to read them. i have already found the two i needed.