Magazine article The Spectator

America's Mrs Miniver

Magazine article The Spectator

America's Mrs Miniver

Article excerpt

Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge by Evan S. Connell Penguin Modern Classics, £8.99 each, ISBN 9780141198651 and 9780141198668 A policeman encountering Mrs Bridge on the home furnishings floor of a Kansas City department store recognises her at once for what she is: 'a bona-fide country-club matron'. Had she been asked to identify herself, Mrs Bridge would have said the same, after asserting unequivocally that she was first and foremost the wife of Mr Walter Bridge, successful Kansas City lawyer, as entirely constrained by her status as professional spouse as Chaucer's Wife of Bath or Jan Struther's Mrs Miniver.

Like Mrs Miniver, Mrs Bridge inhabits an interwar world shaped by a promise of certainties - domestic, social, cultural and sexual - which are never wholly realised and remain frustratingly elusive. As a result, every aspect of her life is dominated by the same unresolved anxiety. This fruitless fretting forms the principal spring of Connell's comedy; it also provides grounds for our sympathy with his dazed and confused and consistently unheroic heroine.

'She never forgot this moment when she almost apprehended the very meaning of life, and of the stars and planets, yes, and the flight of the earth.' The critical word is 'almost'.

Connell's two novels were written a decade apart, Mrs Bridge in 1959, Mr Bridge in 1969. By then the world they describe was already a lost one. Mrs Bridge fills her days shopping for cocktail napkins;

her husband works and works and works.

Occasionally, over lunch parties and in the evening, conversation touches on Nazism or Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. For the most part, the Bridges' worldview inclines to myopia or determined blinkeredness. 'Mrs Bridge could not imagine anyone wanting to live outside the United States. To visit, yes. To take up residence, no.'

It is an outlook her husband shares, an instance of mutuality in a superficially successful marriage which betrays to outsiders none of its barrenness or isolation.

Despite their three children, Ruth, Carolyn and Douglas, husband and wife are virtual strangers to one another, Mr Bridge incapable of articulating his feelings though subject to stabs of physical desire, Mrs Bridge repeatedly 'not certain what she wanted from life, or what to expect from it'.

Mr Bridge is accustomed to his wife's 'extraordinary naivete'; he does not always respond to it with kindness or sensitivity.

Introspection and imagination are as surely his foes as they are Mrs Bridge's, albeit for different reasons:

Early tomorrow I must get up again to do what I have done today. …

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