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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The American Mrs. Dalloway: Mrs. Bridge

Evan S. Connell's "Mrs. Bridge" (1959?) is something like an American Mrs. Dalloway, its obvious antecedent. Both are about an extremely conventional woman, well married, on or near the upper tier of her society, doing her best to lead an ordinary life during extraordinary times. There, the similarity stops. Mrs. Bridge is a provincial (Kansas City), her life and self-worth to a great extent determined by the success (and conventionality) of her children. Her husband, a lawyer, is barely a presence (though Connell also wrote Mr. Bridge). Biggest difference is that Mrs. Bridge takes place over what appears to be the entire course of her adult life. Completely told in short vignette chapters, each named, as if it were an independent short story. Each is very striking, and the cumulative effect is profound, a full portrait of a conventional (seemingly) life. The novel lacks the interior development of Woolf (and others), however; each chapter is told from an omniscient but cool and distant POV. We'll get a glimpse of Mrs. Bridge's thinking but no great unfolding of her mind at work. Each chapter closes with a sharp snap. The novel entirely lacks conventional plot. I'm about halfway through, and I'm not sure if there will be any sort of development of arc or if we will just follow her through her life scene by scene until the end, her end? I would not want or expect dramatic plot developments, but am wondering if she learns, grows, or changes over the course of the story. At the outset, she is a slave to social conventions and completely unquestioning of the mores of her society. Does this change?

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