Thursday, December 14, 2006

Reading. Connell.

The two novels fit together, a matched pair, a married couple. The first, Mr. Bridge, the second, Mrs. Bridge. A family, somewhere in the years before the second world war. They are written from the point of view of each title character, moments in their shared life intersecting and diverging into the separate parts of their lives, Mr. Bridge in his career as an attorney, Mrs. Bridge with her friends and card games and making a home for her husband and three children. And how each of them deals with the rebellions of their children, the eldest, Ruth, the middle child and only son, Douglas, and the youngest, Carolyn. I came back to Mr. Bridge for the first time in many years; it has moved from shelf to shelf as my library has reorganized itself and across the city between the old home and my new one, but I have not opened it again until now.

Now I see more clearly how encapsulated the novel is in its moment of time, those pre-war years. There is racism, anti-Semitism; it stands out more clearly now that I am older (it has been nearly fifteen years since I first read these novels). Walter Bridge seems to be carved from some pure Anglo-Saxon-Protestant granite, firmly entrenched in his ideas of what is right, what is fair. There is something unyielding in the way he governs his children, their petty foibles, their desires, how rigidly he divides his life at his office from his life at home. (How many times does Mrs. Bridge bring a problem to him at the end of the day when he comes home just before dinner? How many times must she have said to the children, "Just you wait until your father gets home"?). And moments when he sees that he has passed that unyielding part of his character, some native stubbornness, onto his children, something that comes clearly from him and not their mother.

And there are moments of softness, gentleness, something that might pass as understanding, in how he lets his oldest daughter leave for New York, seeing in her the need to escape, how he relents and lets his younger daughter marry her sweetheart. You aren't as cold as you pretend to be, says a friend of his wife, Grace Barron, I think your doors open in different places, that's all. Most people just don't know how to get in to you. They knock and they knock where the door is supposed to be, but it's a blank wall. But you're there...I've seen you do some awfully cold things warmly, and some warm things coldly. He is not a cold man, a racist one, an anti-Semitist. Or perhaps he is all three, but he does not mean to be, which does not excuse his racism, his anti-Semitism, his absolute belief that his word should be law and everyone around him should behave as he wishes. He is one of those men of that time, who went to work every morning, briefcase in hand and tie neatly knotted, and came home at the end of the day, and the two separate universes of work and home revolved around him, like small planets rotating around the sun.

Connell, Evan S. Mr. Bridge. North Point Press. p. 260.

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