Friday, December 15, 2006

Reading. Connell. (Part 2).

Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge have to be read together, in a gulp, or alternating stories, weighing the thoughts of the husband against those of the wife. I came back to Mr. Bridge first; now it is time to return to his companion. I have not read these books for many years, and now I feel a sadness that I was too young to see before. In Mr. Bridge there is a sense that he was standing still while the world was changing around him, changing in ways he refused to see or believe. Mrs. Bridge is different; I feel that she is lost, as if she were sleepwalking through her life. There is no office to escape to, no work to bury herself in, only the house (run by a maid) and the children (whose small daily battles are sometimes reported to their father, sometimes not) and visits with friends.

There are, of course, the children, who Mrs. Bridge finds slipping slowly away from her. They have grown into people with minds of their own, unlike her, have stopped loving her. She belongs to a generation that is now gone; their ways are foreign to me, their racism, their inability to accept change, their strict and orderly life. In Mr. Bridge Walter Bridge realizes that his wife has lived for nearly fifty years having never seen the Atlantic ocean, having never traveled abroad. In both novels both remember that when they were young Walter told India that one day, he would take his wife to Europe; it is not until after more than twenty years of marriage that this promise is fulfilled. And meanwhile Mrs. Bridge became the kind of woman who did not know that there was a slip of paper hidden inside a fortune cookie.

In these stories the days seem to slip by so quickly that they wake up to find themselves middle-aged, the children grown-up and moved away, the marriage slowed to brief conversations in passing about the car and the house and brief kisses on the cheek. It is possible to sleepwalk one's way through life, to wake up with a shock to realize that the world around you has changed into something beyond recognition, that your children have become strangers. I don't know why, but when I read Mrs. Bridge now I feel my heart breaking. It was not until I came to the last pages, when I came across the part which I forgot always made me cry. Mr. Bridge has died, and because Mrs. Bridge had always been guided by him, their son Douglas stepped into his place. After all the children have left again, Ruth to New York, where she fled as soon as she was old enough to, Carolyn to Southern Kansas with her husband and child, and Douglas to the army. His first letter to his mother after his father's death begins thusly, and it makes me weep:

My dear Mother,
My father loved you above all else, and if he was apt to be rude or tyrannical it was because he wanted to protect you. He wanted so much for us all. He did not ever realize that what we needed was himself instead of what he could give us...

Connell, Evan S. Mrs. Bridge. North Point Press. p. 240.

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