Updated on August 5, 2015
24. ‘Mrs Bridge’ by Evan S. Connell
Mrs. Bridge is a suburban American housewife in the 1920s to 1940s, married to an office-bound man, and living according to the expectations of the middle-class society she inhabits. The book is written in a series of short chapters or vignettes, and the titles of the first two chapters are almost comical in the dismissive way in which they deal with Mrs. Bridge’s major life changes. First comes ‘Love and Marriage’, then ‘Children’. The biggest things happen early on in Mrs. Bridge’s life, and pass by so quickly that they hardly seem important at all. From then on the book deals with small events, and it these trivialities which take on the greatest significance.
There are strong similarities between this book and ‘Revolutionary Road’, but here things are far more understated. The discontent and craving for something more simmers under the surface, but never erupts. At no point did I really believe that Mrs. Bridge would do anything to change her situation.
There are, of course, moments where she comes close. In chapter 27 (‘Sentimental Moment’) she remembers her early life with Mr. Bridge, the dreams they shared, and she wonders what happened to them. Then Mr. Bridge comes home and says ‘I see you forgot to have the car lubricated’, and the chapter ends. In another chapter she almost changes her vote, but at the last minute changes her mind and votes the way she is expected to.
Weather is used very effectively at certain points. Mrs. Bridge watches lightning through a window and “almost” has an epiphany, but again a banal comment from Mr. Bridge brings the moment to an end. There is also a fantastic scene in which Mr. and Mrs. Bridge sit out a tornado in a restaurant: he refuses to leave the dinner table, and she cannot conceive of leaving him. In this world, convention and appearance are stronger forces than nature itself.
Mrs. Bridge is, undoubtedly, a slave to the expectations of others, even when it comes to raising her children. When her son constructs an amazingly solid tower out of rubbish, she has it torn down because she is worried about the neighbours talking. She is willing to stifle her son’s creativity to save her family from other people’s twitching curtains. As a result she ends up creating a greater and greater distance between herself and her children.
Ultimately this is a frustrating novel. There are so many moments when Mrs. Bridge stands on the brink of change and pulls herself back. The entire novel is an incredible exercise in bathos: Connell is fantastically skilful in drawing Mrs. Bridge’s inescapably claustrophobic world. I love writers who dangle the ideal ending in front of the reader but do not deliver it, and this novel, like Mrs. Bridge’s life, does exactly that.
“Could she explain how the leisure of her life – that exquisite idleness he had created by giving her everything – was driving her insane?”
This is another book I requested from NetGalley, after seeing lots of other reviewers praising it on the Twittersphere.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?