Evan S. Connell’s portrait of conservative housewife, Mrs Bridge, cleverly exposes the instabilities of domestic life in the interwar years. A series of brief chapters, that feel more like sub-headings, direct the reader through telling chronological vignettes that map her social relations and the upbringing of her three children.
In terms of realism, it is a success. Her quiet struggles are compelling and human. It says much about the pressures and constraints on women at that time. The limited list of acceptable conversation topics is telling:
‘…the by-laws of certain committees, antique silver, Royal Doulton, Wedgewood, the price of margarine as compared to butter, or what the hemline was expected to do.’
The Telegraph’s review calls it ‘very funny’; the well-pitched irony and some of the more comical, absurd scenes are testament to this. However, humour doesn’t figure largely in my lasting impression of the novel.
Mostly, I found it saddening. Mrs Bridge is trapped by her own limited ideas and experience, the expectations of her social group and control of her husband. I found her relationship with Mr Bridge very affecting. He memorably says to his son, ‘You’ll express yourself when I say you can.’ This could easily have been levelled at his wife. Her complete deference to him is shown starkly when she feels like she’s about to faint at church and he tells her not to until afterwards. She complies.
The author’s great success is in creating a moving and engaging novel around an essentially unlikeable, prejudiced character. It moves between the tragic and the ordinary in an understated and stylish manner.