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June 17, 2012

“Mrs. Bridge”

by Anne Paddock

More than 50 years ago, Evan S Connell wrote “Mrs. Bridge” – a fictional novel that is remarkable in many ways. “Mrs. Bridge” is the story of India Bridge, a woman who was born in the late 19th century and came of age during World War 1 and yet, the reader doesn’t realize this information until half-way through the novel because the story is timeless. The story of Mrs. Bridge is not the story of events during Mrs. Bridge’s lifetime, but of the day-to-day events in her life. At 26, India marries Walter Bridge and becomes Mrs. Bridge although she quickly realizes that love is not always an equitable affair after Mr. Bridge spurns her advances early in their marriage while holding her secure in his arms as he falls back asleep – an action that deftly defines their long life together: security, yes; passion, no.

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge move to Kansas City where he opens up a law practice working day and night to provide for his growing family: Ruth, the eldest, Carolyn who arrived two years later, followed by Douglas, their youngest. In the early years, Mrs. Bridge is busy with the demands of a house and three children but as Mr. Bridge becomes more successful and the children become more independent, Mrs. Bridge finds herself living in a perpetual state of boredom. She has by all outward appearances the ideal life: a successful and very generous husband, three healthy children, a big house maintained by a housekeeper and a laundress, and time to pursue her interests. But, she doesn’t have intimacy, passion, and the love and respect of her family.

Structured by 117 very short chapters, “Mrs. Bridge” is the story of a woman who represses her emotional needs in exchange for a husband who over compensates in providing material needs to ensure nothing else can be asked of him for how can anyone criticize a man who provides for his family so well? Mr. Bridge is a man who gives everything but himself, his time, and his emotional support while Mrs. Bridge is a woman who values appearances (nice manners, pleasant dispositions, and cleanliness), a desire for the world to stay the same, and unanimity. Together, their emotional makeup leads to isolationism.

“Mrs. Bridge” is not an extraordinary story tied to historical events but the novel is an extraordinary story of the day-to-day life of a socially mobile mid-western family that places importance on values most of us would inwardly label shallow but outwardly subscribe to. And, that is the beauty of this timeless story.

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