Copy

Artwork from Slightly Foxed Issue 21, Spring 2009 


The sun is shining, flowers are blooming and our little team in Hoxton Square is happily beavering away in preparation for the new quarterThe spring issue has been selling like the proverbial hot cakes (we’re about to order a third reprint) and the good cream pages of the summer issue - a special celebratory 50th one - will soon be rolling off the printing press up at Smith Settle.
 
As usual it features many old friends, and some new voices too. There’s Richard Mabey on Lesley Blanch’s gastronomic adventures • Sue Gee on the changing world of 1930s rural England • Robin Blake on Gulliver and his travels • Michael Holroyd on the scary world of Dan Rhodes • Liz Forsyth on an emotional trail that leads to Brokeback Mountain • Patrick Welland on J. G. Farrell’s return to the Raj • Laura Freeman on the romance Elizabeth David preferred to forget and Alexandra Harris on the passing of the seasons in a Shropshire garden. We’ve much more planned for the rest of the year too.
 
As we head towards the significant milestone of our 50th issue we feel we must reiterate our thanks to you, our readers. It’s the security our regular subscribers bring that keeps a small independent outfit like Slightly Foxed going, and judging from the huge correspondence we receive, the benefit is mutual – as someone wrote to us recently:

‘Couldn’t live without Slightly Foxed, I love it, there’s nothing else like it on the market’. 

To recognize this, from now on all subscribers to the quarterly will receive free access to the digital edition and full archive. More information about this can be found further down the page, and do look out for more subscribers’ perks to be announced in the summer issue too.
 
In this month’s selected article we’re crossing the ocean to Kansas City with William Palmer on Evan S. Connell’s, Mrs Bridge. We do hope you’ll enjoy reading (or re-reading) it and, if you do, you can now buy the book directly from us, online or by phone.

We’ll be in touch again later this month with news of our summer publications. Until then we send you our very best wishes. Read on!
The Sadness of Mrs Bridge
 
WILLIAM PALMER

As a fan of early jazz, I’ve read a great deal about Kansas City as it was in the 1930s. A most attractive place it seems in retrospect, of twenty-four-hour drinking and gambling, to the accompaniment of wonderful music provided by young, prodigiously talented and mostly black instrumentalists and singers; a wide-open city ruled over by a corrupt mayor, Boss Pendergast, whose main duty seems to have been to keep the good times rolling. It is at this time and in this place that the novel Mrs Bridge (1959) by Evan S. Connell is set, but Mrs Bridge’s life elapses without a mention of any of these goings-on. For Mrs Bridge lives in a wealthy suburb of Kansas City, inhabited by respectable and well-off families, most of whom vote Republican in a United States recently carried in a landslide victory by Roosevelt and the Democrats.
   The Depression hardly affects the Bridges or their neighbours. Their only contact with black people is to employ them as servants, and those servants go home at night to parts of the City the Bridges would not dream of visiting. The genius of Connell is to show that this is how most people live: first in their own minds, then in their families, then in their limited social circles; most historical novels fail to realize that most people simply do not notice whatever great moments of history are being enacted around them unless they actually impinge upon their lives.
    The odd thing is that Evan Connell, on the face of it, looks the sort more likely to have written a great novel about all that exciting stuff happening on the other side of Kansas City. He was born in the city in 1924, the son of a doctor he described as a ‘rather severe man’. Connell dropped out of medical school in 1943 and joined the Navy, training as a pilot. After the war he travelled and wrote and worked at any odd job he could find. Every book he produced is well worth reading: the poetry, the essays, biographies and short stories. For most of his long life (he died at the age of 88) his talents went largely unrecognized.
    The problem was he was that nightmare of publishers, a writer whose every book is different. Indeed, his life seems to have been lived almost deliberately in a contrary way to expectations. He was handsome – photographs show a lean, tall man with a fine hawk-like head, as if Gary Cooper were miscast as Ernest Hemingway. Unlike most of his contemporaries among American writers he was not a boozer or an academic. He never married but remained all his life, in a curious phrase from one of his obituaries, ‘potently attractive to women’. He lived alone. Taciturn, he became so silent in old age that he was taken for a mute.
    Mrs Bridge is the finest of his novels. It adopts a highly original way of telling its story, broken down into 117 vignettes, some barely a page long, such as Mrs Bridge’s comic difficulties in parking her car. Another, several pages longer, gives us a description of a dinner at the country club, where her admirably imperturbable husband insists on finishing his steak while rain and wind whip at the windows and all the other diners have fled to the cellar to escape a rapidly approaching tornado.
    The very first sentence of the novel sums up Mrs Bridge: ‘Her first name was India – she was never able to get used to it.’ Her whole childhood is passed over in a few sentences – and there is not a sentence in the whole book which is not of importance – and she marries at the foot of page one. The history of her emotional life in marriage is brief and both chilling and compassionate:
 
For a while after her marriage she was in such demand that it was not unpleasant when he fell asleep. Presently, however, he began sleeping all night, and it was then she awoke more frequently, and looked into the darkness, wondering about the nature of men, doubtful of the future, until at last there came a night when she shook her husband awake and spoke of her own desire. Affably he placed one of his long white arms around her waist; she turned to him then, contentedly, expectant and secure. However nothing else occurred, and in a few minutes he had gone back to sleep. 

Despite this cooling off, three children are born to them, Ruth, Carolyn and Douglas, within two or three years of each other. Their parents ‘let it go at that; there would have been no sense in continuing what would soon have become amusing to other people’. With her husband working hard every day and sometimes into the evenings, most of the children’s upbringing falls on her. She values above all what she hopes will be ‘their nice manners, their pleasant dispositions, and their cleanliness, for these were qualities she valued above all others’. Unfortunately, ‘what she stressed was not at all what they remembered as they grew older’. What is truly compelling about Mrs Bridge is her very ordinariness, notwithstanding all her petty snobbery, conformism and timidity. The list is easy to make and appears to be a fairly damning indictment, but Connell is not writing a satirical portrait. His intention is to show us the utter uniqueness of this one human life, the irreplaceability of body and soul that is India Bridge. Connell portrays her so tenderly that we come to sympathize with her and, more, to care for her.
    She is frequently puzzled and worried by her children. Ruth grows into a beautiful and wayward young woman. Carolyn is more straightforward, but also interested in boys – Mrs Bridge accidentally eavesdrops on a boyfriend impatiently asking the teenage Carolyn if she is going to remain a virgin forever. When Ruth quits high school at 18 she moves to New York. Of all the family, it is only Douglas who lives in a state of uncomplicated freedom. At the age of 12, he alarms his mother by beginning to build a tower from rubbish he has collected. The tower grows taller and taller and begins to be noticed by the neighbours. The reaction of her neighbours is what truly alarms Mrs Bridge and she calls the fire brigade. The tower has been cemented together so solidly by the boy that it takes the men four hours to dismantle it, while Douglas watches them ‘in grieved silence’.
    There is also perfectly observed comedy and absurdity in the book. The Van Metres, Wilhelm and Susan, are older than the Bridges and the sort of friends acquired almost by accident: ‘Mrs Bridge could not quite recall how she and her husband became
acquainted with the Van Metres, or how they got into the habit of exchanging dinners once in a while.’ Wilhelm entertains his friends at the country club; but now the dining-room is almost always empty and the place has fallen out of fashion. Wilhelm is consummately boring, given to utterances such as ‘I am commencing to wonder if we have a waiter this evening.’ Conversation is desultory and tedious; Mrs Bridge politely agrees with everything that’s said, but at one point in the evening even she wonders if she is about to lose control of herself.
    Time passes. She takes up Spanish and then a painting course but abandons both. Harriet, her cook and cleaner, does all the housework and Mrs Bridge tries to fill the emptiness of too much leisure.
    Mrs Bridge’s deepest and most tragic desire, we feel, is that everything should remain the same, forever poised at its happiest. What disturbs her is the progress of time, which makes her beloved and innocent children into awkward adolescents, then into grown-up individuals whose worlds – Ruth’s sexually promiscuous life in New York, Carolyn’s marriage to a dull but violent husband, the sturdy, self-sufficient young man in Army uniform that Douglas has become by the end of the book when America is at war – are incomprehensible to her.
    Connell wrote a second novel, called Mr Bridge (1969), also a closely detailed portrait. It is terrifying how little the two portraits have in common – they might be describing two entirely different worlds. Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward made a film, Mr and Mrs Bridge (1990), that was a conflation of the two. A good, sensitive film that somehow missed the point of the essential loneliness of these two life partners.
    Mrs Bridge remains the one to read: a book that begins in carefully observed and often very funny social comedy and darkens into a woman’s meditations, only half comprehended, on the triumphs and failures of her life. It is a masterpiece of empathy with its subject. As Dorothy Parker said, ‘How it is done I only wish I knew.’

Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 49, Spring 2016
© William Palmer, 2016

William Palmer’s latest novel, The Devil Is White, is now available in paperback. He is working on a new, long and dark novel, which will no doubt be eagerly awaited by his small but discerning public.
Mrs Bridge

Evan S. Connell
Penguin • Pb

 UK Â£8.99 *free p&p
Overseas £10.99 *inc. p&p
The Digital Fox

If you are a current print subscriber to Slightly Foxed you can now access the digital edition and full archive for free.
All you need is your membership number. This is printed on the address label for anything we send you by post and on all other correspondence from the office. 

 If you don’t know your membership number, please send Katy an email and she’ll send a note of your number to you next week. 

all@foxedquarterly.com

Mr Bridge
Evan S. Connell
Penguin • Pb

 UK Â£8.99 *free p&p
Overseas £10.99 *inc. p&p
The Real Mrs Miniver

Much like Mrs Bridge, Mrs Miniver’s official role in life was that of the exemplary housewife . . .

It was in 1937 that Joyce Anstruther, a well-connected and sharply observant young woman who already wrote poems, hymns and comic sketches for Punch, was asked by Peter Fleming to help cheer up the Court pages of The Times with occasional pieces about a fictional character – ‘just an ordinary sort of woman who leads an ordinary sort of life. Rather like yourself.’ More ...

Our special subscription rate for those aged 28 and under includes a year’s print subscription (4 issues) plus free digital access so they can read the new issue each quarter and full archive of back issues on an iPad or other e-reading device.


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The perfect introduction to a world of good reading, the spring bundle includes a set of last year's back issues (Nos. 45-48), four issues for 2016 and two smart grey slipcases to keep them all in.

UK Â£85/EU Â£105/ROTW Â£115
*save £15

Readers’ Day 2016

£55

All-day ticket including morning coffee and afternoon tea and cake

The Art Workers’ Guild
6 Queen Square
Bloomsbury
London WC1N 3AT

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Our readers write . . .
 
We are privileged to have such a nice bunch of subscribers. Your letters, emails, cards and phone calls bring us great cheer throughout the year. To celebrate our new reduced subscription rates for overseas subscribers, here’s a selection of recent favourites from our readers around the globe.
 
‘I’m one of your biggest international fans!’ G. Williams, Arabian Gulf

‘After a quick look at your website, I was hooked and dropped huge hints to my husband and children that a gift subscription to Slightly Foxed would make an excellent Mother’s Day present. My first issue was No. 45 and I have loved reading each edition since. It is a beautiful production: a perfect size, quality paper and layout and superb illustrations. And the writing! It is a joy to read such passionate, erudite and inspiring articles. It’s such a treat to come home and find the small parcel in my letterbox, guaranteeing hours of reading pleasure and lots of books to add to my reading list.’ M. Wooledge, Australia

‘I would not be seen without SF.’ S. Kos, New Zealand
 
‘A few years ago my brother offered me a spa weekend as a birthday present and I replied that living on the edge of the Massif Central we didn't have spas but I would love a subscription to Slightly Foxed which I couldn't afford. Since then I have luxuriated in your magazine, I read it in small bites so it lasts until the next issue arrives.’ C. Fitzgeorge, France
For the full range of all things Slightly Foxed, please visit our online emporium of good bookish things:

www.foxedquarterly.com
Uncover a literary oasis in the midst of our bustling capital

Dr Johnson’s House is a charming 300-year-old townhouse, nestled amongst a maze of courts and alleys in the historic City of London.  Samuel Johnson, the writer and wit, lived and worked here in the middle of the eighteenth century, compiling his great Dictionary of the English Language in the Garret. Today, the House is open to the public with a collection relating to Johnson, a research library, restored interiors and a wealth of original features. The House runs a lively programme of special events and exhibitions for literary enthusiasts and the curious-minded.
 
Coming up . . .

Regular meetings of Dr Johnson’s Reading Circle - an intimate, after hours reading group which meets to discuss texts from, and about, the 18th century in the unique surroundings of 17 Gough Square

Gordon Turnbull, General Editor of the Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell, revisits a little known moment in early 20th-century Anglo-German diplomacy

The chance to spend a summer’s eve exploring the four floors of Dr Johnson’s House with a complimentary glass of wine in hand
 
For more information please visit
www.drjohnsonshouse.org

We are pleased to share news of the launch of Superstition Review Issue 17. Superstition Review is an online literary magazine produced by creative writing and web design students at Arizona State University. The magazine aims to promote contemporary art and literature by providing a free, easy-to-navigate, high quality online publication featuring work by established and emerging artists and authors from all over the world. They publish two issues a year with art, fiction, interviews, nonfiction and poetry. Click here to read Issue 17 on the Superstition Review website.
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Our friends at Dulwich Books are holding a biography-inspired event on 12 May at The Bedford pub in Balham to explore the art and science of writing biography. Click here for more information.
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