Dipping My Toes Across the Pond

by Charlotte Reads Classics

American classics are everywhere at the moment. Whether it is the run up to The Great Gatsby or just a matter of economics, I can’t escape seeing and hearing about great American novels from the early twentieth century.

I started reading Mrs Bridge completely by chance, when I finished reading The Odyssey sooner than expected and couldn’t bear to be left bookless! The story of Mrs Bridge caught me completely by surprise: It is a reissued classic originally published in 1959. Set in the late thirties / early forties, Mrs Bridge is an upper-middle class housewife, she has three children, hundreds of social engagements, and not enough to occupy her mind. Think Nancy Mitford, but male, American and a generation younger.

Mrs Bridge is so witty yet cuts straight to the heart of human nature – what is the point of life, how should I live and what should I do? Mrs Bridge is a slightly tragic figure: on the outside she has everything – family, friends, prosperity – but inside she is unsettled, unauthentic and unable to understand anyone different to her. She is caught in a unique period of history, trying to uphold the ideals of parents in an increasingly modern world. For example, she continually judges her daughters in terms of what she was free to do two decades earlier, and can’t understand their desire for independence.

I absolutely adored this book – I can’t believe it has been out of print – and I can’t wait for the reissue of Mr Bridge next year. There was no way I could read this and immediately pick up something too far removed, so I chose Revolutionary Road. The characters and marriages are completely different, although both books show the same kind of performance from the wealthier-than-average families: Frank and April Wheeler put just as much effort into how they appear to others – but they are determined to never be compared with the likes of Mr and Mrs Bridge.

I fell in love with Revolutionary Road four years ago. Richard Yates enchants you with his writing, only to break your heart. And I’d forgotten exactly how much heartbreak was in store for me! Again, this is a couple who could have had it all if they could ever be satisfied with their lot, they certainly work incredibly hard to make it seem like they’re extraordinarily happy, but in reality they are flawed, ordinary, shallow people.

If you have the opportunity, read both of these books, because they’re both brilliant. I think I’ve convinced myself to go for F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Rules of Civility for July.