Bartley Alexander is a robust, loved and internationally famous bridge architect. He and his wife live a comfortable, distinctive and faithful life in Boston. While working in London, Bartley comes across his former love, a British actress, Hilda, who has never recovered from their romance. A vigorous passion within Bartley is released,causing a strain that his harmonious marriage cannot sustain.
This Novella was written in 1911. The Alexander's are a fashionable, well traveled and intellectual couple of the period. Much of the inner thoughts of Bartley are given to us while he is on the boat from New York to Liverpool. Cather, before it was fashionable, gives us a sympathetic and rounded look at why a man who seems to have it all would risk everything for the robust passion of his youth. This is an enlightening look at an inwardly conflicted man of any age.
Written in third person narrative we are given the view of Bartley from several characters: himself, his lover, his wife, and from his college psychology professor who faithfully studies Bartley and Bartley's life, but never fully participates in it. The bridge, an obvious metaphor, is used throughout the book to represent Bartley's future. His current work, a bridge in Canada, is too large and Bartley worries incessantly that the design will not sustain the weight of the bridge's enormity, but he feels pressured to continue the project.
This is a quick read by a much loved author. I found it beautifully sympathetic toward a subject I typically have little sympathy for, adultery. I walk away with more tolerance for the men I have known who struggle with this temptation. The metaphor of the bridge, while perfect, is really too perfect. The impending plot conclusion hung over me, preventing my emotional abandonment in the characters. I became Professor Wilson, studying Bartley in an intellectual way rather than diving in and experiencing life with him. This was all the more distasteful because Professor Wilson was the character I had the least sympathy for. Embracing my condemnation for Wilson and then behaving like him, forced me to face the less obvious lesson Cather teaches me about judging our fellows. It was a subtle but effective twist, which delighted me in the end.
Book Reviewed by Carole Weed
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