Love's Apprentice: The Romantic Education of a Modern Woman

Love's Apprentice: The Romantic Education of a Modern Woman

by Shirley Abbott, Janet Silver
     
 
Abbott's delightful new memoir offers a completely original map of modern love. Taking Casanova as her mentor, Abbott charts her own amorous education as a woman coming of emotional age in the second half of the 20th century.

Overview

Abbott's delightful new memoir offers a completely original map of modern love. Taking Casanova as her mentor, Abbott charts her own amorous education as a woman coming of emotional age in the second half of the 20th century.

Editorial Reviews

Laura Miller

During her wedding, at the moment when the minister asked if either she or her groom knew of any reason why they shouldn't be joined, Shirley Abbott wanted to cry out, "I am not good wife material. I have been spoiled by too much reading and by the movies and by listening to the opera on Saturday afternoons ... I have a different notion of what life should be than the duties of a sanctified household. My ideas about love are insane."

Although her marriage lasted decades and produced two adored daughters, it wasn't filled with the glorious, maddening passion Abbott yearned for from the day, at age 11, when she first saw the 1945 film A Song to Remember, about the dashing, cross-dressing novelist George Sand and her tubercular lover, Frederic Chopin. Abbott's new memoir, Love's Apprentice, traces the history of her longing for a love as thrilling and perilous as the doomed union of Tristan and Isolde, as fatal and glamorous as Don José's hankering for Carmen. She nursed it through a brief lesbian affair in college, a year abroad in Paris, early adulthood building a career as an editor in New York City, a bohemian interlude as a newlywed in Greenwich Village, a long suburban dormancy and finally a savored reawakening as she shook off the bonds of matrimony in late middle age.

If Abbott's craving for "the love that is outside morality, the fever that made death preferable to life" was "insane," what she saw as her other option, the fate of "properly married, properly aproned wives," struck her as safe, dull and more or less unavoidable. In other words, she was a bright, imaginative American woman coming of age in the middle of the 20th century and chafing, with an inchoate dissatisfaction, against the tidy, tiresome strictures of bourgeois life -- Emma Bovary with brains and a bit more wiggle room. Not an extraordinary story, but you don't really need that when you can write as gracefully and engagingly as Abbott.

The treat, though, of Love's Apprentice is less one of style than of perspective. At 60, Abbott flies back to Paris, to consummate a crush left dangling in her youth. The two old friends come together, couple with a desire whose strength surprises them both, dally in an affair of Parisian perfection and at last Abbott gets it right. Her lover tentatively suggests something a bit more permanent and she demurs. The only way to attain the ideal romance is to end it at its peak: "Incomplete love, unsanctified love, might be the only complete and sanctified love there was." It takes 60 years spent in the pursuit of such a mad paradox to achieve Abbott's exquisite balance, the rich blend of amusement, tolerance, skepticism and celebration with which she regards her own quest. True love doesn't always wait at the end of such a journey but something just as precious -- call it wisdom -- surely does. -- SALON, May 14, 1998

Library Journal
As in her previous memoirs, The Bookmaker's Daughter (LJ 6/15/91) and Womenfolks (LJ 2/1/83), Abbott examines her past to understand her present. Like many of us, Abbott is a product of her mother's (and society's) expectations, seductive movies and music, and romantic literature. Her attitudes toward and experiences with love are no more unusual than those of other women, and that's what makes this work simultaneously universal in its appeal and boring in its telling. She admits, "I cultivated the mutually exclusive impulses that have tormented me all my life." She yearns "to be a radical, a subversive, a woman who broke all the rules" but is "compelled to be ordinary, to conform." Abbott's variations on this theme are initially entertaining and enlightening but become wearing after six decades of repetition. Abbott is a tad too "intense" (as men in her life point out), weepy, and introspective when it comes to love. For libraries with Abbott fans.Cathy Sabol, Northern Virginia Community Coll. Herndon, Va.
Elizabeth Spencer
Abbott has written two previous memoirs -- one, Womenfolks, is a masterly delineation of Southern life in general, Southern women in particular; the other, The Bookmaker's Daughter," centers on her relationship with her father....Now, in Love's Apprentice, she reveals what her inner life was up to. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Memoirist Abbott reflects on a lifetime of love, drawing its outlines as a child would draw a picture in the sand, stopping for every delectable contour on her map of love. Arguing that "novels seize the real, just as memoirs seize fantasy," Abbott (The Bookmaker's Daughter, 1991) dwells at length on the books and movies that helped to form her own evolving sense of romance. Her promiscuously ardent appetite for both film and the written word constituted a romantic longing that eventually came to know no bounds, led her into awkward adolescent dalliances, and finally, in 1957, to a passionate year abroad in Paris that would change her life forever. After she resettled in New York, Abbott's professional life flourished, while her marital life withered; she was tortured by the fear that love, which she had imagined as a great liberation, might really be not much more than "wishing to be the thing imagined." She was an idealist in matters of the heart, accused of being too intense, forever searching for a more fulfilling relationship. She commuted, cooked, tended her children, and paid the bills, fighting and finally fleeing the conventions of marriage. Her confession celebrates her "gorgeous mythologies" of love and lovemaking while admitting that bargains with the real world of work and children must be made. Now in her 70s and reunited with her husband, with her children on their own and the turbulent years of her young adulthood very long gone indeed, Abbott nevertheless observes that she still dreams of Tristan and Isolde, and of one day locating their graves in romantic tribute. A candid reverie on love, and the memoir of a woman who is struggling against the odds toreconcile the conflicting demands of fantasy and fact.

From the Publisher
"This marvelous history is not just her own sexual and emotional autobiography, but the moving chronicle of all women who made it through the last few decades." - Susan Isaacs

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780395957851
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Publication date:
06/09/1999
Pages:
277
Product dimensions:
5.04(w) x 7.91(h) x 0.76(d)

What People are saying about this

Susan Isaacs
This marvelous history is not just her own sexual and emotional autobiography, but the moving chronicle of all women who made it through the last few decades.

Meet the Author

Shirley Abbott is the author of Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South and The Bookmaker's Daughter: A Memory Unbound, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, she now lives in New York and Massachusetts.

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