Foreign Affairs: A Novel

Foreign Affairs: A Novel

by Alison Lurie

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Overview

This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel follows two American academics in London—a young man and a middle-aged woman—as they each fall into unexpected romances.

In her early fifties, Vinnie Miner is the sort of woman no one ever notices, despite her career as an Ivy League professor. She doubts she could get a man’s attention if she waved a brightly colored object in front of him. And though she loves her work, her specialty—children’s folk rhymes—earns little respect from her fellow scholars. Then, alone on a flight to London for a research trip, she sits next to a man she would never have viewed as a potential romantic partner. In a Western-cut suit and a rawhide tie, he is a sanitary engineer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a group tour. He’s the very opposite of her type, but before Vinnie knows it, she’s spending more and more time with him.
 
Also in London is Vinnie’s colleague, a young, handsome English professor whose marriage and self-esteem are both on the rocks. But Fred Turner is also about to find consolation—in the arms of the most beautiful actress in England. Stylish and highborn, she introduces Fred to a glamorous, yet eccentric, London scene that he never expected to encounter.
 
The course of these two relationships makes up the story of Foreign Affairs—a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize winner, and an entertaining, poignant tale from the author of The War Between the Tates and The Last Resort, “one of this country’s most able and witty novelists” (The New York Times).
 This ebook features an illustrated biography of Alison Lurie including rare images from the author’s personal collection.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480422490
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 121,979
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Alison Lurie (b. 1926) is a Pulitzer Prize–winning author of fiction and nonfiction. Born in Chicago and raised in White Plains, New York, she joined the English department at Cornell University in 1970, where she taught courses on children’s literature, among others. Her first novel, Love and Friendship (1962), is a story of romance and deception among the faculty of a snowbound New England college. It won favorable reviews and established her as a keen observer of love in academia. It was followed by the well-received The Nowhere City (1966) and The War Between the Tates (1974). In 1984, she published Foreign Affairs, her best-known novel, which traces the erotic entanglements of two American professors in England. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985. In 1998, Lurie published The Last Resort. In addition to her novels, Lurie’s interest in children’s literature led to three collections of folk tales and two critical studies of the genre. Lurie officially retired from Cornell in 1998, but continues to teach and write. In 2012, she was awarded a two-year term as the official author of the state of New York. The Language of Houses (2014) is her most recent book. Lurie lives in Ithaca, New York, and is married to the writer Edward Hower. She has three grown sons and three grandchildren. 
Alison Lurie (b. 1926) is a Pulitzer Prize–winning author of fiction and nonfiction. Born in Chicago and raised in White Plains, New York, she joined the English department at Cornell University in 1970, where she taught courses on children’s literature, among others. Her first novel, Love and Friendship (1962), is a story of romance and deception among the faculty of a snowbound New England college. It won favorable reviews and established her as a keen observer of love in academia. It was followed by the well-received The Nowhere City (1966) and The War Between the Tates (1974). In 1984, she published Foreign Affairs, her best-known novel, which traces the erotic entanglements of two American professors in England. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985. In 1998, Lurie published The Last Resort. In addition to her novels, Lurie’s interest in children’s literature led to three collections of folk tales and two critical studies of the genre. Lurie officially retired from Cornell in 1998, but continues to teach and write. In 2012, she was awarded a two-year term as the official author of the state of New York. The Language of Houses (2014) is her most recent book. Lurie lives in Ithaca, New York, and is married to the writer Edward Hower. She has three grown sons and three grandchildren. 

Hometown:

Ithaca, New York; London, England; Key West, Florida

Date of Birth:

September 3, 1926

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois

Education:

A.B., Radcliffe College, 1947

Read an Excerpt

Foreign Affairs


By Alison Lurie

Random House

Alison Lurie
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0812976312


Chapter One

1

As I walked by myself

And talked to myself,

Myself said unto me,

Look to thyself,

Take care of thyself,

For nobody cares for thee.

Old Song

On a cold blowy February day a woman is boarding the ten a.m. flight to London, followed by an invisible dog. The woman's name is Virginia Miner: she is fifty-four years old, small, plain, and unmarried--the sort of person that no one ever notices, though she is an Ivy League college professor who has published several books and has a well-established reputation in the expanding field of children's literature.

The dog that is trailing Vinnie, visible only to her imagination, is her familiar demon or demon familiar, known to her privately as Fido and representing self-pity. She visualizes him as a medium-sized dirty-white long-haired mutt, mainly Welsh terrier: sometimes trailing her silently, at other times whining and panting and nipping at her heels; when bolder, dashing round in circles trying to trip her up, or at least get her to stoop down so that he may rush at her, knock her to the ground, and cover her with sloppy kisses. Vinnie knows very well that Fido wants to get onto the plane with her, but she hopes to leave him behind, as she has successfully done on other trips abroad.Recent events, however, and the projected length of her stay, make this unlikely.

Vinnie is leaving today for six months in England on a foundation grant. There, under her professional name of V. A. Miner, she will continue her study of the folk-rhymes of schoolchildren. She has made this journey a number of times, and through a process of trial and error reduced its expense and discomfort to a minimum. She always chooses a daytime charter flight, preferring those on which no films are shown. If she could afford it, she would pay the regular fare so as to avoid boarding delays (she has already stood in various lines for nearly an hour); but that would be foolishly extravagant. Her grant is small, and she will have to watch expenses carefully as it is.

Though patience is held to be a virtue most appropriate to women, especially aging women, Vinnie has always particularly disliked waiting for anything, and never does so if it can be avoided. Now, for instance, she elbows her way deftly past less experienced passengers who are searching for their seat numbers or are encumbered with excess luggage or with children, excusing herself in a thin pleasant voice. By crossing through the galley to the far aisle and back again between two rows of seats, she outflanks a massed confusion of obvious rubes with carry-on bags labeled sun tours. In less time than it takes to read this paragraph she has made her way to a window seat near an exit in the nonsmoking section, pausing only to extract the London Times and British Vogue from a magazine rack. (Once the plane is airborne, the stewardess will distribute periodicals to all the passengers, but those Vinnie prefers may vanish before they reach her.)

Following her usual procedure, Vinnie slides into her place and unzips her boots. In stocking feet she climbs onto the seat and opens the overhead locker; since she is barely over five feet tall, this is the only way she can reach it. She removes two pillows and a loose-woven blue blanket, which she drops onto the center seat beside her handbag and her British periodicals, thus tacitly claiming this space if--as is likely in midweek and mid-February--it hasn't been assigned to anyone. Then she arranges her worn wool-lined raincoat, her floppy beige felt hat, and her amber-and-beige Liberty-print wool shawl in the locker, in such a way that only the rudest of fellow passengers will attempt to encroach upon them. She slams the locker shut with some difficulty, and sits down. She stows her boots under her own seat along with a carton of duty-free Bristol Cream sherry, and puts on a pair of folding slippers. She arranges one pillow beside her head and wedges the other between her hip and the arm of the chair. Finally she smooths her crisply cut graying hair, leans back, and with a sigh fastens the seatbelt across her tan wool sweater and skirt.

A disinterested observer, Vinnie is quite aware, might well consider these maneuvers and condemn her as self-concerned and grasping. In this culture, where energy and egotism are rewarded in the young and good-looking, plain aging women are supposed to be self-effacing, uncomplaining--to take up as little space and breathe as little air as possible. All very well, she thinks, if you travel with someone dear to you or at least familiar: someone who will help you stow away your coat, tuck a pillow behind your head, find you a newspaper--or if you choose, converse with you.

But what of those who travel alone? Why should Vinnie Miner, whose comfort has been disregarded by others for most of her adult life, disregard her own comfort? Why should she allow her coat, hat, and belongings to be crushed by the coats and hats and belongings of younger, larger, handsomer persons? Why should she sit alone for seven or eight hours, pillowless and chilled, reading an outdated copy of Punch, with her feet swollen and her pale amber eyes watering from the smoke of the cigarette fiends in the adjoining seats? As she often says to herself--though never aloud, for she knows how unpleasant it would sound--why shouldn't she look out for herself? Nobody else will.

But such internal arguments, frequent as they are with Vinnie, occupy little of her mind now. The uneven, uncharacteristically loud sigh she gave as she sank back against the scratchy blue plush was not a sigh of contentment, or even one of relief: it was an exhalation of wretchedness. Her travel routine has been performed by rote; if she were alone, she would break into wails of misery and vexation, and stain the London Times with her tears.

Twenty minutes ago, while waiting in the departure lounge in a cheerful mood, Vinnie read in a magazine of national circulation a scornful and disparaging reference to her life's work. Projects such as hers, the article stated, are a prime example of the waste of public funds, the proliferation of petty and useless scholarship, and the general weakness and folly of the humanities in America today. Do we really need a scholarly study of playground doggerel? inquired the writer, one L. D. Zimmern, a professor of English at Columbia. No doubt Mr. or Ms. Miner would answer this query by assuring us of the social, historical, or literary value of "Ring-around-a-rosy," he continued, sawing through the supports of any possible answer; but he, for one, was not convinced.

What makes this unprovoked attack especially hideous is that for over thirty years the Atlantic has been Vinnie's favorite magazine. Though she was raised in the suburbs of New York and teaches at an upstate university, her imaginative loyalties are to New England. She has often thought that American culture took a long downward step when its hegemony passed from Boston to New York in the late nineteenth century; and it has been a comfort to her that the Atlantic continues to be edited from Back Bay. When she pictures her work receiving general public recognition, it is to this magazine that she awards the honor of discovery. She has fantasized the process often: the initial letter of inquiry, the respectfully eager manner of the interviewer, the title of the finished essay; the moment when her colleagues at Corinth University and elsewhere will open the magazine and see her name printed on its glossy pages in its characteristic and elegant typeface. (Vinnie's ambition, though steady and ardent, is comparatively modest: it hasn't occurred to her that her name might be printed upon the cover of the Atlantic.) She has imagined all that will follow: the sudden delighted smiles of her friends; the graceless grins of those who are not her friends and have undervalued both her and her subject. The latter group, alas, will be much more numerous.

For the truth is that children's literature is a poor relation in her department--indeed, in most English departments: a stepdaughter grudgingly tolerated because, as in the old tales, her words are glittering jewels of a sort that attract large if not equally brilliant masses of undergraduates. Within the departmental family she sits in the chimney-corner, while her idle, ugly siblings dine at the chairman's table--though, to judge by enrollment figures, many of them must spout toads and lizards.

Well, Vinnie thinks bitterly, now she has got her wish; her work has been mentioned in the Atlantic. Just her luck--because surely there were others whose project titles might have attracted the spiteful attention of L. D. Zimmern. But of course it was she he chose, what else could she expect? Vinnie realizes that Fido has followed her onto the plane and is snuffling at her legs, but she lacks the energy to push him away.

Above her seat the warning light has been turned on; the engines begin to vibrate as if with her own internal tremor. Vinnie stares through the streaked, distorting oblong of glass at gray tarmac, pitted heaps of dirty congealed snow, other planes taxiing toward takeoff; but what she sees is a crowd of Atlantic magazines queuing for departure or already en route, singly or in squadrons, flying over the United States in the hands and briefcases of travelers, hitching their way in automobiles, loaded onto trucks and trains, bundled and tied for sale on newsstands. She visualizes what must come or has already come of this mass migration: she sees, all over the country--in homes and offices, in libraries and dentists' waiting rooms--her colleagues, ex-colleagues, students, ex-students, neighbors, ex-neighbors, friends, and ex-friends (not to mention the members of the Foundation Grants Committee). All of them, at this moment or some other moment, are opening the Atlantic, turning its glossy white pages, coming upon that awful paragraph. She imagines which ones will laugh aloud; which will read the sentences out with a sneering smile; which will gasp with sympathy; and which will groan, thinking or saying how bad it looks for the Department or for the Foundation. "Hard on Vinnie," one will remark. "But you have to admit there's something a little comic about the title of her proposal: 'A comparative investigation of the play-rhymes of British and American Children'--well now, really."

About its title, perhaps; not about its content, as she has spent years proving. Trivial as it may seem, her material is rich in meaning. For example--Vinnie, almost involuntarily, begins composing in her head a letter to the editor of the Atlantic--consider the verse to which Professor Zimmern took such particular exception:

Ring around a rosy

Pocketful of posies.

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall down.

--This rhyme appears from internal as well as external evidence to date very possibly from the Great Plague of 1665. If so, the "posies" may be the nosegays of flowers and herbs carried by citizens of London to ward off infection, while "Ashes, ashes," perhaps refers to the burning of dead bodies that littered the streets.

--If Professor Zimmern had troubled to do his research . . . if he had merely taken the time to inquire of any authority in the field--Vinnie continues her imaginary letter--he . . . he would be alive today. Unbidden, these words appear in her mind to complete the sentence. She sees L. D. Zimmern, whom she has never met but imagines (inaccurately) to be fat and bald, as a plague-swollen, discolored corpse. He is lying on the cobblestones of a seventeenth- century London alley, his clothes foully stained with vomit, his face blackened and contorted, his limbs hideously askew in the death agony, his faded posy of herbs wilting beside him.

--Many more of these apparently "meaningless" verses, she resumes, a little shocked by her own imagination, have similar hidden historical and social referents, and preserve in oral form . . .

While the stewardess, in a strained BBC accent, begins her rote exhortation, Vinnie continues her letter to the editor. Phrases she has used many times in lectures and articles repeat themselves within her head, interspersed with those coming over the loudspeakers. "Children's game-rhymes/Place the life vest over your head/oldest universal literature/Bring the straps to the front and fasten them securely/ representing for millions of people their earliest and often their only exposure to/Pulling on the cord will cause the vest to become inflated with air." Inflated with air, indeed. As she knows from bitter experience, nothing is ever gained by sending such letters. Either they are blandly refused ("We regret that our limited space prevents . . .") or, worse, they are accepted and printed weeks or months later, reminding everyone of your discomfiture long after they had forgotten about it, and making you seem a sore loser.

Not only mustn't she write to the Atlantic: she must take care never to mention its attack on her to anyone, friend or foe. In academic life it is considered weak and undignified to complain of your reviews. Indeed, in Vinnie's experience, the only afflictions it is really safe to mention are those shared by all your colleagues: the weather, inflation, delinquent students, and so forth. Bad publicity must be dealt with as Vinnie was once taught by her mother to deal with flaws in her adolescent appearance: in total silence. "If you have a spot on your face or your dress, Vinnie, for goodness' sake don't mention it. At best you'll be reminding people of something unpleasant about yourself; at worst you'll call it to the attention of those who might never have noticed." Yes; no doubt a very sensible policy. Its only disadvantage is that Vinnie will never know who has noticed this new ugly spot and who hasn't. Never, never know. Fido, who has been standing with his forepaws on her knees, whining hopefully, now scrambles into her lap.

The rackety roar of the engines increases; the plane begins to trundle down the runway, gathering speed. At what seems the last possible moment it lurches unevenly upward, causing the usual shudder in Vinnie's bowels and the sensation of having been struck on the back of the neck with the seat-cushion. She swallows with difficulty and glances toward the window, where a frozen gray section of Long Island suburb is wheeling by at an unnatural angle. She feels queasy, disoriented, damaged.

Continues...


Excerpted from Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie Excerpted by permission.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Foreign Affairs 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I gave this book two stars instead of one because I'll take partial responsibility for not liking it. I purchased it because the synopsis sounded interesting (I love London) and it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Why? It reminds me of high school English class when we were supposed to see the symbolism instead of reading a book literally. To me a tree is a tree, not some deep rooted something-er-other reaching it's arms for the sunlight. I'll finish it; but, only because I don't want to feel like I totally wasted my money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cannot believe Alsion Lurie was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for thie book. First of all the story is ridiculous and and the characters unimaginative. The foul language is unnecessary and tells me that the author has little skill. With all of the wonderful, descriptive words in the English language available and she resorts to some of the most base and offensive words possible. I was under the impression that winning a Pulitzer prize meant you had talent; not so. Do not waste your money or your time on this book.
carlym on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So many novels have some kind of novelty approach: jumping around in time, not really having a plot, telling a story through a character's mail, etc. Foreign Affairs does have two narrators, but it is a good old straightforward novel. Two Americans, academics from the same Northeastern college who have only a passing acquaintance, are both in London for research. They both undergo unexpected and life-changing experiences, some good and some bad. Lurie's characters have real depth, and despite having some serious psychological problems, seem like people you might actually know, not just crazy characters that only appear in novels.
Kelberts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time getting into this book and found it to be a disappointing Pulitzer. The main character, Vinnie, remains a pill despite opportunities to really change her life. I don't know the point of Fred's (Vinnie's contrived contrasting main character) story other than he, like Vinnie, goes back to his old life as well.
triminieshelton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Story of two Americans in London, both academics working on grants, one a fiftysomething spinster prof., the other a young handsome instructor, both saddled with love-baggage and suffering therefrom. In London, they each find romance and each learn something different about being English, being American, and being in love. Classed as a romantic comedy, this book seems to me too full of hard truths about implacable social rules/roles and personal failings to fit that category.
Alezanne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unusual, beautiful and poignant story for which author Alison Lurie won a Pulitzer Prize.
nocto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago

I remember picking some of Lurie's books up in my late teens or early twenties and not being able to get into them at all. Now I'm finding them to be great books, almost page turners. Maybe I just grew into them.

Fun story of three Americans in London, exceedingly well written and funny and sad in all the right places.

PensiveCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Novel follow two Americans during a stint in London, who work at the same university but are completely different people. It's also about their foreign affairs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is wonderful. If you love to read this is a book for you.
puzzleman More than 1 year ago
Not a mind-bender, but a funny, enjoyable read. Plus, two stories in one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book elegantly presents the connected stories of several people during a short space in thier lives. It is a simple tale but one that reminds us about what is really important. Alison Lurie is able to do this by showing and not telling. A modest thing but one which few writers are able to achieve. I was deeply moved. Well done Alison Lurie!