Walter Bridge is an ambitious Kansas City lawyer who redoubles his efforts and time at the office whenever he senses that his family needs something—even when what they need is more of him and less of his money. Affluence, material assets, and comforts create a cocoon of respectability that cloaks the void within—not the skeleton in the closet but a black hole swallowing the whole household.
Together with its companion, Mrs. Bridge, this novel is a classic portrait of a man, a marriage, and the manners and mores of a particular social class in the first half of twentieth–century America.
“A small masterpiece.” —Joyce Carol Oates
“Mr. and Mrs. Bridge are forever human, forever vulnerable, forever pitiable. In spare, whimsical, ironic prose, Connell exposes each and every one of their wrinkles and then, in the end, offers them to us as human beings to be cherished.” —The Washington Post
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Often he thought: My life did not begin until I knew her.
She would like to hear this, he was sure, but he did not know how to tell her. In the extremity of passion he cried out in a frantic voice: "I love you!" yet even these words were unsatisfactory. He wished for something else to say. He needed to let her know how deeply he felt her presence while they were lying together during the night, as well as each morning when they awoke and in the evening when he came home. However, he could think of nothing appropriate.
So the years passed, they had three children and accustomed themselves to a life together, and eventually Mr. Bridge decided that his wife should expect nothing more of him. After all, he was an attorney rather than a poet; he could never pretend to be what he was not.CHAPTER 2
Each morning as soon as he walked into the office he glanced at the photograph of his wife and children which stood on the desk in a silver frame. He had placed the picture exactly where he wanted it, so that it never interfered with his work but at the same time he could see the family as often as he liked. Later pictures had been taken but this one pleased him best: Ruth was five years old, Carolyn three, and Douglas was a baby. The girls were seated on the studio couch, one on either side of their mother, who was holding Douglas in her lap. The photograph was orderly, symmetrical, and serene.
One Monday morning when he entered the office he noticed that the photograph had been moved. Evidently the woman who cleaned the office over the weekend had forgotten where it belonged. He put it back where he wanted it. Then for a few minutes he remained motionless in his swivel chair and stared at the picture; and he wondered again what would have happened to him if he had never met this woman who became his wife. He felt profoundly obligated to her. It seemed to him that the existence of the family was a mysterious accomplishment to which he had contributed very little. She had done this, somehow, almost by herself. He had provided the money and he had made decisions, but these things appeared insignificant when he compared them to what she had done; and he reflected on some lines from a letter by a famous man which he had read not long after meeting her: Thou only hast taught me that I have a heart — thou only hast thrown a deep light downward, and upward, into my soul. Thou only hast revealed me to myself; for without thy aid, my best knowledge of myself, would have been merely to known my own shadow — to watch it flickering on the wall, and mistake its fantasies for my own real actions. Indeed, we are but shadows — we are not endowed with real life, and all that seems most real about us is but the thinnest substance of a dream — till the heart be touched. These lines had impressed him so that he copied them and kept them a long time; he had often been on the point of reciting them to her because they expressed his own feelings with such lucidity and tenderness.
The idea of life without her caused him to move restlessly.
Then, because it was time to begin work, he cleared his throat, blew his nose, and rang for Julia.CHAPTER 3
In the Counting House
Occasionally he went to the bank around the corner from his office in order to look at his securities. Before going down to the vault in the basement he usually stopped to see the president, Virgil Barron, whom he had known for several years. They lived not far apart in the Mission Hills district, and both were members of a group that reserved a round table for lunch in the Terrace Grill of the Muehlebach Hotel. After visiting with Barron for a few minutes he would walk downstairs, ask for his safe-deposit box, and carry it into one of the walnut-paneled cubicles. There, after placing the long black metal box in the middle of the table, he locked the door, put on his reading glasses, opened the box, and began to examine the stock certificates and bonds.
Each bond and each stock certificate was neatly folded to fit into a business envelope. On each envelope he had listed the contents: the certificate numbers, the number of shares, the date purchased, and the amount paid. On the back of each envelope he had noted the recommendations of his broker to sell or hold, together with the date and the selling price. If he had accepted the broker's advice and sold a particular security he made a note of this. But he seldom sold anything, because it seemed to him that if one invested in a substantial, well-managed corporation it should almost never become necessary to sell. There would be exceptions, the most prudent investor must be prepared to admit that times change; even so, as he reminded his wife every now and then in order that she should have this principle irrevocably planted in her head by the time of his death, it is better to trade too little than too much.
Frequently while he was looking through his securities — sometimes reading the italicized print which set forth the conditions, but more often gazing at the handsome heavy papers as though they were exhibits in a gallery — he would remember the bad judgment of his father, and a frown of displeasure would crease his face. Several thousand dollars had been wasted on penny gold mines, on the schemes of inventors, and similar speculations. Now there was nothing but one bulky envelope stuffed with these testimonials to folly: certificates of corporations with names like Amazon Bonanza and Del Rio Silver King, and handwritten promises to repay loans. These were folded as his father had folded them many years ago. Most of the companies were defunct and the few that existed could not be found on any exchange, and the men who had promised to repay the money were dead; but it was not much trouble to keep the documents and it might be foolish to destroy them. However, it gave him no pleasure to consider them. They angered him and left him with a feeling of embarrassment for his father's naivete.
Otherwise, the fact that his father had left him nothing did not trouble him. An inheritance would have simplified things and it was a shame the money had been squandered; beyond that Mr. Bridge seldom thought about it. And in one respect he intended to benefit by the foolishness of his father: he would not repeat his father's error.
So he bought shares in companies that he considered essential. Metropolitan public utilities seemed the safest because their services were indispensable and their monopoly was guaranteed; but he had also bought into several food and drink corporations with long records of uninterrupted dividends, and he had bought small amounts of somewhat more speculative companies such as American Tobacco and the Union Pacific Railroad. All of these, he thought, were manifestly solid concerns, and during periods of fluctuation on the stock exchange he observed with pleasure and satisfaction the stability of his investments.
He had said to his wife: "When the time comes, India, that you are alone, do not sell these stocks. These are sound corporations with fine records and they will not let you down."
She had promised to keep them and to pass them along to the children.
He had said to her: "These securities are worth a nice little sum of money today. They ought to be worth a great deal more in years to come."
Ordinarily he brought with him the latest issue of the Wall Street Journal and spent some time jotting down current prices on a scratch pad in order to calculate the value of his holdings; then he would consider the provisions of his will and ask himself whether a few changes should be made. At present almost everything had been assigned to his wife, yet perhaps this was not the wisest policy. Might it not be wiser to apportion the stocks: a certain number of shares to each of the children upon his death, the remainder to her. Naturally this would reduce her income, which was most important, but at the same time the children would be given a degree of independence. Thirty shares of American Tobacco, for instance, might be willed to each of the children, thus providing them with a quarterly check. Or the entire Tobacco holding might go to Ruth, an equivalent holding of General Foods to Carolyn, and some shares of Bethlehem Steel to Douglas. Or, because the dividend was liberal, it might be best to leave Bethlehem in the name of Mrs. Bridge. Douglas, being young, might be better endowed with a stock that displayed a somewhat more favorable growth pattern. These were things to be considered.
A copy of the will was in the safe-deposit box, and though he knew every word of it he sometimes read it through, searching for possible points of contention. The logic and clarity of the will were pleasing to him; the measured cadence of the sentences he had composed was reassuring, as though the measure of his mind must be respected when it was read aloud at some future date. Often he read to himself particular passages from the will, imagining the delight and surprise with which it would be heard for the first time by his wife and by the children, not merely for the precision of language but because they had no idea of the value of the investments.
Only once had he shown her the contents of the box. Then he had pointed out an envelope containing five one-hundred-dollar bills to be used in case of emergency, and had unfolded a few certificates and gone over them with her so they would seem familiar; but he had minimized the total worth of the documents in the box. Women tended to behave curiously where money was concerned. She was not extravagant, at least she had not been extravagant so far; if anything she was quite the opposite, worrying mildly about the cost of almost everything. Still, change was in the nature of women and no good could come of letting her know his exact worth.
The fact that she knew so little about these securities apparently did not trouble her; since that day she had never inquired, or hinted, or shown the faintest sign of wanting more information. He was puzzled by this. He had expected her to ask a great many questions, but she had merely looked attentive. He suspected she had not understood everything he attempted to explain; he remembered her perfunctory smile and how she nodded each time he paused. But at least she did know of the existence of the box and she knew what was in it.
The children had not yet been informed, although he meant to show them, one at a time, as they grew older. It pleased him to anticipate the time when he could go over all of the securities with the children, pointing out what he had paid for each and comparing this price with the current market value.
So he meditated as he unfolded his certificates, absently gratified by the parchment quality of the paper, and checked them against the notations to make certain everything was in order, and studied the earnings reports, the forecasts, and the dividend news reported in the Journal. Sometimes he would read a market letter or a corporation analysis which he had brought along in his briefcase; but more often he spent these tranquil moments in the basement of the bank examining the handsomely engraved certificates and contemplating the satisfaction they would give after his death.CHAPTER 4
He seldom spoke to his wife about what went on at the office or in court. Before they were married and for a while afterward she had inquired, doing her best to appear interested, trying to comprehend the life he lived apart from her; but he had answered briefly because he knew she did not really care, so that as time went by she asked less and less, and now it had been reduced to a ritual like a fragment excerpted from a play. She would greet him at the door, glance at the briefcase, and put on an expression of dismay or resignation, saying, "Now truthfully, Walter, couldn't whatever it is wait till tomorrow?" By this she demonstrated her concern for his health and reminded him that he did not need to work such long hours for the family's benefit. They had plenty of food, a nice house, and money enough to pay the bills. Then he would reply that he was only planning to work a little while after dinner or that he was going to finish a few things which should have been taken care of a week ago, or he might remark that it was Julia's fault. Julia was to blame for saddling him like a burro with more than he could carry during the day. Then she answered that she was going to call Julia in the morning and tell her to cut down on the amount of work.
This familiar and lifeless scene was not as unnatural as it appeared; after all, he himself did not care what happened at the house during the day. There was no more reason for her to be curious about his work than for him to be concerned with groceries, laundry, getting the children to school, and whatever else she did. Yet it would seem rude, almost brutal, to drop the pretense and admit that neither particularly cared what the other was doing. A display of interest, however shallow, made life easier.
Julia, on the other hand, did not need to pretend. She cared vitally about the progress of each case, and about such things as the rumor that a new federal courthouse might be built; and as the years went by he found that he was discussing these matters as intimately with Julia as he had once imagined he would discuss them with his wife. This, too, he reflected, must not be unnatural; no doubt other men had found themselves living a similarly divided life, involved with two women almost equally.
He was grateful that they got along well together. Julia was quite a pretty young woman, but so far his wife had shown no jealousy. Perhaps she sensed that he was not attracted to Julia, and occasionally he wondered why he was not. Julia's features were regular and delicate and she had a charming smile. She walked gracefully. Her figure was trim. She never slouched or scratched her head or chewed a pencil. She dressed modestly, as women should, and did not smoke. She was intelligent and clean, and impudent to the point of mild impertinence. She ought to be physically inviting; it was curious that she was not, yet he could feel no desire for her. Somehow the idea of putting his arms around her was disagreeable.
Those evenings when they worked later than usual he drove her home instead of letting her take the bus. She lived in an ugly gray building just off Valentine Road, sharing an apartment with a much older sister who was crippled by arthritis. Each time he drove her there he felt uncomfortable and obscurely guilty, and after watching until she was inside the door he continued toward Mission Hills with a sense of relief. Her misfortune was not his fault. The salary she got was comparable to what she could earn anywhere else, and every few months Mrs. Bridge invited her to the house for dinner.
Except for these occasions when he escorted Julia home he seldom thought about her. He did not know whom she was seeing at night, if anybody. He did not care. She might possibly be planning to get married, although she had given no hint of this. If she did decide to marry it would be all right, providing she did not have a baby.
These two women were growing around him like strands of ivy, but the feeling of entanglement was not disturbing; it seemed to him that these persistent female tendrils were supporting and assisting him.CHAPTER 5
Dinner at Home
Around dinnertime it usually occurred to Mr. Bridge that there were, in fact, three women on whom he depended and Harriet was not the least of them. She was such a marvelous cook that he resented the occasions when he and Mrs. Bridge were invited out. There were traces of the South in her cooking. Such dishes as jambalaya appeared on the table, and frequently she served barbecued ribs which he loved with a love he held for very few things on earth. She could prepare sugar-cured ham with red-eye gravy far better than any restaurant, and hot biscuits and honey, and turnips which tasted like no other turnips, and candied yams with the flavor of marshmallow. She never used a cookbook. She knew. Sometimes while he was eating he would torment himself by trying to decide whether Harriet or Julia was more indispensable.
Every night he looked forward to his dinner and he was sorry when Thursday came around, which was Harriet's night off. On Thursday there was apt to be macaroni casserole, or leftovers from Wednesday.
He concealed his dismay at these Thursday suppers, and told himself it was not his wife's fault if she no longer cooked as well as she did when they were first married; after all, cooking requires practice like everything else, and since Harriet had taken over the kitchen there was not much for Mrs. Bridge to do. Once she had been quite good, never in a league with Harriet, but there had been a time when she could make excellent little puddings and special kinds of bread to go with the fried chicken and the pot roast. She could bake an agreeable cherry pie, a rich banana upside-down cake, and crisp tarts, and she knew how to make chili without using too much tomato sauce. He had never been dissatisfied with her cooking — even now it was not bad — but on Thursday nights he could not overcome a sense of weariness as he plunged his fork into the casserole.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mr. Bridge"
Copyright © 1969 Evan S. Connell.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
By Evan S. Connell,
2 Family Portrait,
3 In the Counting House,
4 Two Women,
5 Dinner at Home,
6 The Tip,
7 No Oil,
9 Trouble in the Road Ahead,
10 Senator Horton Bailey,
11 Forgive Us Our Debts,
13 Life Begins at Forty-three,
15 The Dream,
16 Struggling Upward & Other Works,
17 Thayer's Drugstore,
18 The Pony,
19 Bleak Day,
22 You Don't Love Me,
23 Call Me Avrum,
25 Kansas City Power & Light,
26 Paper Hat,
27 Purple Crayon,
28 Stiff Lower Lip,
31 The Gardener's Child,
32 Summer in Georgia,
35 New Clothes,
36 Yuh, Yuh, Yuh,
37 The Pistol,
39 Daiquiri for Harriet,
40 Harriet and Carolyn,
41 Onward, Christian Soldiers,
42 Home from the Office,
43 Handful of Change,
44 Season's Greetings,
45 The Squirrel,
46 Happy Days,
47 Cousin Lulu's Estate,
50 The Family Tree,
51 New Neighbors,
53 The Regatta on Ward Parkway,
55 Golden Gloves,
58 The Fight,
59 In the Garden,
60 Do You Remember ...?,
61 Happy Birthday,
62 How Much?,
63 The Dawn Patrol,
64 Ground Glass,
65 Liberal Arts,
66 High School Album,
67 Moment Musicale,
69 Hair Shirt,
70 So Soon?,
74 The Primrose Path,
75 Harriet's System,
76 Witch Doctor,
77 Happy Easter,
78 Bawdy Story,
79 Wild Party,
81 The Laborers,
84 4 A.M.,
85 Sweet Shit,
87 California Sunshine,
88 Watering the Flowers,
89 Mrs. Paul A. Cornish,
90 In the Aztec Room,
92 7:42 A.M.,
93 The Jeweler's Son,
94 Jussi Bjoerling,
95 The Lecture on El Greco,
99 Jade Pig,
100 New Writing, Ideas & Art,
101 Billy Jack Andrews, Pro,
103 Venus of Mission Hills,
105 Art of India,
106 Publishers' Graveyard,
107 Good Luck,
108 Foul Weather,
109 On the Morning Train,
111 Good Night, Good Night!,
112 J'ai Faim,
113 Moulin Rouge,
114 Les Sabots de Millet,
116 Darkness at Noon,
117 Another One,
118 The Etruscans,
119 Mi Piace la Banana,
120 From Rome,
122 Wedding Present,
124 Square Peg,
125 The Dancing Master,
126 Hot Number,
128 Eagle Scout,
129 Locking Up,
130 A Pal of Morrie,
131 Crime and Punishment,
133 Black Pledge,
134 Gil Davis,
135 Guess Who?,
136 Legal Secretary,
137 In the Vault,
139 The Volunteer,
140 Death Ray,
141 Joy to the World,
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