Foreign Affairs Essay - Critical Context

Alison Lurie

Critical Context

Foreign Affairs, Lurie’s most critically acclaimed novel, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. It is typical of Lurie’s work in that it explores the lives and loves of highly educated Americans. Her books are most often compared to those of Henry James, Jane Austen, and Edith Wharton, that is, authors who write novels of manners but who also explore within that medium more serious issues involving moral philosophy and psychological analysis. Like Wharton and Austen, Lurie is a satirist whose comic flair serves the deeper purpose of astute social criticism. Most important, however, is her kinship to James. In Foreign Affairs, Vinnie Miner’s impoverished personal life recalls the Jamesian theme of the “unlived life.” In addition, Lurie invokes James’s “international theme” in her depiction of Vinnie as an American beguiled by European sophistication who learns from a heartland compatriot that true goodness matters more than style and polish.

Feminism is yet another context for Lurie’s work. Generally, Lurie’s major characters are women who are often at a critical turning point in their lives. She is often identified as a writer with particular appeal to feminists and other women who see in her female characters their own situation. As a professor, essayist, and novelist, Lurie herself is a woman of mind, and her novels similarly feature intelligent and perceptive heroines who are often fearless in their assessments of themselves and others. Yet because Lurie is, in her words, “feminist but not separatist,” her independent women are also attracted to romance, valuing their own emotional sides as well as the emotionally vulnerable sides of the men they love.