Study Guide

Hotel du Lac

by Anita Brookner

Hotel du Lac Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Everything in Hotel du Lac is seen through the eyes of Edith Hope, a diffident and unassuming writer of popular romantic fiction who is staying in a hotel of former splendor beside Lake Geneva, apparently against her will. She has been temporarily banished from London in some kind of disgrace. The hotel, the few guests who are lingering on to the end of the season, and the events which have led to Edith’s reluctant vacation are described in an elegantly written third-person account of her thoughts, reminiscences, and observations and through the long and loving letters she writes to David Simmonds, a married man with a family, with whom she has been having a clandestine affair.

The letters are full of wryly amused accounts of her fellow guests and their behavior, but she makes only cursory references to her encounters with Philip Neville, a cool and immaculate businessman who has recently turned up at the hotel. Not until the end of the novel is it revealed that none of the letters had been posted.

The only other guests are an elderly aristocrat, Madame de Bonneuil; the beautiful but painfully thin Monica, “Lady X,” with her little dog; and the rich, glamorous, elderly widow Iris Pusey and her voluptuous daughter, Jennifer Pusey. Through her observations of these women, Edith tries to come to grips with her own emotional dilemma, which is revealed in gradual stages.

Although Edith loved David and was never happier than when ministering to his insatiable lust for food, she had been depressed by the infrequency of his visits. After meeting Geoffrey Long, a prosperous but very boring businessman, at a party given by her...

(The entire section is 683 words.)

Hotel du Lac Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Newly arrived at the Hotel du Lac, a tasteful, well-serviced establishment in the shadow of a thirteenth century castle in Switzerland, Edith Hope, a writer of romantic novels, contemplates the elements of her exile at the hotel. Friends had told her that she should go to the hotel for self-reflection after she had been humiliated and shamed for not showing up at her own wedding.

At the hotel, Edith composes a long letter to her married lover, David Simmonds, revealing her insecurity and loneliness. It is the end of the season; the tourists are gone, the attractions are closed. Only a few assorted guests remain. The first evening, Edith is fascinated by the entrance of the glamorous Iris Pusey and her daughter Jennifer, who acknowledge her presence with only a slight nod. Later in the salon, Edith observes Mme de Bonneuil and another guest, an extraordinarily thin woman with a small dog whom she constantly feeds. She also observes an elegant gentleman with an ironic smile. Despite these observations her fellow guests seem quite unknowable. She is unable to reach out to them socially and feels alienated and detached.

Back in her room, Edith evokes memories of her mother, a discontented and bitter woman, and also recollects her first meeting with David at the party of her friend, Penelope Milne. Edith and David had exchanged glances only, but he returned to her house later, beginning their illicit affair. Edith yearns to call him, but restrains herself.

The next morning, Edith becomes acquainted with Monica, the beautiful thin woman, who is holding her dog, Kiki. Monica says that she is at the Hotel du Lac for health reasons; later, Edith learns that Monica had been sent to Switzerland because she had been unable to produce an heir for her husband. He felt that the place would help Monica to become stronger and more likely to reproduce.

In the afternoon, the elegant gentleman, Philip Neville, suggests a walk, a welcome activity to Edith, who finds little incentive to work on her current novel and is somewhat bored. That night, as she prepares for bed, Edith hears a scream from the corridor and, fearing that Mrs. Pusey has had a heart attack, she hurries to the Puseys’ rooms. She finds Jennifer’s door open, and finds Jennifer in a rather inappropriate position on her bed, flimsily clad. Also in the...

(The entire section is 960 words.)

Hotel du Lac Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

At the beginning of Hotel du Lac (hotel of the lake), Edith Hope is thirty-nine years old. As usual in Brookner novels, she is less than beautiful. She is shy, meek, intelligent, and lonely. She is beginning an unexplained exile at an exclusive hotel on the banks of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

Like Frances in Look at Me, she is a writer, but she is more than simply a satiric observer. In this novel, Brookner expands on the relationship of real life to fiction. Edith is an established writer of romances; she knows how to write stories with happy endings. She divides people into hares and tortoises: The hares are beautiful, selfish, and loved, like Nick and Alix in Look at Me; tortoises are meek, plain, and unloved, like Ruth in The Debut. Even though in real life the hares always win, Edith knows that her romances are popular because the women who read them are tortoises, and in her books the tortoises always win. Hares do not read books; they are too busy having fun.

The characters of Hotel du Lac are not so easily categorized, although Edith’s descriptions of them are brilliant and amusing. The pencil-thin Monica and an aging countess may be tortoises. A grotesque old lady and her plump, seductive daughter seem like hares. The elegant and charming Philip Neville is clearly not a tortoise. After Edith, the professional novelist, invents plots for them, however, she discovers her fictions are nothing like their true stories.

Edith herself is not exactly a tortoise. She has participated in life. From the beginning, Edith reveals part of her story in letters (unmailed) to David, a married man who has been her lover. Halfway through the novel, the reader learns why Edith is in Switzerland: She had to get out of town after leaving her fiancé waiting at the church. At the end of the novel, she is tempted to escape her lonely life forever when Philip Neville offers her a luxurious, loveless marriage. She rejects him and returns home to uncertainty.

Like other Brookner heroines, she has yearned for true love and lost it, but that does not mean she has given up on fiction. In a final letter, she tells David that she has always believed in the happy endings of her romance novels, though she now suspects they are not for her.

Hotel du Lac Summary

Chapters 1-4

Hotel du Lac begins in late September at a quiet, respectable hotel in Switzerland, where Edith...

(The entire section is 1276 words.)