Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
It is a miracle of novel writing that, once a financially successful and comprehensive novel has been published, the novelist can come up with yet another. The critics are always ready to pounce, and the drain of ideas from the previous novel is bound to tell on the imagination of the next. Irving wrote The Hotel New Hampshire in a remarkably short time, given the notoriety of his previous hit and claims on his time from filmmakers and interviewers. Large in scope and covering two continents, it does not stint in imagination, but it does make use of the groundwork of the others. Here, the father does not die in conception but is the hero of the book. The mother dies in a plane crash, as does the youngest child (who has the symbolic name of Egg), and the entire novel moves in a different circle from The World According to Garp.
Eventually there is incest between a brother and sister (John and Franny), which is inaugurated, in a sense, by the previous gang rape of Franny, a violent event that John is helpless to prevent. There is also a sense of revenge, of justice done in the fictive world, or rather in the imagination of the author, that sets this book apart from Irving’s previous success.
The novel begins with a long remembrance, in which the father of the family, Win Berry, recalls how he met his wife and fathered five children. The couple met at a seaside resort, where among their adventures they meet a Viennese bear trainer named Freud, who has taught the bear to ride on a motorcycle. The father purchases the bear, and Freud returns to Vienna, just before World War II. The resort, called Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, is idyllic in the father’s imagination, but when the family returns to it many years later, it has become run-down and ruined. The father’s dream must then be realized, and he turns a former school into the first Hotel New Hampshire. His scheme is financially unfeasible, but he tries it anyway, and the child narrator (whose name, John, and year of birth, 1942, make the connection with Irving more than gratuitous) grows up experiencing the variety of life that temporarily inhabits the place.
The entire novel takes place in a succession of hotels, first at the resort on the seaside, then in the converted schoolhouse in the small town where the Berry family live, then in Vienna, at the invitation of a former guest, the Viennese Sigmund Freud (the bear trainer, not the famous psychiatrist). Win Berry, a dreamer, is always enchanted by the possibilities of the hotels—they are to him an extension of the warmth and love of his immediate family. Freud’s trained bear is accidentally shot and is emotionally replaced by Sorrow, a black Labrador retriever who, even in death, is a symbol of the family’s ability to revive and survive.
The first Hotel New Hampshire, in an abandoned schoolhouse, is, in fact, a school for the growth and maturity of the family. The midgets who come as guests,...
(The entire section is 1212 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Hotel New Hampshire is narrated by John Berry, even though he and his brothers and sisters have not been born, not “even conceived,” when the story begins with the meeting of their parents. Consequently, the events in the first part of the book are retold by John from his parents’ accounts. In fact, John’s own account is more imaginative and titillating than the stories told by his idealistic father and more practical, even prosaic, mother. The events that led to his parents’ union shape their children’s lives and explain why and how they grow or fail to grow. Even though the novel is about three generations and spans some sixty years, it is a novel about the passage from childhood to adulthood; it does not extend into the children’s adult lives.
The title, The Hotel New Hampshire, provides structure for John Irving’s novel, since there are in fact three Hotel New Hampshires, each corresponding to a particular stage in the development of the Berry children. John’s parents meet at the Hotel Arbuthnot, what will become the third and most idealized Hotel New Hampshire. The Maine summer resort hotel where both work is also where they meet Freud (“our Freud,” not the “other Freud,” the psychiatrist) and his performing bear, State o’ Maine; where they encounter Arbuthnot, the hotel’s owner, whose appearance in a white dinner jacket serves as a premonition of death (he warns the couple that the world is not safe for bears or Jews); and where they fall in love.
After their marriage, they teach at the Dairy School in New Hampshire, but John’s father buys an old school for girls and converts it into the first official Hotel New Hampshire. The first hotel is initially a womblike, protected haven for the children, but death and sorrow (Irving has symbolically named the family dog “Sorrow”) threaten. Frank is beaten by the football team, Franny is raped, and Sorrow is put to...
(The entire section is 793 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
It is 1939, and Win Berry has been accepted to Harvard University. He is now working at the Maine resort, Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, to earn money for school. He meets Mary Baker at the resort, and the two have an immediate attraction. They share the summer serving guests and dancing and befriending the eccentric Freud, an Austrian Jew hired as a fix-it man and an animal-act performer.
Freud’s feature act involves his pet bear, State o’ Maine, whom he renames Earl (for the sounds the bear makes when communicating). Earl rides sidecar to Freud’s 1937 Indian motorcycle, does a shtick whereby he purportedly drives the motorcycle, and has such a connection with the bike that he chases anyone driving it. When Freud becomes fed up with the hotel-performing life, he gives up Earl and the bike to Win and Mary and returns to his homeland in Vienna (even though he is Jewish, and the Nazis are gaining power in Europe).
Win and Earl do seasonal tours, making an income to get Win to Harvard and to support the newlywed couple and their children: Frank, Franny, and John. Two more children are born to the pair, and soon the family of seven is gathering frequently to hear the story of Win, Mary, and Earl’s early days.
In 1950, Win takes the family to visit Arbuthnot, only to find the resort closed, dilapidated, sun-bleached, and overgrown with wild grasses. While they are following father as he looks around, a boy hired to shoot the seals that steal all the good fish at the weirs mistakes Earl for a wild bear. He shoots and kills him. Win is as devastated by this loss as he is by the loss of his adolescent workplace.
Father decides to turn the old private school in their hometown of Dairy into the Hotel New Hampshire. The family moves into the hotel and is soon joined by the retired and aging grandfather, Coach Bob, also known as Iowa Bob. Troubles begin.
One day after cheerleading, football, and band practice, Franny and John (who are almost always together) come upon several members of the football team bullying Frank, by this time showing signs of being gay. Franny and John fight off the bullies, but the teammates are not deterred. Within days they have turned their abuse onto Franny, taking turns raping her. Then, the...
(The entire section is 929 words.)