In film history, Claire Bloom will be remembered as the vibrant young star of one of Charlie Chaplin’s greatest works, LIMELIGHT (1951). On the stage, she appeared in historic revivals of A DOLL’S HOUSE (1971) and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1974). In television, she scored a brilliant success in the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece, BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (1982). Bloom’s success in London and in New York, the two cities where she has spent most of her life, has been darkened by a personality that is both vulnerable and tenacious. She has been willing to sacrifice nearly everything—including her daughter—to please a man, yet she seems never to have stopped working, and never to have stopped trying to reconcile her personal needs with her obligations as a mother and wife.
Bloom recounts her intense love affair with Richard Burton, her serene yet ultimately unsatisfying marriage to Rod Steiger, her second marriage to womanizing producer Hillard Elkins, and her third traumatic union with Philip Roth, a sensitive and brilliant writer but also a terrifying, paranoic spouse. Bloom does not spare herself criticism, attributing her passivity and knuckling under to men to an unstable childhood, to her longing for a wayward father who abandoned her, and to her need to be ruled and protected even as she took refuge in her talent and in her career.
What makes Bloom’s memoir persuasive is the way she ends it. In a final meeting with Roth, he offers a reconciliation, a chance to start all over again. She leaps at it, then confesses that she has written a fantasy. There was no offer of reconciliation, no chance to begin again. Yet that fantasy, Bloom admits, remains with her. She has not left the doll’s house; rather, she is leaving it, and as with Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, Bloom’s audience wonders, as she does, what the rest of her life will become.
Sources for Further Study
Boston Globe. October 22, 1996, p. D1.
Chicago Tribune. October 20, 1996, XIV, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 13, 1996, p. 3.
The New York Times Book Review. CI, October 13, 1996, p. 7.
The Times Literary Supplement. October 25, 1996, p. 31.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, October 20, 1996, p. 3.