The Misalliance

After her husband, Bertie, takes up residence with his secretary, a shallow but lively woman named Mousie, Blanche Vernon occupies her time “keeping feelings at bay.” During the day, she dutifully does volunteer work at a local hospital or visits the National Gallery of Art, seeking some message for herself in the paintings. At night, she drinks too much wine. Unable to break completely with his wife, Bertie returns frequently for brief visits. When she meets a hedonistic young woman named Sally and her three-year-old stepchild, who refuses to speak, Blanche foolishly becomes involved in rescuing them: the mother from what she believes is dire financial need and the child from a dull life such as Blanche herself has led. Blanche’s involvement, however misguided, leads to a test of honor and a new vision of herself. Energized by this insight, she prepares to depart for Europe.

Readers of Henry James will recognize in THE MISALLIANCE a familiar conflict between the life of duty and restraint and that of self-indulgence. Drawing on her knowledge of painting, Brookner contrasts Blanche Vernon’s essentially Christian values with the pagan life captured in art and embodied in women such as Mousie and Sally. As in her earlier work, Brookner’s style resembles James’s in its emphasis on thought over dialogue and action. Her success as a novelist derives from her compassionate, intelligent rendering of the inner life of middle-aged women, such as...

(The entire section is 508 words.)