Across the Bridge Summary (Mavis de Trafford Young)

Mavis de Trafford Young


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Across the Bridge” begins with the narrator, Sylvie, walking across a bridge in Paris with her mother, who carries the invitations to her wedding in a leather shopping bag. When Sylvie tells her mother that she does not love the man her parents have chosen for her to marry, her mother says that loving a man takes “patience,” like practicing scales. When Sylvie says she has thoughts of throwing herself off the bridge if she is forced to marry the family choice, Arnaud, and not allowed to marry her own choice, Bernard, her mother dumps the invitations off the bridge. The rest of the story is an ironic and comic treatment of the family’s efforts to match Sylvie up with Bernard, who, it turns out, in spite of Sylvie’s romantic idealizations, has no interest in her at all.

The story ends with Sylvie falling in love with her family’s original choice after all. The key scene in the story is a dinner engagement Sylvie has with Arnaud in which their future life together is presaged. When Sylvie cannot eat the flan because the restaurant has mistaken it for a piece of quiche and put parsley on it, Arnaud scrapes off the parsley and begins to eat the flan for her—a gesture that convinces Sylvie that he must love her. The story ends in romantic poignancy as Sylvie takes the long way home after seeing Arnaud board his train, for she thinks it unfair to arrive home before he does. She says she will never tell anyone about this, that it will remain a small and insignificant secret that belongs to the “true life” she is almost ready to enter. This is the bridge crossing reflected by the title of the story, for these small and seemingly insignificant secrets are what give Gallant’s stories life.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Across the Bridge” concerns Sylvie’s passage from one state to another. The story of a young woman who breaks her engagement because of an infatuation with another man, only to return to her fiancé, “Across the Bridge” also concerns the loss of romance and idealism and the acceptance of mediocrity, an acceptance Sylvie quite deliberately transforms into happiness. Before that transformation occurs, she comes to understand her real relationship to her mother and her real image in the eyes of her father and fiancé.

The story begins on a bridge, with Sylvie telling her mother that she does not love Arnaud, but instead loves Bernard Brunelle, with whom she is only casually acquainted. Her mother’s response, that love takes “patience, like practicing scales,” reflects her opinion of love and marriage, an opinion Sylvie will eventually come to share. She sees her mother and herself like “two sisters who never quarrel,” and interprets her mother’s throwing the wedding invitations into the Seine as a sign that both women have “put something over on life, or on men.” Sylvie does not, however, understand her mother’s real position.

While Sylvie proceeds to invent the details of her projected life with Bernard, her father writes to Bernard’s father, who rejects the proposed marriage. Sylvie must face the reality of knowing that her fantasy will not come true. Her parents respond with passive aggression, giving up their...

(The entire section is 481 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sylvie Castelli recalls the time when she and her mother walked together near the Place de la Concorde in Paris. As they cross a bridge, Sylvie shocks her mother by saying that she does not love her fiancé, Arnaud Pons, and that she would rather marry another man, Bernard Brunelle. Madame Castelli questions her daughter, and is misled by Sylvie’s vague, diffident answers, which convince her that Bernard Brunelle has written Sylvie a letter proposing marriage. Believing that Sylvie can marry Bernard instead of Arnaud, Madame Castelli impulsively dumps her daughter’s wedding invitations into the Seine River.

As Sylvie dreams about a perfect, enchanted life with Bernard, her parents cancel her scheduled wedding and break her engagement to Arnaud. Sylvie’s fantasies suddenly collapse, however, when Bernard’s father states emphatically in a letter that Bernard has not promised to marry Sylvie and that Bernard has no interest in Sylvie. When Madame Castelli demands that Sylvie show her the letter in which Bernard promises marriage, she realizes that the proposal existed only in Sylvie’s vivid imagination. Furious with his daughter, Monsieur Castelli blames his wife for the family’s humiliation. He and his wife both believe that they have allowed Sylvie too much freedom, and that had Sylvie been restricted as daughters were a generation earlier, the “fiasco” would never have occurred.

Uncertain what to do next, Sylvie considers...

(The entire section is 541 words.)