Foreign Affairs follows the adventures of two American professors who find love and self-knowledge while on sabbatical in London. The major character, Virginia (“Vinnie”) Miner, is a successful teacher and specialist on children’s literature and an Anglophile who makes regular visits to London. Although she has sophisticated friends and a good career, Vinnie’s personal life is meager. She has no husband, no lover, no children, no home life—only her imaginary dog Fido, the repository of all her accumulating self-pity. In addition, her latest book has been dismissed by the influential critic L. D. Zimmern as useless and out of date. With her work devalued, Vinnie worries that, at bottom, she has nothing. This changes when she is seated on the plane to London beside a brash, clumsy sanitary engineer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, named Chuck Mumpson.
Mumpson has, in a classic American way, gone from rags to riches, but a lifetime of moneymaking has left him lonely and at loose ends. Estranged from his wife and children, Mumpson is traveling alone to England to track down what he imagines will be an illustrious family tree. Mumpson at first mistakes Vinnie for an Englishwoman, and she does, indeed, aspire to the kind of Englishness associated with good taste, breeding, and a high cultural level. Vinnie at first disdains Chuck as a typical American boor, but she begins to realize that they are both lonely and unloved. As he has a fantasy of noble lineage, she has been assuming the pose of an English lady, quite above the likes of a Chuck Mumpson.
Although they become friends and then lovers, Vinnie’s snobbery continues to be a factor in their relationship. He is the kind of provincial American she thinks that her English...
(The entire section is 715 words.)