Foreign Affairs Analysis
by Alison Lurie

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Foreign Affairs Analysis

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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At one point when his affair with Rosemary is going poorly, Fred has the idea “that he has fallen into a Henry James novel” and that Rosemary is one of James’s scheming villainesses. Many readers will also see parallels to the classic Henry James plot of the innocent American trying to advance his or her fortunes in a setting of Old World deviousness.

Fred’s naïveté emerges comically in his befuddlement over the frantic behavior of Posy Billings in banishing her lover, Just William, and putting a normal face on things when her husband, Jimbo Billings, returns unexpectedly to interrupt the games at Posy’s weekend house party. That Fred has to be told the truth of things by Edwin’s gigolo is hardly credible, even in the case of an Ivy League English professor who should have at least a bookworm’s knowledge of decadence from his studies of John Gay.

The triangle in which Fred finds himself with Roo and Rosemary captures transatlantic cultural contrasts explicitly. Roo is the archetypal American, open and frank in every way, with no trace of the coquette in her sexual nature and no interest in the accoutrements of dress and cosmetics. Rosemary is devious and clinging, a creature of pastel fluffs and ruffles accustomed to command in sexual relations and disingenuous about her age. She apparently enjoys her role as Mrs. Harris, finding in it an alter ego that can be satisfyingly crude outside the artificialities of her theater world.

Vinnie Miner plays out her own Jamesian part as an Anglophile snob who comes to see America in a better light through her love for Chuck Mumpson (who perhaps owes more to Sinclair Lewis’ Dodsworth than to any Jamesian figure). Chuck’s transparent plastic raincoat symbolizes everything that is tacky about America to Vinnie, but once she has thrown away this vulgar artifact and replaced it with a nice Burberry, Vinnie is in love.

The refashioning of Vinnie’s values is effected through a second agency—her profession as a folklorist. She arrived in England to collect children’s rhymes, convinced that British rhymes were...

(The entire section is 540 words.)