Foreign Affairs won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize in fiction and was nominated for both the American Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. Lurie juxtaposes American characters with British ones in order to explore national traits of both. “It’s a complex fate to be an American,” Henry James once said, and the complex fates of Lurie’s two American academics in this novel are a good example.
In the opening chapter, Virginia “Vinnie” Miner, a small, plain, unmarried, fifty-four-year-old Corinth professor of children’s literature, is traveling by plane to London, where she intends to do research on folk rhymes of schoolchildren. Feeling alone and having just read a bad review of her latest book, she visualizes herself traveling with an invisible dog named Fido, an imaginary manifestation of her self-pity. The worse she feels, the more Fido whines for attention, until he finally scrambles into her lap and goes to sleep. Seated next to her is American tourist Charles (Chuck) Mumpson, an engineer from Tulsa specializing in waste-disposal systems. Vinnie suffers his amiable conversation during the trip.
In the second chapter, the reader meets Vinnie’s colleague Fred Turner, a strikingly handsome young man who is in London to do research on the eighteenth century poet and playwright John Gay, author of The Beggar’s Opera (1728). Turner, too, is lonely, having just separated from his wife, Ruth, and knowing no one in London except some graduate school friends and Vinnie, with whom he has had...
(The entire section is 633 words.)