THE GOOD HUSBAND is a darker novel than many of Gail Godwin’s earlier works, primarily because she uses death and other forms of loss to illustrate the main points of the novel. Told primarily from the points of view of the four main characters—Magda Danvers, Francis Lake, Alice Henry, and Hugo Henry—the novel illustrates the pain and finally the relief that each character feels at having faced his or her worst nightmare.
For Magda Danvers, a scholar of visionary poets, her Gargoyle, as she so names it, is ovarian cancer that slowly destroys her body as the novel progresses. While she dies, Magda studies her life, ultimately realizing that nothing survives death, not even her own brilliant mind. Magda’s husband, Francis Lake, must learn to live without his beloved wife, an idea unimaginable to him before she becomes ill. After her death, Francis finds himself growing stronger and learning more about himself, ironic given his passivity in his marriage. Thus, her death serves as a chance for his growth as he embarks on a new relationship with Alice Henry.
Alice Henry’s emotional crisis begins with the stillborn birth of her first child, a tragedy that widens an already unbridgeable chasm in her marriage to Hugo Henry. By becoming involved with Magda during her illness, Alice is able to get beyond hew own grief as she helps Magda and Francis in theirs. Eventually, Alice gains the strength to acknowledge the death of her marriage, to continue with her career, and to feel genuine love for the first time with Francis. Her husband Hugo, a novelist, finds that he cannot write anymore. During the course of the novel he learns to let go of Alice so that they can both be happier. In doing so, Hugo finds that he is able to write once more.
Although THE GOOD HUSBAND has moments where Godwin’s considerable novelistic skills emerge, the novel is substantially marred by her often heavy-handed attempts to guide the reader through interpretations, resulting in sketchy characterization and weak plot structure.
Sources for Further Study
Chicago Tribune. August 28, 1994, XIV, p. 3.
The Christian Century. CXI, November 16, 1994, p. 1088.
Los Angeles Times. September 8, 1994, p. E7.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, September 4, 1994, p. 5.
Time. CXLIV, September 26, 1994, p. 82.
The Times Literary Supplement. November 4, 1994, p. 22.
The Washington Post. September 16, 1994, p. F2.