(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Handsome, charming Dr. Nick Fraser enlivens the dull, peaceful atmosphere of the library where Frances and her crippled friend Olivia work. Nick is always in a hurry, full of meaningless endearments and light banter, exuding glamour, adventure, and success. The two young women willingly serve him, though he is quite unattainable, as they realize when his wife, Alix, visits the library one day. She, too, has an undeniable aura of power, commanding attention and subservience.

When Alix invites Frances for dinner (at the instigation of Nick, it seems clear), Frances feels that her lonely, isolated, and stifling life is about to undergo an exciting change. She falls in love with the Frasers as a couple; to her, they represent an ideal of pleasure, freedom, selfishness, and imperviousness to the feelings or needs of anyone but themselves. It is an ideal that Frances wants to observe closely and to emulate.

Hardly believing her good luck at being included in the Frasers’ group, Frances quickly becomes uncritically avid for their company; they, in turn, enjoy having her as an audience during their hilarious evenings together, usually in a restaurant, where they attract the amused attention of everyone. Always the observer, Frances studies the Frasers, not always approvingly yet captivated by their absorption in each other, their willingness, even eagerness, to display suggestively their intimacies. Alix is incessantly curious about other people’s lives and exhibits a flattering interest in the facts of Frances’ life. Later, when Frances returns to her spacious, old-fashioned flat, empty except for the silent presence of old Nancy, she writes in her diary and makes notes for a novel.

One evening in October, the three friends are joined by James Anstey, the other doctor at the institute. At first, Frances is somewhat repelled by his distinguished good looks and haughty, unapproachable manner. Yet she senses that they have something in common: shyness, good manners, moral rectitude, and inexperience in...

(The entire section is 833 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The story of Look at Me, Brookner’s third novel, is told in the first person by its central character, Frances Hinton. She is an efficient young librarian at a medical institute in London. Like other Brookner heroines, she is lonely. Her parents are both dead, and she lives on in the comfortable family apartment with their housekeeper. Perhaps because she knows she is not beautiful, perhaps because of a previous unhappy love affair at which she hints, Frances classifies herself (also like so many of Brookner’s heroines) as an observer of life, not a participant. She shows readers her powers of observation in describing the odd people she knows and promises to use them as a writer of entertaining, sharply satirical fiction. She has had a story or two published, and she contemplates a novel.

Behind Frances the observer is Frances the woman who longs to be a participant in life. She longs to cry out: “Look at me!” She wants excitement and finds it in the friendship of Nick Fraser, a handsome doctor who works at the institute, and Alix, his beautiful wife. They are a perfect couple, handsome and attractive, though Alix gradually emerges as the more powerful of the two. She is domineering and self-centered, but Frances is willing to be dominated and realizes (like Ruth in The Debut) that Alix’s selfishness and greed are what life’s participants possess. Far from turning away, Frances attaches herself to the Frasers with her eyes...

(The entire section is 440 words.)