Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction in 1960, Mrs. Bridge was both a best-seller and a critical success. The consensus is that this novel and Mr. Bridge (1969), a companion volume which covers some but not all of the same material, deserve to be Connell’s best-known works because of the skill with which he employs their episodic structures to build fully rounded characters. In their depiction of such ordinary people living fundamentally desperate lives, Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge have become the standard against which his subsequent fiction is measured.

In other books—The Patriot (1960), The Diary of a Rapist (1966), The Connoisseur (1974), and Double Honeymoon (1976)—Connell explores personalities obsessed with goals which distort their perceptions of reality. In this, they are like Walter Bridge, as he appears in both novels, and not like Mrs. Bridge, who has no clear sense of what she wants out of life. This search for significance beyond the ordinary, which characterizes all the male protagonists of Connell’s books, sets Mrs. Bridge off from the rest of his central characters. With her, he deals with the thoughts and feelings of a complex human being, and he manages to make her likable as much for her weaknesses as despite them. Because of the skill of this characterization, Mrs. Bridge is considered Connell’s finest novel.