The Magazine

Portrait of a Lady

A second look at Evan S. Connell's domestic masterpiece.

Feb 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 23 • By WILLIAM H. PRITCHARD
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The first slice fell down like a corpse and they saw bubbles of white dough around the pecans. Mrs. Bridge covered it with the towel and carried it to the kitchen. Having disposed of the bread she untied her little ruffled apron and waited quietly until she had regained control of herself. Returning to the dining room with a loaf of grocery-store bread, Mrs. Bridge smiles and says, “It’s been a long time, I’m afraid.”

It may have been tempting for Connell to stop right there, one more bit of pathos to be added to the ever-growing list. Instead, he ends this way: “ ‘Never mind,’ said Mr. Bridge as he removed the lid of the casserole, and the next day he brought her a dozen roses.”

My sense is that student readers in 2013 are as touched and pleased by this scene as their parents and grandparents may be imagined to have been. Connell’s art in this novel is geared to a time period, but is also timeless.

William H. Pritchard is Henry Clay Folger professor of English at Amherst College.

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