writing for other professional historians.nThose novehsts who, during thenlast 25 years, have been mixing “fact”nand “fiction,” by including bigger andnbigger — and usually undigestedn—chunks of history in their books, arenno good either. None of them has, asnyet, succeeded in creating a fine examplenof a new genre. The mixing of factnand fiction in their books has beennusually indiscriminating and illegitimatento the extents of sloppiness andndishonesty—as indeed on televisionnand in the movies.nNow Son of the Morning Star maynnot be a great, classic work. But it isnmore than a minor masterpiece.nWhat Connell achieved is a kindnof breakthrough — a minor breakthrough,nto be sure, but a breakthroughnnonetheless—through thenborder country overlapping not onlynthe more modern realms of “professionals”nand “amateurs” but the morenancient realms of History and Biographynand Novel. This border country isnnot a jungle and no longer a no-man’sland,nbecause the once rigid and fixedndelineations of those frontiers no longernserve.nConnell found his way through thenborder country. But then this is wherenand how and why he had started morenthan 25 years ago. There is a curiousnepigraph by Walt Whitman on theninside titie page of Mrs. Bridge (1959),nEvan Connell’s first novel. It reads:n”But where is what I started for so longnago? And why is it yet unfound?”nThere is a direct connection betweennthis cryptic motto and Mrs. Bridge andnwhat Connell achieved in Son of thenMorning Star. Like every serious writer,nConnell has been plagued by thenelusive character of historical truthn—more precisely, by the difficult tasknof its pursuit. His pursuit, alreadynevident in the two Bridge books, followednthe tactic of approach wherebynthe same story, or at least much of thenstory, is redescribed (that is, not merelynretold) from the perspectives of thendifferent protagonists. I said that innSon of the Morning Star this hasn”worked” very well. But there is morento that.nMrs. Bridge, for example, ought tonbe required reading in classes of Americannhistory as well as in classes ofnAmerican literature, because it describesnnot so much how certainnAmericans looked and what they didnand how they talked, but what theynthought and what they felt in a certainntime and in a certain place. Thesenpeople, unlike the people described bynsuch different writers as John P.nMarquand or Sinclair Lewis or JohnnO’Hara, are not stereotypes. Mrs.nBridge consists of 117 short chapters ornvignettes, written in an extraordinarynspare and succinct prose (how differentnfrom the logorrhea of the 1960’s!).nMrs. Bridge and her family are Americansnin Kansas City. At least 115 ofnthese 117 vignettes take place between,nsay, 1928 and 1942. Mrs.nBridge is not really about the Depressionnand the New Deal and the SecondnWorld War, nor is it—contrary tonmany of its reviewers’ notions—reallynabout upper-middle-class life in KansasnCity.nThe habits of the Bridges’ class andnthe great events of the winding worldnintrude in their lives and in theirnconversations. Yet the main scope ofnthis book is the description of certainnAmerican sensitivities of a race and ofna generation. I am using this dangerouslynunfashionable word “race” becausenthe Bridges are Anglo-SaxonnAmericans. We know nothing aboutnMrs. Bridge’s ancestors; she is whollynabsorbed by her family; she shows noninterest in genealogy; she is a desultorynbook reader and does not seem to havenmuch interest in history. Yet when hernhusband takes her to England on theirnonly trip abroad, Connell describesnher in a passage of beautiful depthnwhich, in my opinion, is unequaled innAmerican literature because of itsnscope, and which rings, at least in mynmind, like a bourdon bell of a greatnsunken vision of a time now past:nThey landed at Southamptonnlong before dawn and took thentrain to London. It was a rainynmorning and most of thenpassengers dozed, but Mrs.nBridge stayed awake and starednout of the train window, a triflengroggily, at the silent, stately,nfogbound farmland. And as thisntrain carried her across thenEnglish countryside, pastncottages she had never seennand would never see again,nwhere great birds nested in thenchimney crook, and from thennnhedgerows smaller birds camenfluttering in sheer desperationnto circle twice, and then,nfinding nothing, to settle asnbefore, and where the cattie innthe mist grazed unperturbed bynthe train which rolled on andnon beneath the somnolentnEnglish sky, as though therenwere no destination, past thenrain-drenched, redolent fields,nand the trees which cast nonshadow, she thought to herselfnhow familiar it was and thatnonce this must have been hernhome. Yes, she said to herselfnslowly, yes, I was here before.nThis is one-half of those vignettesnand typical of Evan Connell at hisnbest. The few vignette-chapters aboutnEurope that follow, the Bridges innParis, Monte Carlo, Rome, are notnamong his best: Innocents Abroad.nAnd yet they fit with the tone of thenbook. India and Walter Bridge areninnocents. But they are not like Babbittnor Dodsworth. Yes, Kansas City isnthe center of their universe, just asnZenith was the center of the universenfor Sinclair Lewis’ antiheroes; but thenBridges do not think that their KansasnCity is the center of the world. Thencenter of their center is their family.nWhat the Bridges represent is thenbourgeois interlude in the history ofnthe United States, a phase that lasted,nat the most, from about 1890 to 1950,nthe only time in the 300-year history ofnan ever-changing people when theirnculture was mostly bourgeois andnurban.nMrs. Bridge is a gentie, honest, andnthoroughly kind woman. She is obsessednwith respectability—at the expensenof her mind but not of her heart.nHer story is consequently a sad one:nbut not only because of the perennialnhuman condition whereby gentlenessnand kindness seldom flower for long innthis world. Her story is sad because hernkind of gentility and probity and kindnessnare woefully thin and impractical,nand not only because of those changingncustoms and mores to which, likenso many other kind and gentie Americans,nshe feels that she ought to adjustnher opinions, if not her heart. Criticsnwho praised Mrs. Bridge praised EvannConnell’s satirical talents, describingnhis portraiture as “sly.” They werenMAY 1986/33n