Nonficionado Sale

Wednesday, July 11th, 2001


Widower's House: A Study in Bereavement or How Margot and Mella Forced Me to Flee My Home


A review by Adrienne Miller

GIST: An absolutely splendid memoir by the wondrous John Bayley, widow of novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch. A brilliant, frank, beautiful, and, yes, life-affirming book about Bayley's first year of widowerhood. This isn't to say that this is a soft book, however: Bayley ("no man can be wholly bad if he hates dogs and children," he writes) is, or can be, as crotchety as Auden.

DETAILS: Love percolates in every sentence here: "good and bad naturally meant more to Iris, as a philosopher, than they did for me." Above all else, Widower's House is a paean to the institution of marriage: "Being married was the best possible way of being alone."

Bayley worshipped his wife, and when she died in 1999 of complications from Alzheimer's Disease, he was utterly alone. But not for long! Uncomfortably, he found himself being doted on by two women, Mella and Margot, both previous acquaintances. Were they taking an interest in him out of simple human kindness, or was there something...more at stake? "Widowers imagined, poor creatures, that women were always running after them. They misunderstood the kindness women bestowed on them in their trouble. They became inordinately vain, as if with an occupational disease. Pathetic really." It turns out, though, that Bayley's suspicions were actually correct, at least in the case of one of these ladies. But then both Mella and Margot go away, as people tend to do, they simply vanish from his life, and Bayley is left doubly, triply alone in his cramped and dusty old house, left to play the part of a widower in the way he'd originally intended.

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