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A winsome and witty novel that captures the essence of human longing.

  • Jul 4, 2008
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+5
Alison Lurie's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a work that explores love and all its complexities through two polar opposite academics who teach at the same ivy league school: the factitious Corinth University.

One academic is the aging spinster professor, Virginia Miner, a published scholar who also happens to be a respected expert in the study of children's literature, with a particular emphasis on nursery and playground rhymes. An Anglophile at heart, she feels more at home in England than in the United States. Having received a stipend for her sabbatical in England, Professor Miner's aim is to further her research for a work-in-progress. Unlike her experiences in American academia, which are not all-too-thrilling, in England, she is a minor academic celebrity, where intellectuals take sincere and interested note of who she is as well as her profession and assorted writings on the literary aspects of children's lives.

The other academic is the complete opposite of the prim and proper, if not a bit aloof and sarcastic Virginia Miner. His name is Fred Turner, Ph.D., an expert on English writers: Johnson, Fielding, Hogarth and specifically John Gay, whom he is supposed to be writing a book on. While Prof. Miner is not necessarily unattractive, she is ordinary looking at best with a somewhat restrained personality that aches to say what she is truly feeling. Dr. Turner, however, has the features of an "Edwardian hero: classically sculptured, over-finished..." (p. 29). He is too beautiful looking to be taken seriously, and almost all his students wish to sleep with him. He is an up-and-comer in academic circles, especially in the Corinth English Department, somebody who will bring appeal, vitality and energy to old English department pretensions. He is married to a somewhat feminist artist and photographer named Roo, whose behavior is crass and a total contradiction to his refined and intellectuial nature. During a photographic exhibit that involves Prof. Turner, a humiliating fiasco occurs, and after that negative experience, he travels to England to research his book-in-progress.

While both Vinnie Miner and Fred Turner have a reason to flee, their lives, once in England, get hilariously entwined in a flurry of aristocratic dramas, Vinnie less so when she encounters an emotionally down-on-his-luck Texan engineer named Charles (Chuck) Mumpson, a specialist in waste-disposal systems while en route to London. Fred gets involved with a small time television actress named Rosemary Radley, a flighty and gregarious woman who is not too swift, a woman strongly hardened by the profession which she operates in and is trying to excell at. Yet, she is layered in masks of her own making, for life is hard and difficult. And love is particularly unattainable, especially when it is not on her terms.

As Fred Turner is a newbie to the academic system, with its policies and proceedures, Virginia Miner is the cool-as-a-cucumber veteran, a seasoned and independent world traveler, but she is lonley; she has foresaken honest-to-goodness love as something not applicable to her. There is a veneer around her that stunts her, and that is her anti-romance, anti-everything that has to do with relationships attitude. She's had affairs, but everything after became platonic. But it is Chuck Mumpson, her exact opposite, who opens Virginia's eyes to the truth that opposites do indeed attract. And what happens to him at the end of the novel is honest in the sense that real love can sometimes hurt, but it is not always a healing experience, if not at that moment than certainly after the fact--like a good memory.

Each character seems successful, but there is a missing piece to each one. Fred Turner, Virginia Miner, Rosemary Radley and Chuck Mumpson, along with a plateful of others. They are people who need each other, irrelevant of whether or not they are successful in their jobs and whatnot. Emotional human needs overide lots of other factors in this life, for no person is an island onto him or herself. And Foreigh Affairs illustrates that fact perfectly. Highly recommended!

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More Foreign Affairs: A Novel reviews
review by . May 08, 2013
Alison Lurie's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a work that explores love and all its complexities through two polar opposite academics who teach at the same ivy league school: the factitious Corinth University.    One academic is the aging spinster professor, Virginia Miner, a published scholar who also happens to be a respected expert in the study of children's literature, with a particular emphasis on nursery and playground rhymes. An Anglophile at heart, she feels more at …
review by . February 10, 2008
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1984. While there is nothing particularly profound about it, it is a very readable, well-paced addition to the 'academics abroad' genre. The story is reminiscent of David Lodge's excellent "Changing Places". However, where Lodge's two academics are English and American transplants, respectively, Lurie follows the progress of two American academics, each on a 6-month leave in London.    One of the pleasures of this particular genre …
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Christian Engler ()
Ranked #652
Not much to say; my info section and likes pretty much says it all. Cheers.
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WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

Virginia Miner, a fifty-something, unmarried tenured professor, is in London to work on her new book about children’s folk rhymes. Despite carrying a U.S. passport, Vinnie feels essentially English and rather looks down on her fellow Americans. But in spite of that, she is drawn into a mortifying and oddly satisfying affair with an Oklahoman tourist who dresses more Bronco Billy than Beau Brummel.

Also in London is Vinnie’s colleague Fred Turner, a handsome, flat broke, newly separated, and thoroughly miserable young man trying to focus on his own research. Instead, he is distracted by a beautiful and unpredictable English actress and the world she belongs to.

Both American, both abroad, and both achingly lonely, Vinnie and Fred play out their confused alienation and dizzying romantic liaisons in Alison Lurie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Smartly written, poignant, and witty,Foreign Affairsremains an enduring comic masterpiece.

“A splendid comedy, very bright, brilliantly written in a confident and original manner. The best book by one of our finest writers.”
–Elizabeth Hardwick

“There is no American writer I have read with more constant pleasure and sympathy. . . .Foreign Affairsearns the same shelf as Henry James and Edith Wharton.”
–John Fowles

“If you manage to read only a few good novels a year, make this one of them.”
USA Today

“An ingenious, touching
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Details

ISBN-10: 0812976312
ISBN-13: 978-0812976311
Author: Alison Lurie
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

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