Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer is about letter writing. Two writers who spent the summer of 1957 in a writer’s colony start up a love affair through letter writing. Their chemistry begins because they are writers and each found the other based on their writing and appreciated the skills of the other. The entire novel is a collection of letters between Frances and Bernard and their friends, Claire and Ted, who serve as sounding boards for the affair.
The early letters are filled with questions of the other, as they sound the waters and get to know each other, to learn of the other. Long letters tell of how they got religion. Religion is important to them. Talk of books, authors, people, but mostly about their religious past and acquisition. I’m reminded about just how formal letter writing was before computers. A real art form: penmanship, correct grammar usage, and delightful stories as anecdotes to points being made.
I find them a bit boorish. They intellectualize everything too much. They seem above and better than everyone. As they speak of family, friends, and colleagues, they, especially Francis, is almost off putting. I’m anticipating some comeuppance. I was shocked, and had to double check when I saw her use “Their” when she should have used “They’re.” (page 53) He closes with more affectionate terms like “Love” besides the safe “Yours” which is how Francis closes her missives.
Two writers, one a poet, Bernard, the other a novelist writing about each other’s work. Bernard is the better critic, as he is so encouraging of Francis, who seems to have such trouble publishing; while Bernard easily publishes and Frances is so much more critical. An interesting relationship. Bernard is the romantic here. He has a manic attack and is in a hospital for a while and then released to his parents. He moves to NYC where Francis lives and they get closer. God has become the center of their lives.
Bernard is a teacher and Francis takes it up with this reflection: “But I have to say, teaching is, and I can’t quite believe this, something I enjoy. It is a losing battle, but unlike the losing battle of tending to my father and his illness, I can see just enough enlightenment in their eyes to make me want to show up to the next class. Of course, I like being in charge and being paid for it.” Bernard and Francis are going in different directions as unrequited love is driving them apart in an ugly way with disastrous results.
This tale does remind me of some of my past and I hope some of those women I knew find this book.