Unmarried, fifty-four year-old Virginia Miner (Vinnie), a professor at Corinth who specializes in children's literature, is off to London for another research trip. Her work has been trashed by a Professor L. Zimmern of Columbia and she is hoping to produce an important new book about playground rhymes that will restore her reputation and confidence.

A 'pro' at long flights, her serenity is ruffled by her seatmate, a garrulous married man, Chuck Mumpson, of Tulsa who wishes to chat. She puts him off with difficulty. But the smoking and drinking Chuck is persistent. He could use help with a research trip of his own to trace his family history. Vinnie slowly becomes involved with his project, and then with him.

Meanwhile, her young colleague, Fred Turner, has left his wife, Roo, at home for his own sabbatical; they have quarreled. Soon, he consoles himself with the affections of Lady Rosemary Hadley. Quite by accident and with the encouragement of Chuck, Vinnie becomes an emissary for Fred's estranged wife in an improbable midnight walk on Hampstead Heath.

Just as she begins to think Chuck's affections have cooled, because of his silence of several days duration, she is visited by his daughter who describes his sudden death while climbing the stairs of a small town hall. When her publisher patronizes his memory, she realizes with surprise that he loved her and she loved him. She returns to her life in Corinth, solitary and unloved, but altered for having loved and been loved.


This novel, Lurie's seventh, won the Pulitzer Prize. As its puff proclaims, it is a "masterpiece," "both a splendid comedy and a poignant [double] love story," "by turns hilarious and intensely moving." Lurie fans will enjoy recognizing the characters from earlier works. Lurie's writerly powers of persuasion are impressive: Vinnie's early objections to Chuck are just as convincing as her later fondness and grief.

Fred and Vinnie, like all lovers, are bound by the risks that they embrace, notwithstanding the natural instincts of self preservation and self delusion. Vinnie's genuine regret and guilt over Chuck's heart attack are tempered by recollections of his physiological response to sexual relations and by relief that he did not die in her bed. Love in later life is as passionate, selfish, and messy, as at any other time.


First published: 1984



Place Published

New York



Page Count