This remarkable novel spans the period of 1880 to 1947, in which the end of the civil war in still felt and the new century opens up a new amazing life to most Americans and especially modern women. Marriage in a sense was a must in those days.The heroine ,Margaret Mansfield is a Missouri girl of a good farming well to do family, who is raised to marry properly ,almost becomes an old maid but finally marries in the nick of time the genius of the town. Marriage and family was then the purpose of women's lives but few authors bother to analyse , except Virginia Woolf how a marriage survives over a long period of time , especially if there are no children . Smiley here observes at length how a smart , ordinary and well meaning woman married to to an eccentric brainy character , unlivable and highly neurotic ( here Captain Andrew Early) can survive in a modicum of satisfaction over 40 years of marriage. Because the name of the game is survival here , particularly when the wife is unable to fully understand what happened to her and how she is supposed to deal with raving paranoia. Margaret Mansfield is indeed a tragic woman and an exceptional fictional character; Smiley has drawn a very powerful figure who will strike an unforgettable note in many readers mind.
What happens in this difficult marriage? The first appearance of Andrew as a genius whiz kid in St Louis, although anti social ,awkward and afraid of women is deceptive ; everyone thinks that he a true scientific genius and he is certainly unusually bright, but already he seems an obnoxious ego maniac , despising everybody else. But no one sees that ,Margaret neither , but she is impressed by him , bows to his superiority and agrees to marry him. We know nothing of their sex life, which would be revealing but Smiley avoids that subject entirely. We simply learn that they move to California ,on an isle near San Francisco ,where Andrew works as an astronomer . A strange life of constant research ,writing innumerable articles and books starts, but soon shoddy research and plagiarism plague the Genius work and results naturally in heavy criticism and rejection by the scientific community. Recognition is not there, fury and depression sets in ,the hapless wife caught in the grip of a suffocating union with no life of her own , does not allow herself to question her husband's greatness with unfortunately no children to console her ( 2 babies die one after the other). Awful situation which today would evidently end up in a divorce, but then no wife walked out of a prison called marriage.even if the husband was psychotic . Margaret's life is a thus low descent in fear and desperation at first unconsciously, but she realizes eventually that her husband is paranoid, a dangerous ego maniac n and more and more aggressive . Nevertheless, she still is overwhelmed by his amazing capacity to manipulate and twist reality and his arguing talent . His constant presence up stairs in his study and his commanding voice terrify her literally and soon she can't stand him anymore and flees the house . She finally acknowledges to herself that she has married a sort of monster but she feels morally obliged to protect him from himself as well as from the scorn of others .This moral tale , full of pain and suffering , ends almost humorously , now that Andrew has become the weirdo of the town, living in the midst of his delusions, wandering around all of San Francisco and collaring strangers, she arranges with the police to watch over him and not arrest him… "L'idiot du village", the mate has become an object of matrimonial loyalty and pity .
A life of avoidance and separate lives is may be inevitable the outcome of long marriages where the individual seeks breathing space and a form of freedom? The question of freedom is crucial here, look at the difficulties of retired couples to live together harmoniously without the pretext of children and work load to attend to. The test of humanity and care is a fascinating theme, very rarely analysed in fiction, and the period in time does not matter really; the same issues face contemporary couples who choose as pilgrims , to progress together forward till the end.