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Shapatm
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Re: Characters

We know that Emma was orphaned, that Will's father shamed himself during the bank failures of the 30s and had a drinking problem, that Iris' brother was killed in the WW1, that Frankie grew up in a Brownstone in Washington Square, and that her mother writes letters about daily life in excruciating detail. How do these characters' backgrounds shape our impressions of them and their actions in the story? Do you feel you have a deeper understanding of particular decisions they make?

 

Knowing some of the background of the characters helps me understand a little bit of what makes them tick.  These events have a huge impact of how they're going to respond is certain situations.  I have a feeling if we didn't know these things about Emma, Will, Iris and Frankie we as the reader would be scratching our head at certain events and asking WTF?

 

Iris thinks Emma is ashamed of exposing her underwear when her suitcase breaks open, but Emma says she's not the least bit ashamed. Why does Emma come close to tears in this scene?

 

I think that Emma has this certain view of a doctor's wife in her mind and doesn't include showing her underwear to most of the town on her first day in town.  Emma's suitcase busting open was not how she wanted to meet the town of Franklin. 

 

We get a close look a the love lives of each of the women characters in the novel. What part does love play in the lives of Iris, Emma, and Frankie? How does each woman regard romantic  relationships, and how much importance do they each place on them?  We see Emma surprised by a reference to casual sex in Tolstoy. Were you surprised at all to find casual sex treated--so casually--in a novel set in the 40s?

 

Iris is very prim and proper about love.  I'm not sure she views is as just sex but more making love.  Emma is young and inexperience.  Her ideas of love and sex are reflected in this.  I'm amazed that she's embarrassed by the casual treatment of sex in a book.  I wonder what she would make of some of Anne Rice's books.  They would be eye opening to say the least.  Frankie is more of a realist and that comes from her profession as a reporter.  She seems to be adopting the Londoners attitude toward love and sex - mainly that they aren't guaranteed tomorrow so make the most of today.  I like that sex is treated like a fact of life and not a taboo.  It does make the women in the novel more real to me.

 

Why is the certificate of virginity so important to Iris? What does it tell us about her? What is Harry's response to it?

 

The certificate is important to Iris because she needs her life to be neat and orderly and this certificate proves that so far she has been responsible and orderly in her relationships with men.  Harry's response is priceless.  He some what stunned, a little awed and encouraged by it. 

 

Do you have a favorite character so far? Who, and why? Have any of the characters surprised you by the end of this first section?

 

So far Frankie is my favorite.  Emma is a little to trusting and innocent for my taste and Iris's rigidity annoys the crap out of me.  I love that Frankie is charting her own course in life and isn't dependent on a man to help her find her worth or what she wants to excel at. 

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januttall
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Re: Characters


thewanderingjew wrote:
I think Frankie was living on the edge because of the war and the bombs and was just thinking about tomorrow and the knowledge that it might not come. She was enjoying life as it came at her.

I agree.  While this scene took me a bit by surprise as well, coming out of nowhere as it was, it didn't seem out of character or place to me.  For me, this was one of the incredibly moving scenes, which helped convey the "desparation" of the times. Many were living in the moment; clinging to that moment with everything they had.  As Ms. Blake went on to say, "...anyone looking as some did, it happened so often, couples coupling under the bombs, in the shelters, though there were children, weren't there down there; but down there it was dark and it was deep and we were returned to the cave and the fire and the glint of life in each other's eyes, never mind the sigh escaping, the unmistakable oh oh oh - it was all right, we were only human."

 

 

Julie

 

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BusyMom
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Re: Characters

Iris was most insistent about acquiring the certificate of "intactness"  which suggests to me that she is the type of person who plays by the rules, This is further evidenced by her unwillingness to anything about the flagpole without permission from her superiors.  This makes it all the more surprising when she not only reads the letter, but then also chooses not to deliver it.

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BusyMom
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Re: Characters

While I found most of the character to be compelling, I have to say that Emma is my favorite, probably because I can most relate to her.  She is somewhat shy and a bit of a misfit.  Yet in the end she finds the strength to carry on, instead of packing up and leaving.  My least favorite is Will.  I really just wished someone wpould give him a smack and tell him to grow up and deal with it.

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Sunltcloud
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Re: Characters

 

I've only read "Winter 41" and would like to address my concerns with chapter 11. It started out as a puzzle for me and unfolded into a satisfying encounter. Here are some of my random observations.

 

Page 127. "In the snow, Emma thought, looking out at the afternoon disappearing in the gently falling white, nothing terrible could happen."

Page 128. "Darling, she thought, darling - she moved to the desk pushed against the window facing away from the harbor, looking straight into the crazy jazz of the town's roofline - I am disappearing.

 

The word disappearing is embedded in two opposing feelings. Is this an omen or a mistake? To me it feels like a mistake, because Emma is thinking both lines. Would she find comfort in the gentleness of new snow and a moment later, while thinking of her husband, feel the negative side of disappearing? If I were the writer I would leave the lovely reference to new snow as positive force out. Since Emma has issues with abandonment and believes that a person without a loving relationship is invisible she would probably feel threatened by the snow. This shows when she clears a path to the gate. In my eyes she gains the first shred of competence with this action.

 

Another issue I have with Emma's character is her general incompetence. Page 127. "Will had been gone now for forty-six days." If I read it correctly she gets a letter every day (page 131) ""Every day she approached the box with the same determined step, unlocking it and reaching in without looking, to pull the envelope out, allowing herself a little smile only when it was firmly in her hand." And she only writes two words? Two needy words? "Come back."

Is this the reaction of a needy person? An immature person? A person in love? A scared person? An angry person? I can't tell how she feels about her husband by this, but I think I should be able to understand her actions a bit better by now. Other young brides would pour their hearts out. Or, if Emma is angry with him, would she write back at all? I don't understand her emotional side. And with Will gone for forty-six days, she still hasn't made any connections in town? Nobody has contacted her? As newcomer, even if her husband's actions are not understood, she should be getting more attention. Wouldn't people feel sorry for her? If I saw at least one sentence of explanation why this isn't happening, I would be satisfied.

 

And there is the matter of letters from Will. On page 131. "It took two weeks for letters to cross the Atlantic, and though there'd been a letter every day since the doctor left, Iris dreaded the afternoon when that box would be empty."

Which is it, forty-six letters (a letter every day since the doctor left) or thirty-two letters (forty-six minus fourteen)? Either way, Emma should, by now, have some more conclusive evidence of her husband's state of mind. In other words, she should be making more of an effort to express herself to him.

 

I am confident the author is going somewhere with this, and after reading this chapter I have my first ideas about the letter that will not be delivered, but I would like to see a bit clearer as far as Emma's character is concerned.

 

And, by the way, I think that Iris is developed with great consistency. She is given to us in small doses throughout the chapters and Winter 41 lets us look into her soul. Lets us see the very side she hides under her professional appearance. Well done. Touching.

 

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mv5ocean
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Re: Characters


Rachel-K wrote:

We know that Emma was orphaned, that Will's father shamed himself during the bank failures of the 30s and had a drinking problem, that Iris' brother was killed in the WW1, that Frankie grew up in a Brownstone in Washington Square, and that her mother writes letters about daily life in excruciating detail. How do these characters' backgrounds shape our impressions of them and their actions in the story? Do you feel you have a deeper understanding of particular decisions they make?

I feel that Emma has both sides of the coin exposed in that she is insecure and alone, yet BECAUSE of those issues she is determined to portray herself as independent and wordly.

 

We get a close look a the love lives of each of the women characters in the novel. What part does love play in the lives of Iris, Emma, and Frankie? How does each woman regard romantic  relationships, and how much importance do they each place on them?  We see Emma surprised by a reference to casual sex in Tolstoy. Were you surprised at all to find casual sex treated--so casually--in a novel set in the 40s?

Yes I thought the reference to casual sex was completely not what I would have expected to happen during that time period. Not that it wouldn't happen, I guess I just didn't realize it DID happen..........lol

I'm sure that is another example of desperation as well and what people would do they normally would not during times of uncertainty.

 

Do you have a favorite character so far? Who, and why? Have any of the characters surprised you by the end of this first section?

Yes Emma is my favorite so far simply because of her determination to put on a brave front.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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PiperMurphy
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Re: Characters

I also wondered about this. We find out when we first meet Emma, that she and Will had married two weeks before apparently after not knowing each other very long. We aren't told anthing about their meeting or why she was joining him two weeks later. I think there may be too much missing information for us to be able to understand their motivations.


Choisya wrote:

 

(POSSIBLE SPOILER) 

 

 

 

Did folks find the doctor's decision to leave his new bride believable?  I found him the least convincing character and when the author killed him off quite early in the book, I thought perhaps the author found him unconvincing too?

 


nlsamson wrote:

Alnilan:

 

I agree completely, although I am loving Iris, I find that as I read along, I have differing opinions and feelings towards different characters.  I can say, though, so far, I have found no character that I don't like. (although our young doctor did upset me with his decision to leave the lovely Emma.) 

 

I am discovering, though, how little I really knew about WWII.  That could be my age (I hope)


Alnilan wrote:

I do not think I have a favorite character, in fact I lean my preferences towards differents characters as the reading progresses. One of the many strenths of this book rests in the complexed personalities and their interactions. Iris treasures organization and the word of the law in mundane everyday affairs (the virginity is proved in a document); Emma wants emotional security and a place of her own ( spilling underware betrays lack od control); and finally Frankie is all about action here and now (the casual sex scene). Of course their backgrounds have a major impact in theirs decisions and actions.

As love goes, I feel Iris is a "matter of fact" lady, while Emma looks for the ideal eternal love and Frankie strikes me as daring and idealist.


 


 

 


 

"When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes."
~Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus~
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andiev
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Re: Characters

We get a close look a the love lives of each of the women characters in the novel. What part does love play in the lives of Iris, Emma, and Frankie? How does each woman regard romantic relationships, and how much importance do they each place on them? We see Emma surprised by a reference to casual sex in Tolstoy. Were you surprised at all to find casual sex treated--so casually--in a novel set in the 40s?

I was extremely surprised to see how casual sex was treated in the novel.  I was shocked to say the least when Frankie has sex with the man without even knowing his name.  But then again like some other people have mentioned war changes things and sex reminds us that we're alive and not alone.  For Emma, love is like some sort of fairytale where the man rescues her away from her own misery.  

 

Why is the certificate of virginity so important to Iris? What does it tell us about her? What is Harry's response to it? Do you have a favorite character so far? Who, and why? Have any of the characters surprised you by the end of this first section?

The certificate is important to Iris because of how much she pays attention to details.  She feels that it is her job to make sure that the system keeps running smoothly and that any mistake is corrected, this need for order continues in her personal life.  She feels that it must be known that she is pure because otherwise it would mess up the system and cause chaos.  Harry does not feel that the certificate is necessary because he is not intact and he does not think that he is that much of a catch to warrant such a verification.

 

My favorite character so far would have to be Frankie, she doesn't conform to the standards of her time and I can't help but like her for it.  She is in a male dominated profession and will do and say what she pleases.

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pmldwnlln
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Re: Characters

A few things I am really curious about with regard to characters:  Does anyone else,

 

while liking Frankie, find her to be exactly what you'd expect?  Not even her nighttime romantics surprised me. 

 

find almost all of the sexual references in this book to be a bit contrived?  Not necessary to the story.  The only one I really find to make the story richer is Iris' certificate.  It really gave me a deeper understanding of her personality and character.

 

find the male characters aren't taken near as seriously from a written perspective?

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CD33
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Re: Characters

I was also taken aback by Frankie and the mystery man’s casual encounter outside the hotel bar. Sexual attitudes during the late 40's 1950s were definitely in a state of transition. On one hand, as Albert Ellis writes in The American Sexual Tragedy (1954), a woman was obliged "to make herself infinitely sexually desirable—but finally approachable only in legal marriage." But men were encouraged to adopt the swinging bachelor's lifestyle represented by Playboy magazine. The magazine's notorious pictorials of naked women, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner explained, were symbols "of disobedience, a triumph of sexuality, an end of Puritanism." Hefner's announcement of the death of Puritanism might have been a bit premature—the sexual revolution was still a decade away—but sexual values were clearly changing. And perhaps, as such scientific studies as the one conducted by Alfred Kinsey and associates seem to suggest, Americans were never particularly puritanical.

 

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CD33
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Re: Characters

Iris thinks Emma is ashamed of exposing her underwear when her suitcase breaks open, but Emma says she's not the least bit ashamed. Why does Emma come close to tears in this scene?

 

Although Emma declares she is not ashamed when her undergarments are exposed, I think she comes close to tears because she is ashamed of being perceived as to fragile. I think Emma is more embarrassed that Iris will think she is ashamed and think she is a prude.

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Paul_Hochman
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Re: Characters

Martha Gellhorn, whose quote opens the book, had numerous lovers -- some married, some not. Have a look at Caroline Moorehead's Gellhorn biography, or even Martha's own letters, which reveal quite a bit about her love life including this gem; "I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents."

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GreenFairyLV
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Re: Characters

SPOILER: Don't read this if you're not past chapter 13  SPOILER

 

 

My least favorite character is Frankie.  I just don't like her.  I hate when people say times were different back then, it seems like an excuse for poor judgment.  She seems a little whorish to me.  I thought for sure she was going to try and sleep with Will. 

 

My favorite was Will.  He becomes such a different person than what you are first introduced to.  I feel like we had so much more to discover about him and his thinking and the man, good or bad, he was going to become.  I was so upset after finishing chapter 13. 

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GReba
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Re: Characters

I think Emma is striving to be "all that she can be" and in this time and generation that was gained with the aid of the "perfect" husband at your side.  As for the certificate, whilst laughable to many in today's world, she saw it as a way to show how her morals and virtues were pure and intact....again not unlike the times she lived in. Even with the war looming, not everyone was giving in to these types of digressions.

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Hotpen
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Re: Characters

I don't know why, but Frankie's tryst against the wall keeps bringing to my mind a wonderful image from Muriel Sparks "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" in which Brodie's affair with Mr. Lowther is described like this:

 

Lowther's legs are shorter than Miss Brodie's, so I suppose she winds hers round his...

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Choisya
Posts: 10,782
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Re: Sex in this novel.

[ Edited ]

 

Are you just judging Frankie because she had sex outside of marriage?   Times have never been different where sex was concerned, there have always been those who did not put such a high price on their virginity and that has nothing to do with being a 'whore'.  If it had we would be condemning a great many people, including perhaps our own mothers.  The researched facts about pre-marital sex, illegitimate children etc bely this myth of celibacy before marriage throughout the ages. They also show that birth rates rise during a war and that more illegitimate children are born then (and born seven/eight months after a 'shot-gun' marriage).   Frankie was only doing what millions of ordinary, decent, warm blooded women had done before and after her.  Iris was the anomaly, not Frankie.  The 'difference' here was that people were facing the daily possibility of death.  It was rather like, say, those facing death from cancer who decide to make the very most of the time they have left.  That is why war is not all doom and gloom, why people sang and danced with abandon and made love whenever they could, because they knew their lives could be cut short and they might never experience these life-enhancing things again.

 



 GreenFairyLV wrote:

SPOILER: Don't read this if you're not past chapter 13  SPOILER

 

 

My least favorite character is Frankie.  I just don't like her.  I hate when people say times were different back then, it seems like an excuse for poor judgment.  She seems a little whorish to me.  I thought for sure she was going to try and sleep with Will. 

 

My favorite was Will.  He becomes such a different person than what you are first introduced to.  I feel like we had so much more to discover about him and his thinking and the man, good or bad, he was going to become.  I was so upset after finishing chapter 13. 


 

 

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dhaupt
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Re: Characters

 

I am reposting this from earlier.

dhaupt wrote:

You know I'm having a small problem with the label "casual sex". I really don't think it could be called that here, these people aren't at a concert in the fields of Woodstock, they are skirting bombs and shrapnel and collapsing buildings, they've sent their children to the country and don't know if they'll ever see them again. I would call it more life affirming sex than casual sex, just proof that they're still alive to face another day.


 

 

 

 

And I agree totally with you Choisya.

It's not about the sex it's about the desperation that these people feel, the not knowing if they'll still be here tomorrow.

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Choisya
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Re: Characters

 

Exactly Debs, desperation. 
I have been puzzled by folks' condemnation of the sexuality in this book. Is this because they think that books should not contain descriptions of sexual encounters or feelings?  Do they want to go back to Victorian times when these things were coded and authors metaphorically covered piano legs?  Why are the author's graphic descriptions of the violence of bombing, the transportation and killing of Jews not thought superfluous to the story too?   This is not a Harlequin novel where sex is sanitised and romanticised, it is a novel dealing with the realities of life during a war and one of those realities was the urgency of sexual desire, perhaps due to absence from loved ones, perhaps due to heightened feelings in the face of ever present danger.  We all know that menfolk came back from war reluctant to talk about the horrors of battle but they were reluctant to talk about the pleasures of sex too.  Let us not delude ourselves that men (or women) were celibate for the six years of war - illegitimate births and hasty marriages all over Europe bely that, so, unfortunately, did the rise in venereal diseases.  When Frankie had her hasty sexual encounter, my only thought was 'is he wearing a condom?' because there was a high incidence of syphilis from the turn of the century until the 1940s, when penicillin became generally available.  This was due largely to the widespread use of prostitutes during Victorian times, as a form of birth control and as a way of avoiding the passing on of such a life threatening disease to loved ones.  I have a book dated 1848 which lists the crimes of this period and one of the highest statistics is for childhood prostition of both girls and boys.  The self censorship of sex in Victorian novels was partly due to a fear of its consequences in a pre-contraception and pre-penicillin age.  When I was a girl a very large number of young women came from Catholic Eire (southern Ireland) to England either to have their illegitimate babies or to have abortions. In Eire books which contained the merest hint of sex were banned but the celibacy taught by their faith did not stop people from having sex, although the denial of it caused a great deal of harm to mothers and to the babies who had to be adopted.  I would not like to see the return of those hypocritical times either in literature or in real life and I am always pleased to see sex dealt with frankly in good novels like this one, which is not meant to tittillate but to inform.
I think I will ask Sarah what her thoughts were about the sex scenes. 
 

dhaupt wrote:

 

I am reposting this from earlier.

dhaupt wrote:

You know I'm having a small problem with the label "casual sex". I really don't think it could be called that here, these people aren't at a concert in the fields of Woodstock, they are skirting bombs and shrapnel and collapsing buildings, they've sent their children to the country and don't know if they'll ever see them again. I would call it more life affirming sex than casual sex, just proof that they're still alive to face another day.


 

 

 

 

And I agree totally with you Choisya.

It's not about the sex it's about the desperation that these people feel, the not knowing if they'll still be here tomorrow.


 

 

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Peppermill
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Re: Characters

 


kitkat2230 wrote:

I think that the doctor's decision to leave his new bride is unbelieveable. When I found out that he was leaving her after being married such a short time, I was really mad. I couldn't believe he would do this, but I think he was running away from his guilt (thinking that it was his fault that he killed Maggie) and he didn't have any way of dealling with it besides going to London. I would have to say that he's my least favorite character beause of this. I really don't think that I have a favorite character, but do like the charaters in different ways.

 

Katie


 

Well, it is a little different scenario, Katie, but many American men drafted in WWII married either before they shipped overseas or if they managed to get home on a furlough.   It was rather like it was important to have someone at home who cared deeply, besides parents.  Although I don't know personal stories here, I suspect that at least some also tried to leave behind offspring that could provide a type of immortality if they lost their lives.

 

 

(I had four uncles, three maternal and one paternal, who served overseas.  Two of them have wedding pictures in their uniforms, one of whom was lost in action over Okinawa, i.e,, as a pilot.)

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Peppermill
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Re: Characters

[ Edited ]

 


pmldwnlln wrote:

A few things I am really curious about with regard to characters:  Does anyone else,

 

while liking Frankie, find her to be exactly what you'd expect?  Not even her nighttime romantics surprised me. 

 

find almost all of the sexual references in this book to be a bit contrived?  Not necessary to the story.  The only one I really find to make the story richer is Iris' certificate.  It really gave me a deeper understanding of her personality and character.

 

find the male characters aren't taken near as seriously from a written perspective?


 

Pmldwnlln  --  I said in an earlier post that my initial reaction to Frankie's "romantics" was that it bothered me that they seemed a stereotyping of a professional war time female reporter, but that I was pleased to see from the multiplicity of reactions here that perhaps she was/is/can be approached as a unique human being (character) who made choices that were uniquely her own, but nonetheless neither humanly unique nor inevitable, i.e., some others made the same choices, some made different ones.  (I am not about to quibble here over percentages.)  :smileywink:

 

Personally, it was Iris's certificate that I found contrived.  I have not encountered a similar story -- I wonder if Sarah discovered such instances in her research for this book.   I also have not been able to reconcile that Iris got such a certificate, but then chose to seemly show no interest in marriage -- with the courtship and decisions for commitment such usually entails.

 

I hadn't thought particularly about the lack of the characterization of the men, except the male war correspondents in London.  (I think I agree with you.)  My overall feeling has been that the author has introduced a lot of interesting minor characters, but has failed to develop them.  Now, I realize she is writing to a 21st century audience which may become impatient when length gets beyond about that of this novel.  Yet, as someone has said, at least we could have had some more stories about how the local small town women did or did not respond to lonely, isolated, pregnant Emma.

 

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy