Mavis de Trafford Young

Across the Bridge

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Across the Bridge Summary

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“Across the Bridge” is a short story by Canadian author Mavis de Trafford Young. Published in 1993, it is narrated by Sylvie Castelli, who remembers a time when she went on a walk with her mother near the Parisian Place de la Concorde. Sylvie shocked her mother by telling her that she did not love her fiancé, leading to tension between the two and a cascade of difficult events. The short story is considered a great comic work of the late twentieth century, depicting a woman who shirks the institution of marriage and calls off her wedding by fabricating an alternative commitment. It also pokes fun at the debacles that can emerge from people’s failures to communicate and support each other.

At the beginning of the story, Sylvie tells her mother that she dislikes her fiancé, Arnaud Pons. Instead, she is in love with Bernard Brunelle. Her mother, wary and disapproving of this news, asks Sylvie questions about Bernard Brunelle. Sylvie’s ambiguous answers lead Madame Castelli to believe that Sylvie received a letter from Bernard asking her to marry him. Madame Castelli, elated that her daughter received a proposal in the mail, tosses Sylvie’s wedding invites into the Seine River.

Sylvie fantasizes about the perfect marriage she will have with Bernard. Meanwhile, her parents get to work calling off her marriage to Arnaud. Sylvie is forced to reckon with the fact that she embellished the story about the proposal when the family receives a letter from Bernard’s father. The letter makes it abundantly clear that Bernard has not actually proposed to Sylvie; in fact, he has no interest in marrying her at all. In response, Madame Castelli orders Sylvie to furnish the letter in which Bernard allegedly proposed. When Sylvie has no such letter, she realizes that her daughter’s imagination has gotten ahead of her and created a disaster.

Monsieur Castelli yells at Madame Castelli for allowing Sylvie to humiliate their family. Both parents conclude that they have given her too much leeway in deciding her future. They wish that they still lived in the previous generation, in which it was acceptable for parents to control every aspect of their daughters’ lives. If it had been so, the botched marriage would have never happened.

Sylvie decides to stop trying to find a husband and to start a career instead. Because there are no good career options for a woman in her day and age, Sylvie struggles to find a stable and enjoyable job. She loses track of her goals and loses her previous contact with her friends and family. Eventually, Madame Castelli intervenes, convincing her to get a haircut and purchase new outfits. Her plan is to make Sylvie look like a contemporary woman so that she can easily be picked up by a man.

Sylvie’s parents reach out to the Pons family to find out whether Arnaud is still interested in marrying her. Arnaud is indeed still interested; he meets Sylvie in Paris to get lunch. There, he explains that he is no longer very romantically desirous of her, but he still thinks she would be a good wife. They return to the train station together, from which Arnaud will return to Rennes. On the way, the money-conscious Arnaud mentions that he will want Sylvie to get a job if they are married. He explains that his mother did the same. He also offers to watch their future children each summer so that Sylvie will be able to explore her interest in art. Sylvie is astonished at Arnaud’s offer of freedom since it is uncharacteristic of men at the time. She says goodbye to Arnaud and he boards the train. Sylvie remains a little annoyed with Arnaud for making the offer, which she finds more absurd than helpful.

Sylvie meanders home from the train station. She stretches out her journey so that she will arrive home at about the same time as Arnaud will reach Rennes. The journey becomes symbolically linked in Sylvie’s mind to her future union with Arnaud. At last, she accepts that she is in a relationship and has truly become an adult. The short story ends with Sylvie returning home and not disclosing the reason for her lateness. The ending suggests that Sylvie is now independent of her parents and will go on to live a happy life.