The Bridges of Madison County
The story about a photographer and a lonely farmer's wife in Iowa is the crude summary of Waller's 1992 novel. The novel opens with an unidentified narrator – a writer – telling us that he was one day approached by a men named Michael Johnson, who said that he and his sister Carolyn had a story to tell which might be of more than average interest to him as a writer. When they met in a roadside motel Michael and Carolyn told him the history of their mother, Francesca Johnson, who, long ago in 1965, had had a brief but passionate love affair wirth a man called Robert Kincaid. The writer was impressed by the intensity of this love story, and agreed t write the stroy of Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid, basing it on Francesca's own diaries.
Robert Kincaid, fifty-two, is a photographer for the National Geographic. He has worked for them in various exotic places across the world, but in August of 1965 he is sent on what at first sicht looks like a rather boring assignment into rural Iowa. There is a strange phenomenon in a certain out-of-the-way district of Iowa, called Madison County, which the editors of National Geographic are interested in. It concerns a number tunnel-like covered bridges, peculiar to these area, which they want Kincaid to do a photographic report on. And so he throws his cameras, some clothes and his guitar in the back of his old pickup truck (called Harry) and sets off for a long drive across the US from Bellingham, Washington, where he lives, to Madison County, Iowa.
The first six bridges are easy to find, but he does not manage to spot the seventh, Roseman Bridge. Turning up the driveway of a farmhouse, Kincaid finds himself face to face with the farmer's wife, a beautiful dark-haired woman. She is Francesca Johnson, forty-five years old and married to Richard Johnson, a cattle farmer. She and Richard first met in Naples, just after the war. Francesca was a school teacher at the time and Richard was in the US army. They married and Francesca followed her new husband to the USA. They now have two children, Michael and Carolyn. Richard and the children are spending the week at the Illinois State Fair, where Richard is exhibiting a prize steer 'that received more attention than she did'.
As soon as they set eyes on each other, Francesca and Robert feel strongly attracted to one another. She would not normally have gone with a stranger, but under these circumstances she decides to get in Kincaid's truck to show him the way to Roseman Bridge. While Kincaid examines the bridge Francesca examines him, fascinated and intrigued. Back at the farm they drink tea, talk and smoke cigarettes. Francesca invites Kincaid to stay for dinner. They drink a couple o beers, have dinner and talk until the early hours of the morning.
Early next day Kincaid is back at the bridge, shooting rolls and rolls of film. At one point he notices a piece of paper pinned to the bridge. It turns out to be an invitation from Francesca to have dinner with her again that day.
This second dinner is clearly a highly romantic affair. Had the first dinner served as a common ground on which they discovered how parallel their minds and emotions ran, during this second meal Francesca and Kincaid have clearly crossed a border and their conversation becomes more and more personal and intimate. Again they do a lot of talking. They drink more beer and dance to the music on the radio. The atmosphere in the big farmhouse kitchen is now definitely romantic and there a tension in the air. Kincaid realises that he 'he could have walked out on this earlier. […] Let it go, Kincaid, get back on the road. Shoot the bridges, go to India. […] Let go of this – it's outrunning you.
But the slow street tango had begun. Somewhere it played; he could hear it, an old accordion. It was far back, or far ahead, he couldn't be sure. […] And the sound of it blurred his criteria […] until there was nowhere left to go, exept toward Francesca Johnson.' The evening ends where it is bound to end: in bed. After years of emotional and sexual starvation Francesca now finds that she is 'losing herself'.
Francesca and Kincaid's feast of 'magic and passion'goes on for four days. They discuss plans to run away, but although it will break her heart, Francesca cannot do thes: 'As much as I want you and want to be with you and part of you, I can't tear myself away from the realness o my responsibilities. […] please don't […] make me give his up. If I did leave now, (this) would turn me into something other than the woman you have come to love.'
On the morning of the day that Richard and the children are coming back from the fair, Kincaid leaves. Francesca will live with the memory of those days for the rest of her life. It is not until Richard dies in 1979 that she tries to locate Kincaid, but her efforts are unsuccessful. In 1982 she receives a package from a lawyer, cantaining a farewell letter from 'the last cowboy' (as Kincaid calls himself) and a medallion inscribed with her name which he had worn ever since the end of their affair. After Francesca's death in 1989 Michael and Carolyn discover a letter from their mother in which she reveals to them her secret love affair.
The story ends with the narrator trying to trace Kincaid's trail back to Seattle, Washington. There he talks to one of Kincaid's friends, an old jazz musician, who plays a melancholy tune called 'Francesca', which was inspired by the burning love of 'the last cowboy'for an Italian woman in deepest Iowa.
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