Private Life

Private Life

A Novel

Book - 2010
Average Rating:
Rate this:
A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman's life, from the 1880s to World War II.

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at twenty-seven in post-Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He's the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant astronomer--a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margaret's mother calls the match "a piece of luck."

Margaret is a good girl who has been raised to marry, yet Andrew confounds her expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in faraway California. Soon she comes to understand that his devotion to science leaves precious little room for anything, or anyone, else. When personal tragedies strike and when national crises envelop the country, Margaret stands by her husband. But as World War II approaches, Andrew's obsessions take a different, darker turn, and Margaret is forced to reconsider the life she has so carefully constructed.

Private Life is a beautiful evocation of a woman's inner world: of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret. But it is also a heartbreaking portrait of marriage and the mysteries that endure even in lives lived side by side; a wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
ISBN: 9781400040605
Characteristics: 317 p. ;,25 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 09, 2015

I usually like Jane Smiley, but was disappointed in this one. I guess a book about a boring marriage is a boring book. Which this one definitely was. I would rat it PS. No violence or bad language, or explicit sex.

Sep 25, 2015

Not up to "A Thousand Acres" or "The Greenlanders," my favorite Smiley novels, but still excellent and heartbreaking. We follow Margaret from her small town Missouri girlhood and spinsterhood to her acquiescence in the matchmaking of two mothers in the 1880s. The mothers hope her life will be enlivened and his will be calmed. Andrew's the most famous man their small town has produced, but his fame as an astronomer plummets as his crackpot ideas and stubborn temper lose him jobs. By the time they marry, he's lost a job at U. of Chicago, and they head to a naval post in San Francisco Bay, where they're still stuck in WW II. Margaret tries to make the best of things, but gradually learns that Andrew's just not capable of looking beyond his telescope and grudges. His ultimate betrayal endangers her and the few friends she's been able to make. I found myself reading this in one gulp, sad as the story was, and the characters stuck in my head long after, even some of the secondary ones. What a strong writer, who knows how to make details count!

May 29, 2012

Rather slow at times but still a decent read.

Jul 19, 2011

This story is wonderful—telling the saga of a quiet Missouri-born (1878) woman as she gradually gains a voice. It’s thoroughly engaging. I liked the historical elements—especially imagining life around the turn-of-the 20th century in rural Missouri and in St. Louis—but more liked how fully it drew the development of this intelligent character. With this growth came her opportunities to enjoy a life, which, of course, pleases the reader, but also feels very believable. Compelling writing.

Mar 21, 2011

This was a long and painful read - and it's not even a long book! It was a book club pick, so I had to get through it, but thankfully I also had it on audiobook, so I was able to listen while doing just about anything else. Otherwise, I really don't think I would have made it through

Feb 26, 2011

A wifes gradual realization that her husband is not estude and a boring self centered companion.

Dec 15, 2010

Mentioned as a best book of 2010 in Sunday Star Times pC8 12.10.10 - based on Middlemarch.

debwalker Dec 08, 2010

A woman constrained by marriage to an eccentric scientist.

Dec 07, 2010

I almost forced myself to finish this book. The writing is "overcooked". It could have been more simple and more to the point. The characters are interesting enough but the story doesn't flow.

Oct 24, 2010

"Private Life"
by Jane Smiley

I almost forced myself to finish this book. The writing is "overcooked". It could have been more simple and more to the point. The characters are interesting enough but the story doesn't flow.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top