The Bridges of Madison County

1992 novella by Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County is a 1992 fictional novel written by American author, Robert James Waller. The book was published by Warner Books, Inc. In the first chapter, “The Beginning,” the author misleads the readers by saying that the book is a true story. It is actually a work of fiction. The main character, Kincaid, has the same first name as author and is a photographer and an artist, as was Robert James Waller.

The Bridges of Madison County
1st edition
AuthorRobert James Waller
CountryUnited States
PublisherWarner Books, Inc.
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages192 pp
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3573.A4347 B75 1992
Followed byA Thousand Country Roads 

The book is a love story about an Italian woman, Francesca Johnson, a farmer’s wife, who falls in love with Robert Kincaid, a photojournalist from Bellingham, Washington over a four-day period. The story is set in Madison County, Iowa. Winterset, the nearby town, is quite small, according to the book.

The novel has been translated into 25 languages and has sold 50 million copies worldwide. It was on the New York Times best seller list for 164 weeks from 1992 until 1995. The story was made into a movie in 1995, directed by Clint Eastwood. Meryl Streep plays Francesca Johnson and Clint Eastwood plays Robert Kincaid.

Main Characters change

Francesca Johnson change

Francesca Johnson is a conservative Italian woman in her mid-forties, living a quiet, conventional life on an Iowa farm. Over a four-day period, while her husband and children are away, she meets and falls in love with Robert Kinkaid, a National Geographic photojournalist. She wants to run away with him, but ultimately stays to protect her family from the hurt and scandal it would cause. Her time with Robert is carefully conducted as she lives in a small community where the local residents know everyone else's business. Though devoted to her family, she loathes her dull life. Francesca's teen children take her for granted and her kindly husband does not fulfill her romantic needs. Robert's presence reawakens her femininity and passion. She often feels unappreciated, much like the covered bridges which the locals consider to be worn out but are always there. Robert admires the elegant covered bridges. While Francesca feels undervalued by her family and is just getting older, Robert sees her true beauty.

Robert Kincaid change

Robert Kincaid is a photojournalist, currently working for National Geographic magazine. Kinkaid, a divorced man in his early-fifties, lives a nomadic life, traveling the world on assignments, unencumbered by attachments to people or places. A poetic and sensitive man, he dislikes modern civilization and how computers and robots are taking over people's lives. He is an attractive, though not handsome, man. The women he has dated saw something powerful in him, and often compared to an animal such as leopard or peregrine. He falls deeply in love with Francesca, who he considers a far more complicated woman than others realize.

Summary change

Francesca Johnson is from Naples, Italy. She married Richard Johnson, a WWII soldier, and moved to Iowa with him, becoming a farmer’s wife. For Francesca, who studied literature and is a former teacher, rural life is dull and monotonous. One summer day in 1965, Robert Kincaid visits Madison County in Iowa. He is on assignment to photograph historic covered bridges for a National Geographic article. Unable to find Roseman Bridge, he stops by the Johnson farm to ask for directions. Francesca's husband and two teenage children are away for four days, attending the Illinois State Fair. Francesca guides Robert to the bridge. After, she invites him to stay for dinner. He and Francesca develop an immediate attraction to one another.

Later that night, Francesca drives to Roseman Bridge and leaves a note inviting Robert to dine with her again. He finds it the next morning and calls to ask her to go to another covered bridge with him, then joins her for dinner. They make love, knowing they have little time together. When their dream-like period is nearly over, Robert asks Francesca to leave with him. She almost does, but is unable to abandon her family, knowing the pain and suffering it would cause them. She also realizes that she would be unable to live with the guilt over hurting her husband and children and it would destroy her relationship with Robert. He unhappily accepts her decision.

Robert and Francesca never meet again. After her husband's death, Francesca attempted to contact Robert, but his whereabouts by then were unknown as he no longer worked for the National Geographic. Three years later, an attorney sends Francesca a package containing Robert’s belongings, including his cameras, his published photo book, and a letter. Robert has died and his ashes were scattered at the Roseman Bridge. When Francesca passes away, her children learn about the affair from a journal she has left them. She requests to be cremated and her ashes be scattered at Roseman Bridge. Her children are initially shocked by her request. They finally respect the love their mother had for Robert and agree to publish the love story.

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