Nathanael West: Miss Lonelyhearts
As the title implies, this is about a lonely hearts column, in this case in the New York Post-Dispatch. The unnamed male author of this column is a victim of jokes by his colleagues. Shrike, the copy editor, compares his writing to Christ. The writer, however, feels that Christ is the answer, while Shrike feels that art is the answer. Miss Lonelyhearts’ life is one of general sadness. He has proposed to and been accepted by Betty two months previously, but not followed up. He wants to have sex with Shrike’s wife, Mary, but though she has dinner with him, she won’t sleep with him, even though she hates her husband. He looks at other options – drink and country living – but nothing works, despite having sex with Betty. He starts a relationship with a woman who writes to him, meeting her husband and then her. She tries to seduce Miss Lonelyhearts but he rejects her. He finds out that Betty is pregnant and proposes to her and she accepts but he is not happy about it. Once again he tries to turn to Christ but when the husband of the letter writer turns up, it all falls apart.
Miss Lonelyhearts’ problem is compounded both by the letters he receives (which tend to deal with real life problems), which are, naturally, depressing and by his Christ fixation. His modes of escape – sex and drink – do not help. He is certainly an exaggerated character, as West’s heroes are, but clearly shows West’s view of the difficulty of the modern man to survive in the real world of his time.
First published 1933 by Liveright