Study Guide

Angle of Repose Love

By Wallace Stegner

Love

What is more eyebrow-raising is the suggestion of lesbianism in this friendship, a suggestion that in some early letters is uncomfortably explicit. (1.2.12)

Susan's first love is her best friend, Augusta. Though there's a lot of ambiguity over the exact nature of this relationship, Susan makes it perfectly clear that there's no one she loves more—even her husband, Oliver. Hanky-panky or not, the bond between Susan and Augusta is one that can't be broken.

I don't think there was that much of an attachment, not on her part. He kept writing, and she didn't have the heart to shut him off. (1.4.9)

To be brutally honest, Susan just isn't all that into Oliver at first. He's sort of cute, sure, and he seems awfully nice, but he's just not the sort of intellectual that Susan is usually attracted to. Oliver is going to be fighting an uphill battle if he's going to make it to Susan's heart.

As for Susan Burling [...] that strong grip was [...] the very hand of the protective male. When she came up out of her dizzying tête-à-tête with the waterfall she was in love. (1.5.5)

Eventually, Oliver wins Susan over through the sheer force of his manliness. He's like the Chuck Norris of the 1800s, right? Jokes aside, this scene indicates that Susan falls in love with Oliver because he can protect her: after all, it's the act of holding her as she hangs over the edge of a waterfall that finally, well, pushes her over the edge. Oh, man—we crack ourselves up.

She probably thought him unbearably picturesque. She could have drawn the two of them just as they stood there, pretty bride and manly husband. (2.2.12)

Aww, now isn't that just adorable. In a way, Susan romanticizes Oliver as the manliest man in the world, which helps her come to terms with her own burgeoning womanhood. And, they're actually a really happy couple at first: they balance each other out perfectly. It seems like nothing can come between these two lovebirds.

But there was even more in his brief, laughing look, and she acknowledged that too. His adoration made her feel excited and flirtatious. (4.9.57)

Uh-oh—looks like there's trouble in paradise. The attraction between Frank and Susan is apparent from the first moment, even though Susan is more reluctant to admit to it than her hunky boy toy. Interestingly, however, Susan is attracted to Frank for the same reasons that she's attracted to Oliver.

What bothers me most is to watch the slow corrosion of the affection and loyalty that have held Oliver and Susan Ward together. (7.6.5)

It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason why Oliver and Susan's relationship crumbles. Maybe it's due to Susan's unresolved feelings toward Frank. Maybe it's due to the family's flagging financial status. Maybe it's just a consequence of growing older. Regardless, the tight bond that once held Oliver and Susan together is loosening.

I just can't feel about her as I once did. She broke something [...] I remember the terms of the bond: in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, til death do us part. (7.7.61)

It turns out that Lyman has his own romantic issues to deal with. Although it's clear that he still has feelings for his ex-wife, Ellen, he's unable to deal with them in a healthy way because he's too bitter about her betrayal. If only there were another married couple with similar experiences that Lyman could learn from...

For her heart had leaped at the name, the gladness had come before the fear, and before the furtive, alert sense of how dangerous it was to show what she really felt. (8.1.101)

No matter how hard she tries to avoid them, Susan's feelings toward Frank keep bubbling up. Worse still, she's beginning to think that Oliver knows what's going on. But that only raises more questions for Susan: if Oliver knows about her feelings, then why does he still allow Frank to work for him? It's a good question, and one that we can't really answer.

She was a decent married woman forty-two years old [...] But also romantic, also unhappy, also caught suddenly by the foot in intimate darkness. (8.5.115)

After years of fighting it, Susan finally gives in to her love for Frank. It's important to note here that Frank bags Susan the same way that Oliver does: by holding on to her ankle. It's also important to note that Lyman is entirely making up this scene—it's probably more of a reflection of his own marriage than his grandparents'.

But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect. (9.1.237)

Lyman doesn't remember his grandparents having a loving relationship, but even he must admit that there was something holding them together until the end. Despite all of the betrayals, despite all of the lies, and despite all of the arguments, they still loved each other.