Study Guide

Life After Life Chapter 20

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Chapter 20

Like a Fox in a Hole

September 1923

  • Izzie, who is now writing a weekly newspaper column, takes thirteen-year-old Ursula out for lunch.
  • She's been writing about Sylvie's kids, kind of, in her advice column, taking inspiration from their lives.
  • Izzie asks Ursula about Dr. Kellet, a doctor she has been seeing to help her "unite the divided self" (20.49).
  • Ursula and Dr. Kellet talked about reincarnation and amor fati (the acceptance of fate) and such, but Ursula isn't seeing him anymore; she's been told she's been cured. (Probably because this is only the second time she's been this old before.)
  • Izzie wonders if she should pick up the check at the restaurant. (Ursula: "I have no money. I'm thirteen" (20.64).)
  • They hop in Izzie's car and drive to her fancy apartment, where Ursula spritzes on some Chanel No. 5 and listens to honky-tonk music.
  • Izzie has a party to attend, so she can't drive Ursula to the train station. She walks there and travels home by herself, where her dad picks her up.
  • Sylvie isn't there when Ursula gets home, and no one knows (or really seems to care) where she is.
  • She arrives in time for dessert, and seems pretty happy, but says she's not hungry.
  • That night, Pamela wonders aloud why Izzie invited Ursula and not herself.
  • Ursula tells Pammy everything about the day, except one thing she left out: the fact that she saw Sylvie with another man at Gerrads Cross. Scandalous.
  • Within a year, Izzie's car gets repossessed and she downsizes her fancy apartment for a smaller one.

December 1923

  • Ursula and Teddy take Trixie the dog to look for holly.
  • Trixie finds something else, though: a dead body. (Maybe her name is Holly?)
  • No one has any idea why she's there, who killed her, or even what her name is. They name her Angela (we like Holly better), and bury her in the churchyard.
  • Teddy, being the one who found her, has nightmares for weeks.

11 February 1926

  • It's Ursula's sixteenth birthday.
  • Maurice is visiting with two friends, Gilbert and Howard, an American.
  • Izzie breezes in, as she does, with armfuls of gifts, like jazz records, Shalimar, and champagne.
  • She also reveals that she's an author—she has a book series called The Adventures of Augustus, which is like Harry Potter without the magic.
  • It's a publishing sensation, and Augustus is loosely based on Teddy, so he's quasi-famous… and he's not happy about it.
  • Later, Teddy loses his ball, and Ursula goes to look for it in the shrubbery.
  • Howie, Maurice's American friend, corners her and kisses her fiercely.
  • To cap off her sixteenth birthday, Ursula finds a half-drunk glass of champagne and shares it with Teddy.

May 1926

  • Pamela learns that she failed her Cambridge exam.
  • Thinking that academia is "pointless for girls" (20.245), Sylvie is totally okay with the fact that her daughter won't attend that school. Or any school.
  • Trixie the dog has died, and they've replaced her with a new one: Jock.
  • Maurice returns for a visit, bringing Howie with him.
  • When Ursula goes upstairs to get a book or a handkerchief or something ("afterward she would never remember what" (20.263)), she runs into Howie.
  • He pushes her against the wall and rapes her.
  • Then he says, "English girls. […] You really are something!" (20.267). Yikes.
  • Ursula tells no one about it, although the experience haunts her; she thinks about it when she dances with Fred Smith at a party, and it makes her sick to her stomach.
  • One day, Ursula looks in The Teaching of Young Children and Girls as to Reproduction by Dr. Beatrice Webb and realizes that she might be pregnant.
  • She considers throwing herself in front of a train, but instead boards the train and goes to London to visit Izzie.
  • Izzie takes Ursula to "get rid of it" (20.310), which Ursula thinks means give up for adoption, but actually means abortion.
  • She's pretty horrified to find out that she had an operation.
  • Ursula gets really ill, and almost dies ("snow was in the air" (20.326)), but manages to pull through.
  • Her father gets her from the hospital and brings her home.

August 1926

  • Instead of returning to school, Ursula takes a shorthand typing course.
  • She also confesses what happened to Pamela, who tries to tell Ursula that none of it is her fault.
  • Her mother, on the other hand, tells Ursula that it was totally all her fault. This must not be a topic covered in early-20th-century parenting books…
  • Ursula asks to see Dr. Kellet again, but Sylvie says, "He's retired" (20.340).
  • Ursula cuts off her hair, even though she has never seen a single Lifetime movie.
  • At dinner one night, Major Shawcross comes over looking for Nancy, his youngest.
  • No one has seen her, so they head out looking for her.
  • They find her… but the murderer has gotten to her already.
  • Pamela leaves for Leeds and Ursula attends a secretarial school run by Dr. Carver, a man who loves Esperanto.
  • Dr. Carver is also a little creepy, touching the necks of the girls as they type.
  • Ursula believes that there is "something in her that attracted this kind of attention" (20.375), which is a bummer of a belief if ever we've seen one.

June 1932

  • Pamela is getting married to a doctor named Harold, and Ursula is being fitted for her bridesmaid's dress.
  • She's gained weight, but thankfully isn't pregnant this time.
  • She lives in an apartment by herself, because her roommate is having an affair with a married man and lives with him.
  • Pamela spends the night with Ursula, and they talk about marriage. Ursula avoids talking about her newly developed drinking problem.
  • Even though she's totally sober (a rare occurrence these days) Ursula trips one day in November, a few months after Pamela's wedding and falls flat on her face, breaking her nose.
  • A man named Derek Oliphant picks her up and helps stanch the blood; they wed three months later.
  • Ursula stops drinking and throws herself into married life.
  • One night at dinner, Sylvie corrects a misquote of Derek's. ("Frailty, they name is woman," not "Vanity, thy name is woman"—get your insults right, yo.)
  • "A shadow pass[es] over Derek's face but then he laugh[s] it off" (20.461). That shadow? That's foreshadowing flying overhead.
  • Derek and Ursula move into a tiny house that he bought and furnished without consulting her. They have boring sex and he harasses her about keeping the house clean and having all his meals ready on time.
  • When they visit his mother for the first time since the wedding, Ursula discovers that everything Derek has told her (his sister died, his father left him an inheritance, he's George Clooney) is a lie.
  • One morning, her poached egg isn't up to snuff, so he slaps her in the face and dumps the egg on her head.
  • He works at a school, and he invites her to the annual sports day to be his trophy wife.
  • Eavesdropping on other faculty members, she learns that Derek is a horrible teacher, everyone hates him (even the students), and the book he's working on is a total joke.
  • One night, when Derek is gone, Ursula snoops in his office—turns out, he hasn't even started writing his book and he doesn't pay any of the bills either.
  • He catches her and punches her so hard she passes out.
  • While Derek is asleep, Ursula takes money from his wallet and flees to Izzie, who gives her shelter.
  • Teddy visits and helps comfort Ursula while she recovers.
  • One morning, the doorbell rings. Ursula gets the door expecting Izzie (she always forgets her keys), but it's Derek.
  • He thinks that Teddy is a man Ursula left him for, and he attacks her.
  • Teddy tries to defend Ursula, and a scuffle ensues.
  • Derek throws an ashtray at Teddy and slams Ursula's head into the corner of the coffee table hard enough to kill her: "Nothing could stop her fall into the dark night" (20.611).

11 February 1926

  • This is the day when Howie kissed Ursula last time.
  • This time, she kicks him in the shins before he can take advantage of her.
  • "All girls, especially those celebrating their sixteenth birthdays, had to be cautious when walking through the dark, wild wood" (20.614). This is the 1926 version of #yesallwomen.

August 1926

  • Ursula, Sylvie, and (to Sylvie's dismay) Izzie lounge outside and chat in the summer sun.
  • Izzie says that her book series is super successful. She has a giant house, but no husband and no child, so she asks to adopt Jimmy, Sylvie's youngest.
  • Um… Sylvie is furious.
  • Before dinner, Ursula gets one of her dramatic feelings and she runs into the woods.
  • Nothing scary happens. She only bumps into Fred Smith.
  • On the way back, she bumps into Nancy Shawcross (who was murdered in Ursula's last life, if you recall).
  • The girls return to the house together, and the creepy man with a limp they pass on the trail doesn't bother them.

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