Study Guide

Ursula's Suitors in Life After Life

Ursula's Suitors

Kindling Fire

Ursula knows Fred Smith from the time she is eight and he is the fourteen-year-old boy who runs errands for the butcher. Their paths cross often as kids and teens, but never completely because of their different social class: "Ursula thought it would be rather nice to have someone like Fred as a beau, although obviously Sylvie would never have tolerated such a thing" (20.278). Bummer. Well, more like bummer-ish…

As an adult, Fred becomes a fireman at the time Ursula is a warden in the ARP. After they meet at a bomb raid site, the two hook up at Izzie's house, but Ursula is offended by his crass language, and he doesn't like how she quotes poetry in bed. "I had an idea of him" (25.406), she says, an idea maybe made up of snippets of him from her past lives; he doesn't live up to the fantasy, though.

They later reconnect, and he apologizes, but he is called to duty just as he's about to say something sweet to Ursula. He dies before he can tell her what it is, and she never finds out. They don't meet up like this in any of her other timelines. What could he have wanted to say to her?

Admiral Adulterer

In a few timelines, Ursula has an affair with an admiral named Crighton. She's never close enough to him to tell us his real name, though, and he's so cagey, she even calls him "The Sphinx" (21.60). He's fifteen years older than Ursula, and married to a woman named Moira, with whom he has three girls. He appreciates her "reputation for discretion" (21.66), a trait that carries over with Ursula from life to life.

Ursula is often concerned with how he's "teetering" (22.16). This is of extra concern to her because she can generally control the flow of her future, to a point, but Crighton is almost always a wild card.

Mr. Elephant

When Ursula falls after trying on bridesmaid's dresses for Pammy's wedding, she meets and quickly marries Derek Oliphant. He is a pathological liar—saying he "nearly drowned" and that his sister "fell into the fire" (20.437), neither of which are remotely true, and pretending to work on a book but not actually writing a single word—as well as an abuser. He hates women, especially being corrected by them or beaten by them at cards.

Near the end of their marriage, he dumps food on Ursula's head and hits her, knocking her teeth out. She leaves him, but he follows her to Izzie's house and beats her to death.

Derek is the creation of a world where men are told they have the ultimate power over women, a world where it's okay for a man to be "experienced" but not okay for a woman to be less than virginal. Combine these twisted values with someone insecure like him, and he ends up using physical strength and violence to exert his supposed manhood over Ursula, who has been rendered powerless.

Honey Bears

The rest of the men Ursula meets are slightly sweeter. In Germany, she marries Jürgen Fuchs. Fuchs, like Todd, also means Fox, but despite similar names and having a child together (Freida), Ursula is never that close to Jürgen. She's even kind of relieved when he dies. Ursula is dismayed at how Jürgen criticizes the Reich in private but pays them lip service, or lippenbekenntnis, to their faces.

Ralph is a fellow student in Ursula's German course. She is "tremendously fond" (21.190) of Ralph, but nothing ever comes of their relationship beyond a few stolen bottles of wine and a discussion about if either of them would have killed Baby Hitler had they known who he'd grow up to be. This discussion influences Ursula to shoot a young Hitler in a different timeline.

Finally, there is the handsome—and Jewish—Benjamin Cole. Ben is Ursula's love interest who just isn't meant to be. He's always trying to ask her out or get together with her in some form or another, but it never works out. In one timeline, Ursula schemes to get them together (probably sick of all their near-misses) by contriving to meet him on the bike path.

Unfortunately, she either forgets or purposefully doesn't try to stop Nancy Shawcross's murder since she and Ben are canoodling in the woods when the young girl is killed. They stop seeing each other, never able to overcome the guilt that their uncontrollable hormones resulted in someone's death.