Skip to main content

The English Teacher


The English Teacher

Vida Avery was used to being on her own. Fifteen years earlier, she
had left her life and family back in Texas and fled to a remote
island off the coast of Maine and began teaching at a private
school. She believed this to be the best environment for her young
son, Peter. But sensing that Peter perhaps needed more than she
alone could give, she agrees to marry Tom Belou, a widowed clothing
manufacturer. By leaving behind their life on the campus of the
prep school and moving into Tom's home with his three children,
Vida at last feels that Peter has the family he deserves.

But what about Vida? Does she even love Tom? She begins to question
that herself. As she starts teaching TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES to
her students, she finds eerie comparisons between Thomas Hardy's
doomed heroine and herself. Was Vida, like Tess, fated to live on a
"blighted star?" All the while, the bond between mother and son is
tested as Peter tries his best to adapt to his life at school and
the new one at home with his three new stepsiblings and

Along with the Hardy comparison, author Lily King uses the setting
(Maine in 1980 against the backdrop of the Iran Hostage Crisis) to
parallel her lead characters' heightened sense of stifling
restraint. The reader is not entirely sure of Vida's motives at any
given moment or how her decisions will fare her, which urges one to
read on to see where she will end up.

THE ENGLISH TEACHER begs the discussion: Are people in control of
their own destinies, or are they --- as Hardy believed --- helpless
victims of fate?

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 21, 2011

The English Teacher
by Lily King

  • Publication Date: July 26, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0871138972
  • ISBN-13: 9780871138972