The Woman Upstairs Summary & Study Guide

Claire Messud
This Study Guide consists of approximately 29 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Woman Upstairs.
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The Woman Upstairs Summary & Study Guide Description

The Woman Upstairs Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.

Nora Eldridge is a schoolteacher who had always hoped to become an artist, but she got waylaid first by her career as a management consultant and then by her mother’s illness. A year after her mother’s death, she meets a visiting historian from Lebanon named Skandar, his wife named Sirena, and their son. Nora develops feelings for each one of the three members of the Shahid family, and under their influence, she starts to see herself as the artist she might have been. Sirena, who is an Italian artist, invites Nora to share studio space in Somerville, Nora uses the opportunity to return to making small dioramas of Emily Dickinson, Alice Neel, Virginia Woolf, and Edie Sedgwick.

Nora and Sirena work side by side, and Nora helps Sirena build an installation piece based on Alice in Wonderland. Nora and Sirena develop a profound intimacy—enough so that Nora feels tempted to declare a kind of love for her. At the same time that Nora gets close with Sirena, Skandar visits her in the studio one night, and they make love.

Through the period of Nora’s intimacy with the Shahid family, she is so amazed by her own feelings and so delighted to feel so alive that she never asks what might be possible in her intimacies or what might happen to either bring her close to them—or to pull them apart. As Nora gets closer and closer to declaring herself to Sirena, though, Sirena’s deadline approaches. Sirena starts to withdraw into the work and the world of famous artists. This leaves Nora feeling left behind, resigned to her role as the Woman Upstairs, the good daughter who always plays by the rules. Sirena and Skandar eventually leave for Paris. Years later, when Nora visits a gallery in Paris, she sees a video that had been shot in the studio she shared with Sirena. The video shows Nora, in a moment of liberation and inspiration, masturbating in the partially built installation. In a single moment, all of Nora’s affection for Sirena and Skandar collapses. Finally, she finds that her outrage, anger, and humiliation are powerful enough sensations that she feels confident that she will never feel as though she is not really living.

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This section contains 382 words
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