The Golden Age

by

Joan London

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Golden Age can help.

Elsa Briggs Character Analysis

The oldest girl at the Golden Age, Elsa is Frank’s best friend and love interest. Like Frank, Elsa is mature for her age, which manifests in her gravity and judicious reserve. Elsa is a beacon of calm for all the children on the ward—especially Frank, who sees Elsa as a rare repository of beauty and tranquility in a tumultuous and frightening world. Frank is devoted to Elsa from the first day he glimpses her; while Elsa is less forthcoming, she eventually decides that she “lives for Frank,” relying on him to parse the emotions she feels but cannot express. Before polio, Elsa was extremely close to her mother, Margaret; one of her main concerns now is the distance she feels creeping between them while she’s away from her family at the Golden Age, fighting a disease against which her mother can’t protect her. Although she’s tractable and demure as a child, in adulthood Elsa emerges as staunch and independent. Despite her disability and the fact that she has three children, Elsa has a long career in medicine. Her sons also call her “E.B.,” the initials of her maiden name, suggesting that she’s maintained her autonomy after marriage; even though she has trouble walking on the beach or climbing hills, she prefers to complete these tasks alone, rather than rely on her family for help. Elsa’s independence and her respected position at the center of her family show that as a woman she comes to resemble Ida Gold much more than her own subservient and subjugated mother.

Elsa Briggs Quotes in The Golden Age

The The Golden Age quotes below are all either spoken by Elsa Briggs or refer to Elsa Briggs. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Survival Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Europa edition of The Golden Age published in 2014.
3. Elsa Quotes

When at last she’d left the Isolation Ward and her parents were allowed to sit by her bed, they looked smaller to her, aged by the terror they had suffered, old, shrunken, ill-at-ease. Something had happened to her which she didn’t yet understand. As if she’d gone away and come back distant from everybody.

Related Characters: Elsa Briggs (speaker), Margaret Briggs, Jack Briggs
Related Symbols: The Isolation Ward
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes even now in the Golden Age, after her mother visited, Elsa had the funny feeling that there was another mother waiting for her, blurred, gentle, beautiful as an angel, with an angel’s perfect understanding.

Related Characters: Elsa Briggs (speaker), Margaret Briggs
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
8. The First Time Frank Saw Elsa Quotes

It seemed sadder somehow. He knew [the babies] cried because they were alone. But visitors reminded you of how much you had grown apart from them. It was almost a relief when they went home.

Related Characters: Frank Gold (speaker), Elsa Briggs
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
9. The Dark Night Quotes

After it was over, like a terrible dream, you couldn’t remember much about it. But you were not the same.

Related Characters: Elsa Briggs (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Isolation Ward
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:
14. Margaret in Her Garden Quotes

Margaret grieved that her daughter had to carry this burden. Elsa, each time she saw her, had become more adult. She had lost her childhood. If she didn’t see Elsa more often, didn’t pay her close attention, Margaret wouldn’t keep up with her. Her daughter would outgrow her.

Related Characters: Margaret Briggs (speaker), Elsa Briggs
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
30. The Separation Quotes

Her parents never said a word about her expulsion from the Golden Age. Nothing could affect their shining gaze on Elsa. But they hadn’t tried to stick up for her, they hadn’t saved her. She saw them differently. They had no power. They cared what other people thought.

Related Characters: Frank Gold (speaker), Elsa Briggs
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Golden Age LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Golden Age PDF

Elsa Briggs Character Timeline in The Golden Age

The timeline below shows where the character Elsa Briggs appears in The Golden Age. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Light
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...heat. He peeks into the girls’ ward, hoping to cat a glimpse of his friend Elsa, whose golden hair is usually visible through the crack in the door. Today, she’s not... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...having accomplished something private and forbidden, and grateful for Norm’s complicity. Still, he wonders where Elsa is. (full context)
2. The Golden Age
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...structure and supervision of the children’s hospital will be useful. At twelve and a half, Elsa Briggs is also older than most of the patients, but she has two younger sisters... (full context)
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...distant trains when he’s in bed at night. Most importantly, he wants to be near Elsa. As he makes his way back to the ward, he starts to compose a poem... (full context)
3. Elsa
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Instead of napping, Elsa is in the Babies’ Room. She’s cuddling Rayma Colley, whose whimpering she heard from down... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Elsa assures Rayma that her mother misses her and thinks of her. Elsa knows Rayma crying... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Despite this comparison, Elsa remembers that when she left the Isolation Ward and her parents were allowed to sit... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Elsa reflects that when her mother leaves after a visit, she sometimes imagines that her real... (full context)
5. Frank’s Vocation
Survival Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
...Perth. As he writes down the words, he realizes that the poem could be about Elsa or Sullivan, who taught him about poetry at IDB. All of Frank’s poems are in... (full context)
8. The First Time Frank Saw Elsa
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...very tall and seems graceful despite her crippled legs. Frank realizes that this must be Elsa, a name he’s heard people say in the last few days. Looking at her, he... (full context)
9. The Dark Night
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Elsa wakes up in the middle of the night, having been dreaming that she was riding... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Elsa feels relieved to be at the Golden Age. The terrifying and painful nights in the... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
One day, Elsa wakes up, no longer in pain. The Irish girl in the bed next to her... (full context)
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
Frank likes to imitate Sister Penny but Elsa, who adores her, protests. Sister Penny touches the children without hesitation, while the nurses in... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Frank speaks only to Elsa and criticizes the other children frequently. She tells him he lacks Christian charity, and he... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
In the hall, Elsa hears the night policemen checking to make sure that all is well at the hospital.... (full context)
11. Bellbirds
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...how deformed he will look once he’s back in the real world. However, looking at Elsa, he stops feeling ashamed of their shared condition. He thinks that Elsa is like a... (full context)
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Elsa leaves lessons to go to therapy, and Frank applies himself to memorizing the poem “Bellbirds.”... (full context)
12. Angel Wings
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Frank finds Elsa in the therapy bath, where she’s drifting in an ugly bathing suit inherited from her... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Examining her body, Frank tells Elsa that the bath looks like a pair of angel wings, and Elsa looks back at... (full context)
13. Meyer Walks Home
Vocation Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...messy woman running into the hospital, who reminds him momentarily of his sister, Roszi. It’s Elsa’s mother, Margaret, who begs to be allowed to see her daughter. (full context)
14. Margaret in Her Garden
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...she felt the overwhelming solitude of her position, but she “did not feel alone.” While Elsa was in the Isolation Ward, Margaret spent the nights pacing the grass and feeling like... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...she walks over and asks for a lift to the hospital. She’s desperate to see Elsa because Jack, her husband, has just told her he can’t drive her to the hospital... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...the ride into Perth, Margaret feels shy being alone in the car with Raymond. Before Elsa got polio, she wasn’t so bold and wouldn’t have asked for a lift. Now, she’s... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Reading in bed, Elsa recognizes Margaret’s footsteps before she sees her mother. Although she knows she should be happy... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Margaret stops talking and Elsa relaxes a little. Her connection to her mother doesn’t rest on language; Margaret is like... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...ward from their tea, Margaret collects her things quickly, afraid of getting in trouble despite Elsa’s brusque assurances that they won’t mind. As she leaves, Elsa reflects that her mother has... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
Margaret loves all her children equally, but she has a special connection to Elsa; they have “grown up together,” Elsa as a child and Margaret as a parent. Margaret... (full context)
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
At the Golden Age, Frank sneaks out and whispers to Elsa through the door of the girls’ ward. He remarks that Elsa looks nothing like her... (full context)
15. Christmas
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...worried that his parents will embarrass him by acting foreign or criticizing Australia. He wishes Elsa could stay, but her father picks her up in the morning. Frank watches Jack hovering... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Like most of the children returning in the evening, Elsa is exhausted and incommunicative. When the children go home they’re reminded that family life has... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
At night, Frank goes to visit Elsa. By now he’s unused to spending a day without her; he has no one else... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Before polio, Elsa had tennis lessons; her sister Sally was annoyed by this, because she wanted to play... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
After Elsa tells her story, she and Frank sit in silence. Suddenly, Frank kisses her. Then, he... (full context)
16. The Verandah
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...he’s learned how to be around other people while preserving his own solitude. He watches Elsa, who’s sitting with a younger girl named Ann Lee. Ann Lee lives in the mining... (full context)
17. The Sea
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...are invigorated by their proximity to the ocean and the excitement of eating outside. Only Elsa is sad, because she’s always lived by the sea and visiting now reminds her of... (full context)
Vocation Theme Icon
After dinner, the children watch the sunset. Knowing that Elsa is sad, Frank seeks her out, and when he finally sees her, the poem he’s... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Frank tells Elsa that if they were animals she would be a golden palomino, and he’d be a... (full context)
19. Lidja
Survival Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
Elsa and Frank stay on the verandah later than the others, holding hands. While they’re brushing... (full context)
20. The Queen
Survival Theme Icon
...themselves, as if in the Queen’s honor. Fabio stops wetting the bed, and Frank and Elsa walk everywhere instead of using their wheelchairs. Meanwhile, Meyer is skeptical of the obsession with... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...When they come to visit, Susan’s parents, Rodney and Tikka, are glamorous and well-groomed, although Elsa notes that Susan’s bathing suit is even shabbier than her own. Rodney and Tikka are... (full context)
22. The Concert
Survival Theme Icon
Ida sees Frank sitting in the front row next to Elsa. He’s talking rapidly and Ida can see that he’s completely in love with the girl... (full context)
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Frank and Elsa escape onto the verandah, wanting to be alone. They feel more at ease with each... (full context)
25. Blue Air
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...she finds a pay phone, Hadley, a nurse, informs her that she’s found Frank in Elsa’s bed and called the hospital governors. Sister Penny scolds her for taking such drastic action,... (full context)
26. The Third Country
Survival Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
Elsa feels a change is coming over her, mostly in regard to her feelings for Frank.... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
Frank tells Elsa about hiding in the ceiling and living in refugee camps, even though Elsa can’t quite... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...to the new poem. Then, knowing Sister Penny isn’t there, he sneaks out to visit Elsa. This is the night he’s discovered in her bed. (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
After this incident, the hospital governors expel Frank and Elsa from the Golden Age. First, they question Elsa intensely, implying that Frank had forced his... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...sneak into the Girls’ ward. She tries to explain the unique nature of Frank and Elsa’s bond, but is aware she’s making the situation even worse. She knows she should start... (full context)
27. Poetry
Survival Theme Icon
...how lopsided and gawky he is; being surrounded by other polio patients, and particularly by Elsa, had shielded him from shame about his looks. (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...he needed it most. Even Sister Penny didn’t argue fiercely enough to keep him and Elsa together. He knows that the governors wanted to expel him and not Elsa, and he’s... (full context)
Vocation Theme Icon
At home, Frank lies in bed with his prescription pad. Since he’s been separated from Elsa, no poetry comes to him. He wants to talk to his parents about poetry, but... (full context)
28. The Hunch
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...to have lost some of his confidence. Sister Penny attributes this to his longing for Elsa, saying they shouldn’t be kept apart. (full context)
30. The Separation
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Margaret has been briskly caring for Elsa at home, diligently massaging her muscles every afternoon. Her neighbors congratulate her on Elsa’s return... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...finally given Margaret the strength to stand up to Nance. Nance has decided that since Elsa is disabled and furthermore not to be trusted around boys, she must go to a... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Returning to her messy home from the neat and organized Golden Age, Elsa is overwhelmed. Her family’s constant talking and complaining, and Margaret’s anxiety to please everyone, make... (full context)
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...she has to share her room with Jane. She contrives never to be home, riding Elsa’s bike around the neighborhood or playing tennis loudly in the driveway. (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Like the Golds, Elsa’s parents aren’t angry about her expulsion; they love her too much. However, they didn’t fight... (full context)
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
One day, Elsa surveys herself in her parents’ big mirror. She’s too thin and her entire body is... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Elsa dreams that she’s on the verandah looking at the street. A long line of children... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Shortly afterwards, Elsa is sitting on the verandah when Sally returns home from an errand. The two sisters... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...Gold is on the other end. After a quick conversation, she hangs up and informs Elsa confusedly that the Golds are coming for tea the next day, even though she knows... (full context)
31. The Visit
Survival Theme Icon
Frank and Elsa have a moment alone in the hallway. Elsa says he’s taller, and Frank blurts that... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
In the living room, everyone is awkward. Frank sees that Elsa feels at home here and “his stomach clench[es] suddenly at their distance.” Ida feels uncomfortable... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
...feels embarrassed for his wife, whom he sees as “a sort of animal.” To him, Elsa’s stillness and grace is preferable. (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Elsa wants to be alone with Frank. She leads him into an old hiding place by... (full context)
32. New York
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Many years later, Elsa’s son Jack II visits Frank in New York. He’s always known about Frank; his mother... (full context)
Vocation Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
As he notes that Jack II’s hair is the same color as Elsa’s, Frank is surprised to learn she’s named her son after her father. Jack tells him... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Jack II tells Frank that once he was running on the beach when he saw Elsa struggling up the dunes. He knew that he couldn’t help her or even acknowledge that... (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
...also an admirer of Frank’s poetry. Frank has always sent copies of each collection to Elsa, although she rarely writes him. (full context)
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Jack II asks what happened between Frank and Elsa. Frank says that he trained as a teacher and worked for a while in a... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Soon, Jack II leaves to catch his plane. To Frank, his eyes look like Elsa’s, and Frank thinks there’s nothing he won’t learn to understand. Jack thinks that he won’t... (full context)