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The Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey…

The Marriage Plot: A Novel (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Jeffrey Eugenides

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3,5162221,507 (3.53)211
Title:The Marriage Plot: A Novel
Authors:Jeffrey Eugenides
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2011), Hardcover, 416 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)


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The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides

The "marriage plot" refers to the central theme behind a lot of our favorite English novels by Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, the Brontë sisters, and their ilk--how young women had very few options in their lives and very little time available to them to secure their position in society. They relied on procuring a satisfactory marriage partner before they were deemed old maids. In those novels, we often see the common trope of the girl dreaming of her perfect someone, thinking she's met him, then having to overcome some obstacle, i.e. being tempted by another, before finding her happy ever after.

This particular book parallels that same method of storytelling but brings it into modern day life (1980s) when women do have more choices and are not necessarily reliant upon finding a "good catch" in order to achieve success and happiness in life.

We meet the three main protagonists in college, just learning about themselves and trying to figure out what they will do after graduation and trying to navigate the waters of romance as 20-somethings. This is a group of people who come from different backgrounds (one is from the Midwest, one from a more elite upbringing in New England, one from an abusive and dysfunctional home on the other side of the country) but are all now in the melting pot of an Ivy League school. We see them as they branch off after graduation, two of the three in a relationship but dealing with the difficulties that come with mental illness; the third trying to find his way emotionally and spiritually by backpacking around the world, nursing his broken heart over his unrequited love.

The first half of this book came across as pretentious, not just because of the discussions between the well-educated and sometimes pompous students. That's to be expected in college, when it's important to people to impress their peers, especially in an institution of the calibre of Brown University. I'm picturing a campus full of John Greens arguing the theory of semiotics. It seemed like a possible affectation by the author himself to name-drop as many literary references as possible. I'm not joking. I was curious when I noticed how often it was happening. I counted 130 (one hundred thirty!) different references to books and authors (Derrida, Wharton, Eco, Barthes, Updike, Baudrillard, Proust, Faulkner...). I'm sure it would make a great list. There were so many I was thinking this book would make a great source for a reading challenge or should become a college drinking game.

The second half of the book had less of that nonsense and more about the stories of their lives. Other than the serious issue of manic-depression, which was explained and covered very well, some of their difficulties could cause some eye rolling. They were definitely rich American white-people problems. Only those with wealthy families can spend weeks in places like Monaco when they are unemployed, or spend months finding themselves by roaming around third-world countries, as admirable as one particular character was in how he spent his time serving others.

That being said, I did care about these people and wanted them to find happiness. This ends with some unanswered questions which is disappointing, but I liked that it felt like real life. Real life is never cut and dried. ( )
  AddictedToMorphemes | May 1, 2016 |
I have always greatly admired Eugenides. I feel that he is one of the best contemporary American writers. With this book he really shines. His ease with character development is remarkable, and the way he manages the underlying philosophy to his works is impeccable. The Virgin Suicides was a starting point, and really showed his mastery of difficult writing techniques. He is great at burying the lead in his works. Middlesex was a blossoming of his ability to tackle a truly complex plot, and is remarkable for an author to have his second book win the Pulitzer. Both of his first books prove that Eugenides is a true literary author, for they are both are written for himself. A true writer must have the courage to expose and explore themselves. When done right, you are able to reveal a nuance of the world, for art is just that. We are all alone, and nothing about existence will be found anywhere but within each and every individual life. His first book shines with his growing up in Michigan, and finding within the veneer beneath the rise of suburbia covering the existential pains of post-modern (as opposed to “postmodern,” literally in terms of an epistemological understanding of the self), reflected in both the death of the girls and the life of the boys. Middlesex expands upon it, specifying his life in Detroit, and tacking on History by showing the illusion of development.

The Marriage Plot explodes with a mix between these two. He is able to capture the isolated masterwork of his first book with the worldview of Middlesex. This book is in many ways very much like Michel Houellebecq’s les particules élémentaires, written in 1998. They both tackle the possibility of marriage in a world after the sexual revolution – which radically altered our understanding of love; embodied by that generations falling back upon the old conventions. This is what constitutes the “post-postmodern” in which we find ourselves. Having come up against linguistic and deconstructive philosophical understandings of social construction, mankind has fallen back in “bad faith,” unable to take responsibility for the full consequences. Eugenides I feel does a much better job. His faith to the very linguistic question (which his name dropping and somewhat obscurity should not be counted against. I don’t like how people become prejudiced against a book because it references potentially obscure real life movements and names). He gives the tools in the first section to “deconstruct” the ending. Leonard’s “condition” follows suit in the Foucaultian constructivist archeology of “madness,” and his new-age groping for meaning exemplified by Mitchell, are key struggles in modern society. It is quite frankly a masterwork in philosophical literature in the tradition of Sartre and Dostoyevsky.

As always, I recommend Eugenides. He has a magic and poetics to his work. The inconclusiveness of both of the male representative figures, and Madeline’s ending with a letting go of the post-postmodern falling back on what would have been her romanticizing love again and taking on the real consequences in the end of the philosophical repercussions which she found herself enmeshed in was a perfect ending.
( )
  PhilSroka | Apr 12, 2016 |
  danbrady | Apr 8, 2016 |
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides is a coming of age novel set in the early 1980s. It tells the story of Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, three college students from Brown University. As Eugenides himself says "The book is a postmodernist take on the original marriage plot within the Victorian novel. A lot of the time, it is also a novel about other novels." He explained to the Calgary Herald, "At 20 you can really change your philosophy of the world by reading a single book, or by one chance meeting." "That is my point about “The Marriage Plot”: you read books and they change your life." "But it is also an exploration of mental illness, failed romance and one man’s battle with religious faith." (interviews found in Economist, Christian Science Monitor, and others)

The marriage plot in literature is the classic love triangle found in nineteenth century literature. You have a beautiful woman (Madeleine) who is falling for the wrong man, a handsome man with a secret (Leonard), while the less attractive but better man is pining for her from afar (Mitchell). At the beginning of The Marriage Plot there is a lot of literary theory but then Eugenides purposefully lessens the literary discussions as the novel progresses.

The characters are immature, egomaniacal young people who are searching for meaning in life and their way in the world. They are so self obsessed that it can be painful to be privy to their every emotion and feeling. Since these students are only a few years younger than I was when I went to college, I recognize them. Clearly they are a product of their times. I also didn't like them very much. But then who, as an adult years past the time of life these characters are experiencing, would really choose to spend time with these self-centered people?

Even though I didn't like the characters for most of the novel, I have to credit Eugenides skill as a writer that I continued to read and was interested and invested in the characters enough that I needed to see what happened to them and if there was any personal growth. Finally, I respect Eugenides for the ending, which could have predictably gone one way but didn't.

On January 22, 2012 Jeffrey Eugenides was among the nominees announced for the National Book Critics Circle awards for The Marriage Plot.

For me The Marriage Plot is very highly recommended, with a cautionary statement: it really wasn't until the very end, the last sentence, that I knew what my rating would be. http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
A friend highly recommended this book to me so I had overly high expectations. And, while the book was good - it did not live up to the fabulous reviews I had read. I loved the realistic portrayal of the main characters and their difficulties figuring out what they wanted to do with their lives after graduation. I also appreciated the references to classical literature plot lines and the true to life manner in which the mental illness was depicted. Overall worth the read! ( )
  Darwa | Mar 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 207 (next | show all)
The novel isn’t really concerned with matrimony or the stories we tell about it, and the title, the opening glance at Madeleine’s library and the intermittent talk of books come across as attempts to impose an exogenous meaning. The novel isn’t really about love either, except secondarily. It’s about what Eugenides’s books are always about, no matter how they differ: the drama of coming of age.
No one’s more adept at channeling teenage angst than Jeffrey Eugenides. Not even J. D. Salinger.
added by LiteraryFiction | editNew York Times, MICHIKO KAKUTANI (pay site) (Oct 6, 2011)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jeffrey Eugenidesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Асланян, АннаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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People would never fall in love if they hadn't heard love talked about.
~Francois de La Rochefoucauld
And you may ask yourself, Well,
how did I get here? ...
And you may ask yourself,
This is not my beautiful house.
And you may ask yourself,
This is not my beautiful wife.
~Talking Heads
For the roomies,
Stevie and Moo Moo
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To start with, look at all the books.
Phyllida's hair was where her power resided. It was expensively set into a smooth dome, like a band shell for the presentation of that long-running act, her face.
Even now, at bed-and-breakfasts or seaside hotels, a shelf full of forlorn books always cried out to Madeline.
That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren't left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical - because they weren't musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they'd done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn't know what to major in majored in.
She used a line from Trollope's Barchester Towers as an epigraph: "There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel."
Reading a novel after reading semiotic theory was like jogging empty-handed after jogging with hand weights.
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Book description
English major Madeleine Hanna must choose between two suitors while working on her senior thesis on the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374203059, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: Even among authors, Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a rare talent for being able to inhabit his characters. In The Marriage Plot, his third novel and first in ten years (following the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex), Eugenides describes a year or so in the lives of three college seniors at Brown in the early 80s. There is Madeleine, a self-described “incurable romantic” who is slightly embarrassed at being so normal. There is Leonard, a brilliant, temperamental student from the Pacific Northwest. And completing the triangle is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major from Eugenides’ own Detroit. What follows is a book delivered in sincere and genuine prose, tracing the end of the students’ college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood. This is a thoughtful and at times disarming novel about life, love, and discovery, set during a time when so much of life seems filled with deep portent. --Chris Schluep

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:32 -0400)

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Madeleine Hanna breaks out of her straight-and-narrow mold when she falls in love with charismatic loner Leonard Bankhead, while at the same time an old friend of hers resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is his destiny.

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