Love and Marriage?
“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.” --Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) is candy for the English major, former English major, or any lover of literature. It has depictions of lit classes, complete with pretentious student comments; philosophizing students using their reading assignments to read meaning into their own lives; and literary references galore: Derrida, Barthes, Thomas Merton, Anna Karenina, Where the Wild Things Are and Madeline are just a few.
Eugenides slyly inverts the literary concept of the “marriage plot,” which was first made popular during the Regency and Victorian periods. It goes something like this: Man courts woman. Woman is interested in man. Problems come up. Marriage might not take place. Problems are resolved. Marriage does indeed take place. (Some good examples are Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Middlemarch by George Eliot.)
The author gives us a love triangle consisting of Madeleine (an English major dabbling in semiotics, though a Victorianist at heart), Leonard (brilliant and charming, but suffering from manic depression) and Mitchell (intelligent and a bit quirky—there are some great scenes with him volunteering in India at Mother Teresa's hospice). They are all students at Brown University. The novel follows them from college through graduation and into post-grad life. With these three characters, Eugenides shows us that love, life and literature are not always what they appear to be and even when we are in the middle of it all, we sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. Yet somehow, like in a Victorian novel, things seem to work out in the end.