I read The Marriage Plot a year and a half ago when I was still sorting out my dissertation topic and trying to figure out which texts I was using. After reading this book, I decided that it was necessary for my topic. So, this re-read is in preparation for the writing of my current chapter–and I promise, an unread book review is coming up soon!
Madeleine Hanna is rather traditional in her book tastes–she prefers Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Balzac to more contemporary authors like Saul Bellow or Philip Roth. She writes her undergrad thesis on “the marriage plot” but doesn’t actually realize that she is being drawn into one herself. She takes a class in Semiotics and Deconstruction in 1982, where she first meets Leonard Bankhead and falls for him. At the same time, his romantic rival, Mitchell Grammaticus, is obsessed with Madeleine and embarking on a spiritual quest. Their lives intersect in interesting ways, questioning the generic setup of the marriage plot altogether. Is it possible to reach a “happily ever after” through the novelistic setup of the domestic plot? Or does our society force a different set of choices upon us?
Eugenides undertakes a genre that is sometimes considered stuffy or old and revises it in ingenious and refreshing ways. He particularly interacts with Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady to show how our views of marriage, gender, and the domestic have had to change with the changes in our attitudes and society. If you’ve read Middlesex or The Virgin Suicides, I can tell you that this is a very different kind of novel. But no less worth it, and enjoyable in its own way. While I don’t consider the characters themselves to be super likeable, the way Eugenides plots out the inversion of a marriage plot is clever and highly interesting.