Why read The Marriage Plot?
A Letter from Jeffrey Eugenides

Exclusives.co.za The Marriage Plot

The lover`s discourse was of an extreme solitude. The solitude was extreme because it wasn`t physical. It was extreme because you felt it while in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, the most solitary of places.

- From The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

If you love Jeffrey Eugenides, but don’t know whether you should read The Marriage Plot, then this for you.

The first time I came across The Marriage Plot I was delighted and confused. I was delighted because I knew Jeffrey Eugenides was responsible for writing The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, but I was confused because I wasn’t sure if  “The Marriage Plot” would be something I would enjoy. I read it and ended up really enjoying it.

The first edition of The Marriage Plot was published in hardcover in 2011, and the paperback version I obtained was intended to be an exclusive early reading copy from the unedited manuscript. I obtained this copy a few months too late.

On opening it, I discovered a letter from Jeffrey Eugenides in which he addresses South African bookstores and have decided to share parts of this letter with the reader for two reasons:
1. For interest’s sake
2. To better understand the title “The Marriage Plot”

A letter from Jeffrey Eugenides:
“When I began writing, I never dreamed that my books would be read beyond the borders of the United States. The notion that a novel of mine has made the transatlantic voyage to end up in a bookstore in South Africa strikes me as quite amazing, and wonderfully satisfying, given my great admiration for so many South African writers. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting your country, but I’ve received mail from readers in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and I’m happy to report that they were always well-written, dignified, generous and to the point.”

“The novel [The Marriage Plot] grew out of my meditation on the history of the Novel itself. The great subject of the novel is, of course, marriage. 19th-century writers often centered their books around aspects of marriage, either the finding of a husband, as in Jane Austen, or the difficulties subsequent to the wedding day itself, including unhappiness and adultery. Sadly for the contemporary writer, unless he or she is writing about a traditional society with strict social and religious codes, the “marriage plot” is no longer viable. A modern-day Anna Karenina would never throw herself in front of a train because of the stigma of divorce. Isabel Archer, the heroine of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, would protect herself from the schemes of her husband, Gilbert Osmond, by making him sign a pre-nuptial agreement.

“Feeling sorry for myself for being born too late, I began to toy with the idea of writing a contemporary novel with a marriage plot. The three main characters in my book are all in their early twenties, roughly the same age as characters in a book by Austen or James. But there the similarity ends. My people are graduating from college in the 1980s, at a time when people are reading Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. They are entering a different world than their literary ancestors and they must chart a different path for themselves.

“Are the great love stories of the 19th-century dead? Or can there be a new one, written for today, conforming to the new realities of feminism, sexual freedom, pre-nups, and divorce? These were the questions I asked myself. My answer was The Marriage Plot.”

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