Peering into “The Marriage Plot”


My head is bursting with words. I have to stop what I’m doing right now and let my cramped brain get some air by freeing these overlapping book mumblings! After a month-long hiatus, I finally found some time to steal for a quick blog. I’ve been indulging with my favorite genre the past few months and I promise to write more about them this month. Here’s a taste of something literary for you 🙂

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Pulitzer-prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides created a novel that borders on being a literary snob in “The Marriage Plot.” Dubbed as one of the best novels of 2011, this book followed the intertwined lives of three college friends who tackled the intricacies of love and braved the harsh realities of the world outside the four walls of their classroom.

Madeleine Hanna is an English Major who lives in the world of Jane Austen and George Eliot. She is writing her thesis on the marriage plot found in English novels. Leonard Bankhead is a mysterious yet charming loner who becomes Madeleine’s object of affection. Mitchell Grammaticus, on the other hand, is Madeleine’s long-time friend and long-time secret admirer who pursued Religion as his major. The novel started on the day of their graduation and was narrated with flashbacks and present realities that slowly moved forward to their future.

Madeleine ended up having a relationship with Leonard and marries him eventually (less than a year after their graduation). Mitchell went to Europe and India to find more spiritual enlightenment but this didn’t help him forget the missed opportunities he had with Madeleine and the numerous “what ifs” that hovered in his head. Leonard battled with depression throughout the novel. This condition took a toll on his marriage with Madeleine. Mitchell and Madeleine meet again toward the end of the story after a surprising turn of events.

The Reader Experience

The novel started pretty slow for me but I immediately loved the character of Madeleine being a literature major myself. I said earlier that this book bordered on being a literary snob mainly because of the literary giants (and their works) it mentioned throughout the story. Some of whom are unknown in the circle of average fiction readers. Perhaps this was what gave Eugenides the credibility to create a character, who took that course for the same reason I took mine,

She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.

Finding a kindred spirit like her made me more engaged in reading this novel! Her reading list is pretty awesome (and nerdy for some, I guess). I will enumerate some later on. I love the character development of Mitchell. His search for meaning led him to different places where he saw the myriad faces of spirituality exhibited by various people. The pseudo-love triangle between them was the thin thread I was hanging on to. I was secretly hoping that Madeleine would finally notice and admit that Mitchell was the “one who got away.”

I almost gave up on this novel when it reached the part when Leonard was struggling being a manic depressive. Eugenides made it so depressing that it felt like I was on the verge of having one, too! The uncanny beauty in that part was that I learned what it was like to be depressed and how hard it was to fight it. Leonard was a very intellectual character. He explained his condition in the most sensible way. His terrible mood swings affected me the way it almost ruined Madeleine’s sanity. In the end, Leonard made a drastic decision that I never expected. This decision led to Madeleine and Mitchell meeting again where another decision was made that surprisingly was the ending I wanted for all three of them.

The novel closes with a lot of possibilities. When Mitchell threw this question to Madeleine, I found myself nodding—completely satisfied with Jeffrey Eugenides’ marriage plot.

From the books you read for your thesis…was there any novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who’s always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she’s got more important things to do with her life…do you think that would be good, as an ending?

It exhibits reality in its purest form where anything can happen. It takes exceptional talent to weave that kind of plot. It takes a great deal of risk to veer away from happily ever after and settling with allowing the characters work it out for themselves. And as Eugenides aptly puts it,

It took courage to let things fall apart so beautifully.

Are you ready to take on Madeleine’s reading list? 🙂

Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida

Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida

A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Love Story by Erich Segal

The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar

H.M. Pulham, Esquire by John Marquand

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

The Role of the Reader by Umberto Eco

On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Paradise Lost by John Milton

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6 thoughts on “Peering into “The Marriage Plot”

  1. Hector says:

    What an intriguing review! You have just cajoled me into making time to read Eugenides’ Pulitzer award winning book. If that was a network marketing product you chose to promote, you can easily top the network’s sales with willing recruits! Keep it up Ivy.

    • Thanks, Daddy! 🙂 His Pulitzer-prize winning work was “Middlesex.” I have yet to read that, though. I’ve read his other book “The Virgin Suicides” which is really good, too! Thanks for reading my blog, Daddy! 🙂

  2. cj regala casuga says:

    whoah! that reading list brought me back to my college days!

  3. lrtrovi says:

    A great review, and thanks so much for the compiled list of Maddie Hanna’s reading list! I listened to this book on tape, and often found myself reaching for a pencil to jot down a book title. If curious, see my review of the same book at “FrayedDustjackets.”

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