November 16, 2013

"In the days when success in life had depended on marriage, and marriage had depended on money, novelists had a subject to write about."

"The great epics sang of war, the novel of marriage. Sexual equality, good for women, had been bad for the novel. And divorce had undone it completely. What would it matter whom Emma [Bovary] married if she could file for separation later?"

Says a character in the Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel "The Marriage Plot," reviewed here.
Eugenides, speaking for himself, made a virtually identical argument in Slate several years ago, substituting “Anna Karenina” for “Madame Bovary”: “You can’t have your heroine throw herself under a train because she left her husband and ruined her life. Now your heroine would just have a custody battle and remarry.”
Oh, yeah? And what about cell phones? They're wreaking havoc on hack plots. Of course, the answer is to throw in some bit about how there's no signal or the battery is dead.

There must be a stock list of reasons why a modern-day woman cannot divorce. 1. Make her religious, 2. Inheritance, 3. Children, 4. Husband gives access to some needed social or business network, 5. Hey, I'm not a writer of plots! You figure it out, writer man.

33 comments:

pm317 said...

6. Obamacare.

Didn't the Obama administration want Hollywood to incorporate Obamacare into their plots?

Renee said...

She still gets along with her spouse....

No really, I still like the guy.

Christy said...

Obamacare
Nope, they've already realized a couple on the cusp of making $60 thousand-something can save thousands on Obamacare by divorcing.

EDH said...

Can't add Obamacare to the list; it encourages divorce.

Why Divorce Attorneys Will Love Obamacare

Now we learn that the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, is dangling a similar fate in front of middle income earners.

A typical 40-year old couple with two kids could save $7,230 a year by divorcing if one partner earns, say, $70,000 and the other $23,000. Sixty year-olds earning $62,041 each a year would save $11,028 annually if they broke up.

Lance said...

Why not write a novel about a woman who wants to get married? Pretty transgressive, no?

Renee said...

Interestong blog post on the subject, with their list.

http://www.thewinedarksea.com/2013/07/19/what_does_a_healthy_mature_marriage_look_like/

" If you grew up in a broken home, if you’re the child of divorce how do you even begin to form a mental picture of what a healthy marriage looks like? If your head is full of all that romance and you still find yourself thinking that married love means being swept off your feet and wine and chocolate and flowers, where do you turn to learn the sacrificial nature of mature married love? How do you stop making yourself miserable by comparing your life to the lives of your favorite literary heroines? Perhaps look for new heroines?

But where are all the married couples in literature? I was kind of surprised that I was having such a hard time thinking of any. So I did what any self-respecting social media savvy geek does: I crowd sourced to Facebook and asked my friends to think of some for me."

Lance said...

Or even better, a novel about a man who discovers he wants to get married.

"Leonard Lee was a middle-aged bachelor, and happily so. Then he left a comment on a Univ. of Arizona business professor's blog, and one thing led to another..."

It writes itself!

Christy said...

In order to be a great novel the dilemma must be universal. Today few can truly emphasize, and perhaps most would sneer at a woman who wouldn't divorce for religious or money reasons. Isn't not divorcing for the children the back story for a new sitcom?

pm317 said...

@Lance, LOL, good job.

Christy said...

'Sides, novels grew with the middle class. Obama isn't leaving us with one.

Sam L. said...

Writing is just sooooooooo hard these days.

chrisnavin.com said...

The navel-gazing inventory of the self, the confessional and post-confessional style, the turn inwards to mine any material...

...plus the balkanization of the humanities into studies departments, the chattering, nattering class often made up of 'self-aware' women...

...plus the 'death of the novel,' and more prizes than poets and writers writing about academia...

Who gives a shit?



chrisnavin.com said...

There must be some good writers out there, with something to say. A few might be appreciated after they die, the rest, not so much.

clint said...

Good grief. Writing a "marriage plot" just requires the protagonist to want two incompatible things -- to have her cake and eat it too. If you can't think of any examples of that in modern culture, you have no business trying to write novels. You have no insight to offer.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

A custody battle with remarriage is a much more interesting story than some cornball style throwing oneself under a train.

Deirdre Mundy said...

She can't divorce because she's a conservative politician and fears a primary challenge!

Carl said...

I think women who enjoy angsty musings on the meaning of marriage and womanhood should all marry men who see NFL football as a metaphor for life, and will tell you why and how at length.

Alex said...

There's plenty of drama in the tech world these days, but any novelist coming from a Englit background is out of his/her league.

wildswan said...

What about Hemingway and Fitzgerald's plots? Aren't they mostly about people who have no rules in their own lives? Crashing into people who for one reason or another do have rules? Like Gatsby? Like The Sun Also Rises? Then, what about the plot to Casablanca, the movie. Or The Big Sleep. The more people who have no rules, the more these collisions will occur.

SOJO said...

Mona Simpson wrote a modern marriage novel about Steve Jobs - An Ordinary Guy. It annoyed me for that reason. I guess he didn't plan on getting divorced, so who he married, which blonde "won" the marriage bake-off, was Just As Important as In Victorian Times. Boring.

Still, you get past a certain level of money and people become as obsessed with their love affairs as they ever were (John and Yoko, the Kardashians, anyone?) It's not like people were terribly faithful in Victorian times anyway.

rcocean said...

As a mainstream art form the "Serious Novel" died years ago. Probably the last author to have any real impact on the average college education person was Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" and for that he was mercilessly attacked by Mailer, Cheever, and Who's it,

Even SF is turning into Chick Lit. Mystery/Crime seems to the be the only genre with some life in it.

jr565 said...

They don't have THAT subject to write about anymore. But they have other subjects to write about.
Are those subjects as weighty as clssical literature though?

Carol said...

Modern novels are boring because they still assume rebellion. What if you don't want to rebel, and prefer an orderly life? My family rebelled two generations ago already and I've observed the results.

mccullough said...

Jonathan Franzen's novels deal with marriages in an intelligent way.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Yep, skip the marriage, go straight to the virgin suicide.

rcocean said...

"Modern novels are boring because they still assume rebellion.'

Depends on what you mean by "rebellion" - what could be more smug and self-satisfied by usual "academic" naval-gazer? Where was the "Rebellion" in "Infinite Jest"?

Most modern novels are as "rebellious" as Bill Maher.

Lem said...

It has been good for tabloids

Fritz said...

"She can't divorce because she's a conservative politician and fears a primary challenge! "

Hillary is not a conservative politician.

nick said...

Don Quixote wished he could be a knight in a medieval romance. Cervantes got two novels out of that.

Emma Bovary is Don Quixote. Anna Karenina is Don Quixote. You could even retell Emma's story or Anna's story so that they're not married, and not even dating anyone. Emma just falls in love with some guy she spots at the gym. Or Anna reads Fifty Shades and writes her own fan fiction from that.

sinz52 said...

Why can't the wife divorce her husband? Because she's got a pre-existing condition and she's on his group health care plan.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCw_UoRhTUk

A good novelist could make that sound tragic:

"Sweetie,I've got something to tell you. I've been seeing another man. He's got Blue Cross."

Crazy Jane said...

Eugenides is a gifted writer. I didn't really get The Virgin Suicides, but I read it with interest. I liked Middlesex very much.

The Marriage Plot didn't work for me. It was clear from the get-go that the young woman would succeed and the young men would not. An understandable theme these days, but not interesting. Certainly not suspenseful.

In another trend, I have noticed that young literary characters who attended Brown University are way more screwed up than those who attended other colleges. I would advise parents of high-school students to proceed with caution.

Crazy Jane said...

Eugenides is a gifted writer. I didn't really get The Virgin Suicides, but I read it with interest. I liked Middlesex very much.

The Marriage Plot didn't work for me. It was clear from the get-go that the young woman would succeed and the young men would not. An understandable theme these days, but not interesting. Certainly not suspenseful.

In another trend, I have noticed that young literary characters who attended Brown University are way more screwed up than those who attended other colleges. I would advise parents of high-school students to proceed with caution.

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