Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot: Not Quite a Review

I’m reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s new novel The Marriage Plot. I’m not a fan of this writer’s work but this novel is surprisingly good. It is the kind of light, highly entertaining reading that gives you endless pleasure when your brain is on the fritz from reading serious literature. I have a lot to say about the novel and will write a more detailed review after I finish it.

For now, however, I wanted to share that books like this one are to blame for me having such a lousy time in grad school. The characters in the novel are students at Brown who live and breathe literature, philosophy, and literary criticism. I was completely sure that once I arrived at my fancy grad school I would encounter these people I used to read about who walk around quoting Judith Butler and Derrida, arguing about whose reading of Cervantes makes the most sense, and sharing the amazing fogotten writers of the XIXth century they just found at the library.

The Marriage Plot is set in the early 1980ies, which was the high moment of literary criticism and feminist theory in North America. The characters are discovering deconstruction, semiotics, Lacan, Kristeva, Gilbert and Gubar, Derrida. The protagonist of the novel has her entire life transformed by the reading of Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse at the age of 20.

Of course, a naive youngish creature like myself read these descriptions of Ivy grad school life for years and became convinced that they were more than a figment of the writers’ imagination. So I set out on a very quixotic (in the literal sense of the word) quest to find this magical world of books in real life. Discovering how things really are was a huge letdown.

Writers have a lot to answer for.

17 thoughts on “Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot: Not Quite a Review

    1. BRILLIANT! I totally love it.

      These parts especially: ” It didn’t really matter anyway, since wanting to communicate meant reinforcing the dominant ideals of patriarchy and Marsha fancied herself a feminist, par excellence.”

      And “Then, independently, and yet together, they would make their individual ways, beyond the closed door, and outside the dormitory, into the great world, the great intertextual meta-narrative.”

      And “Was it an offence to female self-direction to set fire to the whole room with an actually, existing female in it? Or, was it more accurately a case of gay men’s jouissance?”

      And “The T.V. news also went on to announce a textual reference – that thousands of women had been killed in “honour killings” throughout Jordan, but that was an uniformed, racist critique from a Caucasian cultural perspective that did not understand they go to live with Allah. It was also a voice of technology speaking to their Daseins. To claim to understand it all was wrong, wrong, wrong! It could lead to textual totalitarianism and concentration camps.”

      Thank you for giving me the link! This is beautiful.

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  1. That’s what I thought college would be like, too. (Undergrad, as I have not been to grad school). I also got that idea from books, and was somewhat disappointed. (Not hugely, since I did meet a lot of wonderful, intelligent and well-read people, but it was very unlike what I was expecting. I expected something along the lines of the Athens depicted in Plato’s dialogues, with a bunch of people hanging around arguing over what virtue is, whether it can be taught, what justice is, etc.)

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    1. “I expected something along the lines of the Athens depicted in Plato’s dialogues, with a bunch of people hanging around arguing over what virtue is, whether it can be taught, what justice is, etc.”

      -Yes. . . What a beautiful dream. . .

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      1. You would be surprised at the number of mathematicians that have autism of one form or another. It seems to be a place where different types of social skills are not something that gets in the way.

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        1. My friend, I’m baffled by the insurmountable task of calculation 16% of 500. I use a calculator, and every time the response is different. 🙂

          There are different kinds of autism, I guess. 🙂

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  2. bloggerclarissa :
    My friend, I’m baffled by the insurmountable task of calculation 16% of 500. I use a calculator, and every time the response is different.
    There are different kinds of autism, I guess.

    The one that prints 80 on the output is correct 🙂

    Definitely many forms of autism, unfortunately for me the ones that seem to be conducive to being a mathematician involve the prolific output of deeply significant work. 🙂

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    1. Interesting though, that would explain a lot of mathematicians. So eccentric, and introverted somehow usually, or socially awkward, but nice. HMMMMM also one of my colleagues. Autism of some kind would explain all the practices and rituals this person has, like not driving, doing nothing in person that could be done by e-mail, having scripts for everything. Hm.

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  3. There’s a really great book, although hard to get, called the Black Insider, about life in an abandoned Arts Faculty. It’s conducted as a kind of Platonic discourse. I would say more, but I have a teaching session in one minute.

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  4. I wouldn’t have been attracted to college / grad school if I thought it meant you had to live / breathe literary criticism and philosophy in that ethereal sort of way. But I did go to graduate school in early 80s and it was interesting, that theoretical atmosphere.

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  5. Yeah writers also are really big on promoting the idea that there’ll only be one person you can be in love with, and you’ll hear a choir of angels singing when you first meet them, just to confirm that they are “the one.” Thus forever making me question if I’m just a rational person, or if I need to hold out for someone that makes me faint every time we kiss. That would be pretty inconvenient though…

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  6. “For now, however, I wanted to share that books like this one are to blame for me having such a lousy time in grad school.”

    “So I set out on a very quixotic (in the literal sense of the word) quest to find this magical world of books in real life. Discovering how things really are was a huge letdown.”

    So very true. I’ve read similar types of books and I agree that they tend to give one the false idea of what school will be like.

    I love math, although that was not my field of study and I love murder mysteries. I wonder what that says about me–my preference for stories where people get bumped off. English murder mysteries always had a nice way of getting rid of annoying characters early on.

    I’m currently reading What is Left The Daughter.

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