Biography[ edit ] Eugenides was born the youngest of three sons in Detroit , Michigan , to a father of Greek descent and a mother of English and Irish ancestry. I entered the honors program in English, which forced me to study the entire English tradition, beginning with Beowulf. I felt that since I was going to try to add to the tradition, I had better know something about it. Eugenides knew he wanted to be a writer from a relatively early age, stating "I decided very early; during my junior year of high school.
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Her thesis is concerned with "the marriage plot" as it existed in the 19th-century novel and the way, with marriage having lost its gravitas in her era of quickie divorces and prenups, the novel itself has been diminished. Much as Madeleine may believe this thesis as a critic, however, as a year-old woman there is much about her life that seems Victorian. She is, cliche of cliches, caught in a love triangle herself, torn between two fellow undergraduates: the charismatic and depressive Leonard Bankhead on the one hand and the studious and spiritual Mitchell Grammaticus on the other.
Her heart shouts Leonard most of the time ; her head and her Waspish parents murmur Mitchell. It is 18 years since the precocious and perfectly formed The Virgin Suicides marked him out as a writer who would always be required reading. In between times, the fabulous family saga Middlesex, which, along the way, told of the unlikely coming of age of a hermaphrodite in Michigan, became a huge bestseller and Pulitzer prize-winner, without ever seeming entirely coherent.
In the generosity and nuance of his characters and paragraphs, you are reminded of the Jonathan Franzen of The Corrections. Like that novel, this one acknowledges the brio and experimentation of American writers such as Thomas Pynchon or Don DeLillo or the late David Foster Wallace; it takes on board some of the philosophical caveats to "conventional" social realism, but does it anyway.
Her heart breaks even as she sits in seminars discussing Derrida on the bogus nature of romance and sentiment in life as well as literature. And then immediately regrets it but not as much as Leonard, who ends up hospitalised with psychotic depression. Eugenides inhabits the minds of each of the points of this love triangle in turn.
The Greek-American Mitchell Grammaticus, who, like the author himself in his youth, volunteers as a gap-year helper with Mother Teresa in Calcutta as he searches conflictedly for spiritual enlightenment, seems very close to home for Eugenides. Madeleine is entirely believable as the ambitious, beautiful and mostly moral young woman slightly out of step with the freedoms of her time.
Leonard Bankhead, though, is both the wild card and the proper heart of his novel. It is a highly affecting portrait that brings to mind some of those Salinger stories that walk the line between reality and mania. As he delineates these fracturing lives, Eugenides also pursues cogent inquiries into religion and philosophy and sexuality as his young trio try to make sense of things.
Leonard, who takes up postgraduate work in biology at a genius lab in Cape Cod, also brings with him some scientific insight, notably into the mating rituals of microscopic organisms.
Though the absence of email and mobile phones allows the author to explore the proper frustration and novelistic suspense of airmail letters and poste restante boxes for perhaps the last time, there is much that feels contemporary about the moment of the book: Madeleine and the others are graduating into deep recession; there seems no new idea under the sun.
The books are far apart in quality, too. Like a myth, the novel imposes its own logic. In telling the story of five teenage sisters who kill themselves under the rapt gaze of the neighborhood boys, Eugenides showed a willingness to push to extremes, and the skill to bring it off once he got there. In making these judgments, of course — the novel was a huge best seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner, to boot — I am joining a minority of perhaps no more than one. But I found the whole thing utterly unpersuasive. Instead of three generations, it presents us with three characters, college students leaving Brown in , the year before Eugenides did: Madeleine Hanna, a beautiful, uncertain WASP; Leonard Bankhead, her sometime boyfriend, brilliant, brooding, charismatic, poor; and Mitchell Grammaticus, authorial surrogate, a Greek from Grosse Pointe, Mich.
The Marriage Plot
Her thesis is concerned with "the marriage plot" as it existed in the 19th-century novel and the way, with marriage having lost its gravitas in her era of quickie divorces and prenups, the novel itself has been diminished. Much as Madeleine may believe this thesis as a critic, however, as a year-old woman there is much about her life that seems Victorian. She is, cliche of cliches, caught in a love triangle herself, torn between two fellow undergraduates: the charismatic and depressive Leonard Bankhead on the one hand and the studious and spiritual Mitchell Grammaticus on the other. Her heart shouts Leonard most of the time ; her head and her Waspish parents murmur Mitchell. It is 18 years since the precocious and perfectly formed The Virgin Suicides marked him out as a writer who would always be required reading.
Jeffrey Eugenides on Liberal Arts Graduates in Love
Oct 16, Gerald rated it it was amazing Masterful on many levels. Each seemed deeply flawed, and they are. Except you read along and find that Eugenides thinks we all are, just as deeply in our unique ways, and are none the lesser for it. This is a literary novel, in the best sense, and I was surprised to read some critics cramming it into the diminutive genre "campus novel.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – review
Reading Guide Book Summary With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. Leonard Bankhead - charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy - suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love. Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead?