Unhappy Marriages

Novels featuring unhappy marriages. The unhappy marriage should be a centerpiece of the novel, or at least a major feature.


Interior, Edgar Degas. Philadelphia Museum of Art
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flag this list (?)
432 books · 346 voters · list created November 19th, 2009 by Lobstergirl (votes) .
56 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Lobstergirl 4908 books
156 friends
Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) 546 books
371 friends
Greyweather 2660 books
71 friends
Thom 6023 books
304 friends
Harold 317 books
46 friends
LaTrica 1350 books
36 friends
John 755 books
49 friends
Lyndsay 402 books
32 friends

More voters…


Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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message 1: by Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (last edited Nov 19, 2009 03:58AM) (new)

Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) From your inclusion of Albee's "Virginia Woolf" I conclude that plays qualify? In that spirit, I've added Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" and "A Winter's Tale" -- though if you'd rather not see the list being extended to drama, I'll happily remove it again.

ETA: As well as, of course, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"!


message 2: by Thom (new)

Thom Dunn Themis-Athena wrote: "From your inclusion of Albee's "Virginia Woolf" I conclude that plays qualify? In that spirit, I've added Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" and "A Winter's Tale" -- though if you'd rather not see the lis..."

Your acronym, "ETA" stands for "Edited to Add" ?


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Yes, it does.


message 4: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth I added Revolutionary Road. That one sure was depressing...


message 5: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Yes, plays definitely qualify.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Good grief, at this point merely looking at this list makes you wonder why people would want to get married at all, doesn't it?


message 7: by Bettie (new)

Bettie Themis-Athena wrote: "Good grief, at this point merely looking at this list makes you wonder why people would want to get married at all, doesn't it? "

[image error]

laughs - happy marriages are not such interesting subject fodder I suppose. It's the same with books that deal with the future, they are all car wreck scenarios that would make you wonder why people would want to live further at all.




Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Oh, sure, it's always more interesting to write about a train wreck than about smooth sailing -- if there weren't some sort of challenge to overcome, what would be the point of the story?

Still, I think it's amazing how many books have been placed on this list already, and how many voters it has attracted in a single day ... The topic does seem to strike a certain chord, doesn't it? (Or is it just me? :~ )


message 9: by Thom (new)

Thom Dunn Themis-Athena wrote: "Oh, sure, it's always more interesting to write about a train wreck than about smooth sailing -- if there weren't some sort of challenge to overcome, what would be the point of the story?

Still, I..."


I like your emoticon. Son Chris wants to find one for "chagrin".


message 10: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl I guess we could start a Happy Marriages list and see which one attracts more voters. I think people are drawn to lists like this because they're not as abstract as, and/or don't require as much specialized reading background, as lists like "best Renaissance literature" or "novels written in the first person" or "the literature of Arizona." The unhappy marriage is something you can easily get your mind around and usually it's a feature of a novel you remember.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) That's part of what I meant -- these are books dealing with something we can all empathize with, even if we've never been married (or do live in a happy marriage) ourselves. Which is probably why it is, in turn, such a prevalent subject in literature, too.

I still wonder, though, why people seem to be particularly drawn to this topic, or these books for that matter -- is it because after having turned the last page they can happily conclude "Thank God my own bad relationship is long over and I am NOT married to a guy like Karenin myself now," or because deep down inside they're saying, "yes, that's EXACTLY how things are" (even if they're reading a novel set in 19th century Russia, which for all practical purposes couldn't possibly be any further removed from their personal circumstances)?

Of course all great literature is great because it deals with universal subjects and feelings. Put this generally, that's nothing more than a truism, though. And if you think of how many people, especially these days, principally read books in order to be entertained, you'd think they would empathize much more with a hero (or more often than not, a heroine) who in the end overcomes the challenges (s)he meets -- call it happy ending or whatever you will. (Which would certainly also be more in tune with what's understood to be a role model in modern society: we're told to learn from those who successfully overcome their challenges, not those losers who commit suicide or crawl into the farthest recesses of some dark hole to live out the rest of their lives in total oblivion.)

Not here, though; a substantial number of the books on this list, and certainly the majority of the top 10 or 15 entries, deal with people who ultimately FAIL -- for whatever reasons, but the point is still that their stories are depressing in the extreme, and even if the hero(ine) doesn't commit suicide in the end, their outlook is far from uplifting. And you would expect that their being set in a society different from our own (and, like "Anna Karenina," concerned with an in-depth analysis of that society, too -- whatever the Hollywood version, the book is about much more than Anna's own relationship tangle, after all) can't exactly add to their accessibility, either.

Now mind you, personally I do find it extremely gratifying that these books (or, for that matter, something like Sylvia Plath's "Bell Jar," which has to be one of the most depressing and yet one of the most brilliant books ever written) still enjoy the readership they have. I just wonder how they manage to beat the odds (and what that says about modern society, or at least modern society's perception of itself)?


message 12: by Thom (new)

Thom Dunn Themis-Athena wrote: "That's part of what I meant -- these are books dealing with something we can all empathize with, even if we've never been married (or do live in a happy marriage) ourselves. Which is probably why ..."

Salman Rushdie recently said the Family is not a natural institution, on the contrary, said he, it's one of the most bizarre creations on Earth. I remember heavy programming growing up in the 1940's-1950s that ALL anyone should care about was love&marriage. I guess, post-war that became the newer version of the American dream, that and of course "Beat the Russians". The whole utopian fantasy was a ship built to sink. If you haven't seen the film of Revolutionary Road, you might wanna get a snoot-full first. Leaving out the histrionics, it was my parents' story. My father sat of the couch drinking beer. My Mom banged pots and pans in the kitchen, venting her frustration. My sister and I grew up screwed up in the thundering silence between them. I think of the '60s now domestically as the Revolution of Falling Expectations.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I think of the 60s as the Decade from Hell.

And the 70s as the Fashion Decade from Hell.


message 14: by Bettie (new)

Bettie Susanna wrote: "And the 70s as the Fashion Decade from Hell."

Noooooooooooo! - my maroon velvet bell bottoms with the knee horizontal seam and thigh-length purple suede platform boots would never see the light of day if I believed you.

hahahahaha




message 15: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Themis-Athena wrote: "That's part of what I meant -- these are books dealing with something we can all empathize with, even if we've never been married (or do live in a happy marriage) ourselves. Which is probably why ..."

Well, I definitely go through periods where I can't read depressing novels, or at least certain types of depressing novels. For example, I haven't picked up a Thomas Hardy in years, even though some of them are on my to-read list. And after I've finished a Wharton, it's often a huge relief to pick up an Austen, or a lightheared police procedural set in gloomy Sweden. Reading moods can be strange and unpredictable.


message 16: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Thom wrote: "Themis-Athena wrote: "That's part of what I meant -- these are books dealing with something we can all empathize with, even if we've never been married (or do live in a happy marriage) ourselves. ..."

Why am I not surprised that Salman Rushdie would find the Family a bizarre and unnatural institution?


message 17: by Reese (new)

Reese I just discovered this list and the fascinating conversation that it generated. I can see no reason to post my own version of the thoughtful observations and insights that have already been recorded. But I would like to lengthen the list of explanations for the interest in unhappy-marriage books. Unless I overlooked it, the notes don't include any mention of "schadenfreude." In addition to experiencing the joy/relief that comes from remembering that "I" left a rotten relationship and the satisfaction that comes from having "my" story told (validation of the belief that my life illustrates "EXACTLY how things are"), many folks derive various forms of comfort from knowing about the misery of others. When the others are real people, guilt feelings usually reduce the pleasure. But reading fiction and plays gives us "schadenfreude" without the guilt.

Now I'm ready to vote for some of the works on the list and to add a work that doesn't have a depressing ending: A DOLL'S HOUSE. Rdbot



message 18: by Reese (new)

Reese That THE LION IN WINTER did not immediately come to mind when I voted earlier today is more evidence that life continues to chip away at my mind. Where have all the pieces gone? Anyway, now -- long after the voters have moved on -- I'm shamelessly calling for
readers to return to the "unhappy-marriages" poll and cast a vote for THE LION IN WINTER.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Lobstergirl wrote: "I guess we could start a Happy Marriages list and see which one attracts more voters. I think people are drawn to lists like this because they're not as abstract as, and/or don't require as much s..."

Good idea! but are there any books to go on it?


message 20: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl I'm terrible at remembering stuff like that. Other people will have to do most of the remembering.


message 21: by Lee (new)

Lee If someone wrote a novel about the last ten years of my marriage...it could make this list.
And, it might even get more than just my vote! *grin*


message 22: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Oh dear.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads You add books to lists at the top of the list, at the tab next to "all votes."


message 25: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Rebecca wrote: "Freak: The True Story of an Insecurity Addict"

Novels only!


message 26: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis Lobstergirl wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "Freak: The True Story of an Insecurity Addict"

Novels only!"

Oh, good grief. I am sorry, and thanks for the wake up call. I had just voted for 2 Shakespearian plays and added Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, when I saw your note. I got all excited about the bad-marriage aspect and before I knew it, I'd fallen into the traps of others before me. Not every fictional thing ever written is a novel.

So, from #280, I have removed short stories by John Updike:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

and now I'm about to go mop up the bard and Gilman.


message 27: by Donna (last edited Jun 01, 2016 09:07PM) (new)

Donna Davis Why do we see the word "novel" and reach for plays instead? I can only guess it's the unique quality of this particular list that makes smart people do silly things. Removed for being a play:

Juno and the Paycock
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

From #9 for the same reason: Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...

From page 1 for being poetry and also a play, but not a novel:
MacBeth
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8...

and Romeo and Juliet

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

and Othello
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7...

and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? :
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

Yet another play, Long Day's Journey Into Night:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

And the same title mentioned above by someone else, albeit a few years past, A Lion in Winter: A Play, by William Goldman. It's kind of hard to see how anyone could miss the fact that this one is a play.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...

There are so many outstanding plays that fit this category, I am beginning to wish the listmaker had merely specified "fiction" rather than "novel", but if wishes were fishes...

Alright, some more Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale and Richard III
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

And a short story collection:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4...

Another play:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...

What constitutes a novel? We have one title here that's under 100 pages, and another slightly over. Since their blurbs describe them as short novels, I will not touch them. However, a 21 page story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is going, going, gone:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9...
And one more short story collection:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

I can't believe it, but I actually removed more books than I added. I can see where super-librarians might feel this was too big a mess to take on, but the topic is interesting enough that I decided to sit down and clean it up a bit.

My erroneous addition of The Yellow Wallpaper seems to have vanished. I don't know whether someone else took it down or whether my un-voting for it--which left it voteless--is what did the trick, but one way or the other, it's gone, and I have done penance for the error.


message 28: by Donna (last edited Jul 23, 2018 03:19PM) (new)

Donna Davis Sure appears as if the spam fairy has been here to promote obscure marital advice manuals. Read the subscript, people.
Removed from page 2 as nonfiction: The First Chapter https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... and
Resurrect Your Marriage
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...
From page 3: Torn from Within
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...
#184 It Happened On Munger Street: because like poetry, plays, and self-help manuals, a memoir is NOT a novel. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...
Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness sounds like a fantastic novel title, but alas, it isn't. Removed from #191, nonfiction: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...
#194, A Marriage in Dog Years, another memoir: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...
#215, Modern Love, a collection of sonnets:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7...
#251 The Unhappiness Trap--another self-help manual, nonfiction:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...
#201 What It Is Like To Go To War, nonfiction:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...


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