The Marriage Plot The Marriage Plot discussion


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How many authors and books were mentioned in this book.

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Patty How many authors and books do you think were mentioned in "The Marriage Plot?"


Julie Large Too many to care. I was not particularly impressed that the author wanted me to perceive him as well-read.


Patty Julie wrote: "Too many to care. I was not particularly impressed that the author wanted me to perceive him as well-read."

Julie, I felt the same way.


Casceil I don't think it was a matter of the author wanting readers to perceive him as well-read. He was writing about college students, who were being influenced by what they were reading. Particularly with the semiotics class, I think the discussion of the reading list helped demonstrate how divorced from reality some of that reading was.


message 5: by Ana (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ana I have to say I did like Madeline mentioning she loved Gaskell...that was the only mention in the book that made me happy. Mitchell's European backpacking reading library....YAWN! His 'trashy' book was Hemingway? Come on!


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

I think a couple people may have missed the point regarding the name dropping.

Look, the book is called The Marriage Plot, right? The title is already calling attention to the fact that there's a pre-existing structure to the plot. It's completely self-reflexive about the nature of 19th century fiction. In order to make the reader understand the structure of the plot they might not be familiar with, Eugenides has to call attention to other marriage plots. This makes the connection.

But then, Eugenides isn't merely rewriting a 19th century marriage plot. He's transposing the structure into the Eighties, when deconstruction and Derrida were really big.

The question is why? Well, deconstruction and Derrida are about différance and that the meaning of things are volatile. They're always changing.

The inclusion of Barthes is intensely specific because of The Death of the Author. A text isn't a puzzle with one solution, but a tissue of quotations of other texts.

That's the key right there. A text, any text, doesn't matter what, is a fabric made of other texts. So therefore, since Eugenides is already calling attention to the fact that The Marriage Plot is a fabric of other 19th century texts, then we know that using other texts helps the reader navigate the text.

Thus, the name-dropping is integral to the text's meaning.

Like I say, if you think that Eugenides was just showing off, then you've totally missed the point. Totally.


message 7: by Ana (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ana I do agree with you that it was integral to the novel. Is it effective? I think we are just being flippant about the pretentiousness of the characters because when it comes down to it even though the book 'name dropping' is necessary to the author's purpose it also becomes tiresome...just as the characters become tiresome (a matter of opinion of course) To me the characters seemed like empty cardboard cut-outs being manipulated by the author to represent certain themes. And coming from a university environment exactly like the characters in the novel, I just felt like none of them were 'real' people, if that makes sense. It makes it hard to get invested in the narrative. As a contrast, I'm reading Art of Fielding right now and there are several bookish characters in this novel who also who go through very specific literary journeys but I feel the author is handling it in a much more believable and interesting way.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Ana wrote: "I do agree with you that it was integral to the novel. Is it effective? I think we are just being flippant about the pretentiousness of the characters because when it comes down to it even though t..."

It's interesting that what made the novel "tiresome" for you was effective for me. Of course the characters were empty cardboard cut-outs. Of course they were being manipulated. The novel is neurotically self-aware about its existence as a text within a space of other texts so it made sense for me.

I suppose it's down to taste, but I don't require my novels to be "believable" or immersive. I don't need to like characters or even to imagine them as real people. But that's me.


message 9: by Ana (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ana Well I often feel about books the way I feel about people. Why do I 'click' with some and not with others? We give ourselves reasons and excuses why we 'connect' with certain texts but these reasons often feel flimsy once we write them down. For example-- one of my top desert island books is Possession. A book that is entirely like you say 'a text within a space of other texts' The characters in that novel are all academics and probably many readers found them pretentious and pompous...and yet, I could read that novel once a year and never get tired it. Food for thought!


Casceil The Marriage Plot seems to be a very divisive book. Some people love it, some people hate it, and some people just look at it as "tiresome." (It's this months discussion book for the 21st Century Lit group.) I think I disagree with both Ana and macgregor. I, too, came out of that sort of University environment. (I was Princeton Class of '75. Eugenides was Brown class of 1983.) I found the characters very believable. I knew people like that. I found the detailed dissection of Leonard's manic depression tedious at times, but it was also very accurate. The descriptions of the meds, the side effects of the meds, and the patient's feelings about the meds all line up with what I have heard from a bipolar relative, and I completely understand Madeline's concerns at the end ("Can I safely leave him alone? Can I safely take him with me?) Mitchell and his quest for religion is actually someone I met in high school. An actor who played a role in the school's production of "Major Barbara," which gave him the line, "I am a collector of religions, and the odd thing is I find I can believe in all of them." Except, in this guy's case, his friends thought it would be more accurate to say that he was a collector of religions, but the odd thing was he found he could believe in none of them. (He went on to become a Lutheran minister.) I have my own complaints about the book, but I find it interesting that the book inspires such strong opinions and such vigorous discussion.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Ana wrote: "Well I often feel about books the way I feel about people. Why do I 'click' with some and not with others? We give ourselves reasons and excuses why we 'connect' with certain texts but these reason..."

I love Possession for the same reason I like The Marriage Plot in that it's a literary game rewarding to those in the know. But Possession doesn't hold the reader's hand through the difficult to get jokes (the cemetary scene) whereas The Marriage Plot is at pains to point out the joke to the reader. I'm using "joke" in a non-pejorative sense.

The Marriage Plot is good, but not great, and part of that is the novel's anxiety about being understood. The text seems to want to let everybody in on the joke when it should stand back and let the readers do some of the work. There's nothing wrong with a bit of elitism in literature. The Marriage Plot's desperate need to be accessible is its undoing, ultimately.

This might seem like odd criticism considering this is a thread about name-dropping, but it's actually logical. In the novel's constant name-dropping lies the critical flaw. I didn't need to be told to look to Barthes.

The novel uses Barthes as integral for its meaning when it should have been used for texture, a subtle but meaningful distinction.


Melinda This was the one aspect of the book I found to be very pretentious.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Melinda wrote: "This was the one aspect of the book I found to be very pretentious."

Not specific to you personally, but I find the use of the word "pretentious" to be misleading. People bring out the word all the time without quite deploying it successfully. In the case of The Marriage Plot, "pretentious" is probably not accurate considering Eugenides' vast knowledge of the subject and his familiarity with the structure of the 19th century novel, not to mention his handle on Barthes and Derrida. It's not an attempt to impress without any background because he does have that background. If you think Eugenides is showing off, then you've missed the point of the novel.


message 14: by Lily (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lily macgregor wrote: "...If you think Eugenides is showing off, then you've missed the point of the novel. ..."

Eugenides may not be showing off; yet there are still places where the novel comes across to this reader as "pretentious." Perhaps because Eugenides is writing about a section of the world that is inherently "pretentious"?


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Well I can't defend the world of academia because I'm sure they can defend themselves. If you think academia is "inherently pretentious" then that's a prejudice I'm unable to disabuse you of.

I might also add that I'm not sure if everybody is deploying the word "pretentious" correctly. Allow me to provide the definition of the word:

"Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed."

Considering Eugenides has an M.A. in creative writing and a Pulitzer Prize to his name, I'm willing to believe that his talent is equal to his claims.


message 16: by Lily (last edited Jun 26, 2012 10:03AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lily macgregor wrote: "Considering Eugenides has an M.A. in creative writing and a Pulitzer Prize to his name, I'm willing to believe that his talent is equal to his claims...."

I quite agree, actually part of my point. Eugenides is quite equal to the task of both recognizing and portraying "pretentiousness."

Now, what are examples of "pretentiousness" in the text? Well, that's more than a bit harder to identify and pin down. Is it the text itself? Is it among the actions of the characters? Is it "Prettytown" or whatever Eugenides calls the NJ suburb? Is it the litany of M's destinations in India? Is it the facile inclusion of a kitchen sink full of current liberal topics and viewpoints? Or is it just that it is?

To me, the delight of the book was the final chapter where he cuts through the chaff to place before the reader what is a marriage plot, especially for a young, capable, well-educated woman, in today's world. Such clear insight should have come from a female author. That it comes from a male is to Eugenides credit, but may have been necessary. (view spoiler)


message 17: by Annabel (new) - added it

Annabel Smith macgregor wrote: "I think a couple people may have missed the point regarding the name dropping.

Look, the book is called The Marriage Plot, right? The title is already calling attention to the fact that there's a..."


Yes! And he was taking the piss out of all that name-dropping, as well as using it to add another layer to his story.


message 18: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt You are lucky I have a strict rule of not feeding the trolls...


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