Bad Marriages…We’ve Read a Few

What is literature full of? Words, sentences, paragraphs, and…unhappy marriages.

And why not? There are tons of unhappy marriages in real life, and many fiction readers are fascinated by car wrecks — whether literal (dented vehicles) or figurative (dented relationships). Heck, authors are among the people in negative wedlock, and the adage is “write what you know,” isn’t it?

I just read E.L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair, a 1930s-set memoir/novel in which young Edgar’s parents Rose and Dave “exemplify” several reasons why unhappy couples are unhappy. The too-practical Rose is frustrated in the way many stay-at-home moms were before the modern feminism era, while the free-spirited but at times irresponsible Dave has wider interests — one of which seemingly involves cheating on Rose. Also, Dave’s mother is very condescending to Rose, who not only bitterly resents that but resents Dave for not taking his mother to task for her attitude. Meanwhile, the family is slipping financially.

Yes, marriages can be troubled because of money problems, adultery, mismatched personalities, and many other reasons — including health issues, mental issues, and physical or psychological abuse.

The passive-aggressive Edward Casaubon is psychologically abusive to his young wife Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which also dissects the strained marriage between the ambitious Dr. Lydgate and the spoiled Rosamond Vincy. In the same author’s final novel, Daniel Deronda, the willful but basically decent Gwendolen Harleth marries wealthy brute Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt out of financial desperation — and disaster ensues.

Few authors depict wedded non-bliss in as astute a way as Eliot does.

Published a year after Daniel Deronda, Emile Zola’s 1877 L’Assommoir (The Drinking Den) sees a happy marriage between Coupeau and the hardworking Gervaise go sharply downhill when the former gets injured and becomes an alcoholic. Eventually, Gervaise…well, I won’t give away what happens to her, except to say that the abused wife in Stephen King’s Rose Madder ends up faring much better (with a little supernatural help).

Societal racism can also weigh heavily on a marriage that might have been happier in a more unbiased world. That weight is certainly apparent with couples in novels like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain.

While the male half of a couple is often most at fault in literature, that’s not always the case. For instance, Cathy is amoral while Adam Trask is merely clueless in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and the hypochondriacal Zeena is much less sympathetic than the taciturn title character in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. Wharton also created another unlikable woman in The Custom of the Country‘s social-climbing Undine Spragg, who badly treats her first husband Ralph Marvell.

Here are a few of the countless other fictional works with somewhat or very troubled marriages, of long or short duration: Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, Graham Greene’s short story “The Basement,” Henry James’ The American, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and Flight Behavior, W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, and Fay Weldon’s The Bulgari Connection.

This blog post focused on heterosexual marriages because gay marriage is relatively new enough to not yet appear in a lot of novels (as far as I know). And I didn’t discuss not-wed couples in order to keep this post a manageable length! Besides, it’s often easier to get out of a bad relationship than a bad marriage.

Which unhappy marriages do you remember most in literature?

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For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also in the middle of writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

236 thoughts on “Bad Marriages…We’ve Read a Few

    • Definitely two bad marriages in “Jane Eyre” and “Tess,” Susan. Thanks for mentioning them! I had forgotten about that superb novel by Thomas Hardy, an excellent writer. A few months ago, I read one of his lesser-known efforts — “The Hand of Ethelberta,” which was funny but also sobering, because of a plot line about marrying to get out of poverty rather than for love.

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  1. Good morning Dave…you have a new blog and all have moved on but as LP have said before there is a charm having conversation in an empty room.

    I am still absorbing the book I just finished ” the Lowland”. I could easily say now in my opinion Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the greatest story teller of modern times.
    Just reread the final two chapters, her timing is impeccable to say the least.

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    • Good morning, bebe!

      LP was right about it being nice to converse in older posts. (Dodging tumbleweeds as they roll past? πŸ™‚ )

      That’s high (and deserved) praise by you for Jhumpa Lahiri, and, as we’ve discussed, I can’t wait to read “The Lowland.” Now you’ve got me intrigued about those last two chapters, which, if I’m guessing right from your words, relate to some recent, real-life event(s).

      I love novels that have readers thinking a lot about them after they finish, and eagerly rereading parts. The last time that happened to me in a strong way was with George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda” a few months ago.

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      • Yes Dave….they all makes sense at the end. Except one person ” Gouri”, the wife of the deceased younger brother whom the older one marries and brings her back to America still remained a cold hearted person who abandoned her daughter when 5 and her second husband without leaving any forwarding address.

        one likes the book remains on individuals but the superb writings and her poetic flow though the language makes one love the English literature.

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        • The character you mention does NOT sound very likable.

          Great characters and great writing is always a very welcome combination. I agree that Jhumpa Lahiri is among the best living authors when it comes to prose — including prose that can be almost poetic. An older, very different living writer — Cormac McCarthy — is also way up there in the prose department.

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            • Thanks so much for the link, bebe! Terrific Q&A with Jhumpa Lahiri! It really does look like she “stretched” more into history and politics with this novel, while still focusing on characters and story.

              Cormac McCarthy is an interesting mix — his language is beautiful (kind of Faulkner-like and even Bible-like) but his subject matter is usually disturbing. The first novel of his I read was the apocalyptic “The Road” (good, not great). Then there’s “Blood Meridian,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “All the Pretty Horses” — all riveting, but all very violent. “Suttree” in some ways is my favorite McCarthy novel: rambling, not so bloody, and kind of charming.

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                • GREAT polling news from Kentucky! Thanks, bebe, for that link! While Alison Lundergan Grimes isn’t exactly liberal, she’s a heckuva lot better than her GOP opponent.

                  As for Cormac McCarthy, you’re very welcome! I realize we have huge reading lists and can’t get to everything, but if you ever do read McCarthy, I’d be interested to hear what you think!

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                  • Keeping my fingers crossed for KY…hard core liberals will not have a chance…I will go for the moderates in that case.
                    I will save your lists but I am a very slow reader Dave.

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                    • Yes, a moderate rather than liberal winner is about all one can hope for in Kentucky. Plus Grimes would be knocking off the Senate Minority Leader, and perhaps helping to keep the Senate in Democratic hands.

                      I totally understand about reading speed, bebe. Everyone has their own pace, plus it almost goes without saying that there are so many life responsibilities in addition to reading.

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              • Hi Dave, where do you rate Cormac’s other books compared to The Road? That’s the only one of his that I’ve read, and I thought it was pretty close to great, so I’d be interested to hear if you think the others are better?

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                • Hi, Susan! I also thought “The Road” was excellent, but it was not my favorite Cormac McCarthy novel. Off the top of my head, I’d rank his best ones in this order:

                  1. “Blood Meridian” (but VERY violent)
                  2. “Suttree” (rambling but engaging)
                  3. “All the Pretty Horses” (the first of McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”; the second and third books — “The Crossing” and “Cities of the Plain” — are also good but not as good)
                  4. “No Country for Old Men” (also quite violent)
                  5. “The Road”

                  As you probably know, the significant characters in McCarthy’s novels tend to be male, which is a drawback. But what a writer he is! Sort of like a slightly more accessible Faulkner.

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                    • You’re very welcome, bebe — and good morning! It was nice to see a comment from LP in the other post, wasn’t it?

                      I hear you about avoiding violent novels; even if they’re great, the bloodshed saps a lot of the enjoyment out of it. I started “Blood Meridian” not knowing how violent it would be, and got drawn in by the amazing writing even as all the butchery sickened me. Cormac McCarthy didn’t flinch in showing the brutal reality of how the 19th-century American West was “won.”

                      “Suttree” may be the least violent of McCarthy’s best novels, though there’s also some depressing stuff in it. (Cormac doesn’t “do” happy. πŸ™‚ ). “All the Pretty Horses” has some violent moments, but not as many as “Blood Meridian” and “No Country for Old Men” — which stars an amoral psycho who’s as scary as can be.

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                    • Hi Dave…it is very nice to read her post. When others disappeared which is absolutely a okay she is always there .
                      I have a lot of issues going on this week so I am holding back to your latest one. Thanks for opinion on McCarthy`s books I will definitely search for them.

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                  • Thanks, Dave. Good to see such a great book at the bottom of the list. I will definitely add Cormac to my list as an author that I’d like to read more of. I’m ok with violence as long as there’s a point to it, and it’s not done just for the sake of being violent. I found both the writing, and the characters, in The Road to be beautiful. I couldn’t believe that something so stark and bleak, could be so deep, and so hopeful. Actually, now that I’m on the topic, I’d like to ask what you made of the ending?

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                    • You’re welcome, Susan!

                      I do think McCarthy’s mayhem has a point — basically showing how violent a society the U.S. can be, and how that violent vibe and stuff like poverty makes certain individuals do very bad things.

                      It’s been several years since I read “The Road,” and I’m trying to remember the ending! The father dies and the son goes off with someone else in that bleak apocalyptic landscape? If I’m remembering that ending correctly, I think I was satisfied with it in the context of the novel. What did you think of the ending?

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  2. There are so many unhappy marriages in Classical Literature and there are many I have read where the wife treated the husband with so much contempt and the husband was usually the cuckold, Tolstoy – Anna Karenina, D.H. Lawrence – Women in Love -Gudrun, D.H. Lawrence – Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Flaubert – Madame Bovary (actually cried for Charles Bovary) , Margaret Mitchell – GWTW – Scarlett. Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure – Arabella Donn and Sue Bridehead. Daniel Defoe – Moll Flanders (married five times and including her half brother) I can remember reading a commentary by Virginia Woolfe saying that Eliot’s Middlemarch was the reality for women and certainly not the happy ending marriages that Jane Austen’s novels depicted.

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    • Thanks for the excellent comment, Lisa! There are indeed tons of unhappy marriages in the classics, and, as you note, some of those couples (probably not the majority?) are comprised of the wife being less sympathetic than the husband. You offered several superb examples of that.

      Virginia Woolf had a point; wonderful that you mentioned it. And as great as Jane Austen was, her happy endings of engagements and marriages (while upbeat to read) make her novels less satisfying than those by someone like George Eliot — whose works are absolutely amazing.

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            • And Chekhov wrote more stories (and some plays, of course).

              I’ve only read one Chopin work — “The Awakening” novel — so I don’t know her writing well.

              I just checked Wikipedia, and Chopin and the decade-younger Chekhov were almost exact contemporaries, dying less than two months apart in 1904.

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              • “The Storm” is a great introduction to Kate Chopin, (and of course “The Story of an Hour.”) It is short, yet powerful, and her messages of family and marriage are never stronger than in this story of love, attraction, and …. I won’t spoil it for you. I believe it runs only 4-5 pages.

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                    • Louise certainly experienced wonderful mental happiness for that brief period of time.

                      “The Story of an Hour” is an example of how some tales are of their time. It might not have worked in our time, because a 21st-century Louise could have called her husband on her cell phone to see if he had survived the train crash. πŸ™‚

                      It’s amazing how some short stories that are very short can still be so powerful. As I might have mentioned before, I experienced that recently with Graham Greene’s highly original/memorably macabre “Proof Positive.”

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                    • Great point, Eric. It certainly was more difficult in that time for a woman to leave an unhappy marriage, but, as you note, it was not unprecedented — in literature and in real life.

                      More recent literature, of course, is filled with women getting out of bad unions (though it’s of course still not easy). In the mass-audience-fiction area, one example of that I read this year was Stephen King’s “Rose Madder.”

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  3. Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones.” the parents of Susie salmon seemed to have a very close,long standing relationship but it changed when their daughter was murdered. As in Franzens “Freedom” the wife’s fled,in “Bones” to san Francisco from NH,in Freedom to nyc,Brooklyn to escape their lives that they needed to step far away from,find themselves,a new perspective on how they viewed not just respective spouses but their own lives,their sense of self,of their own importance,roles on a bigger scale then husband/wife. As in many books,all seems status quo,going through the day to day,then something catches up,a tragedy,a partner who strays,disenchantment of not doing things for themselves,needing their own personal explorations. For these well written characters,the strong bonds they had brought them back after separation. Its the being allowed to be set free through trust, in time the bond may be even stronger upon return.

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    • “The Lovely Bones” — a great addition to this discussion, Michele, and a heartbreaking novel. Thanks for mentioning it, and the also-excellent “Freedom,” in your eloquent comment.

      It’s true what you said about how major events can really shake up a marriage — making it different and/or better (hopefully) or blowing up the relationship completely. I found the reconciliation at the end of “Freedom” believable; Patty had certainly matured to some extent, and also realized that Walter loved her. Richard the indie rocker, who Patty had strayed with, loved only himself.

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  4. Another great blog Dave..the first person I could think of was Mr. Rochester from your favorite book Emma..but that `s covered here by many . In Pride and Prejudice there was Mr. Bennett the patriarch of the household and then the shrill voice of Mrs. Bennett whose main goal was to get their daughters married the richer they are happier she gets no other question asked. Mr. Bennett exasperated from her needy personalities spend most of his time in his Library. His only respite was when his beloved daughter Elizabeth seek him out for advise and various other issues. That does not should like a happy marriage.

    The book i am reading now ” Low Land” i`d say read three forth`s of it…is a novel and Jhumpa Lahiri’s language blew me away once again with her gentle and easy flow like reading a prose. It started In Calcutta , East India where two brothers Subhash and Udayan only fifteen months between them grew up in a modest home. Story started in mid 60`s when both were students in Presidency college when trouble began..The older brother went to America where the second phase of the story continues . The younger one Udayan got involved in dangerous politics and was executed early on by the law enforcement in front of his newly married bride Gouri who was pregnant at that time.
    Without giving much details…Subhash came home and saw how newly widowed Gouri was treated as a nonexistent entity in his parents home. Furious by their attitude he propose marring Gouri to bring her to America to escape, hoping one day she would love him as her husband.

    The day never came…Gouri was only interested in higher studies was not a giving mother to Bella and left home without any forwarding address…

    Subhash remained a married man without a wife….with only Bella who was not even his child…the saga continues…..and i`ll come back after I finish,,,

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Bebe!

      “Jane Eyre” and “Pride and Prejudice” — two superb classics with characters in negative (and positive) relationships. Loved your description of the Bennet marriage dynamics!

      Also sounds like there are fascinating relationship dynamics in the new Jhumpa Lahiri novel. Thanks for that great description, too.

      You named novels by women authors. I wonder if marriages and marriage problems are depicted a bit better by female than male authors. Hard to say; I’ve certainly read a number of novels by men — several mentioned in my column — that also convincingly convey problematic marriages. Just thinking out loud. πŸ™‚

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      • Hi Dave..that is a very important point you raised…about female authors. The other characters in P & P were mentioned in your blog so I wrote of Mr. and Mrs Bennett.

        On Low Land..I can`t wait to finish the book , then I will let you know what I think of it. One aspect of the book I could say if you ever choose to read it you notice the beauty of the language.

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        • Thanks, bebe! I guess it would be virtually impossible to analyze that female vs. male author thing in any kind of non-subjective way. πŸ™‚

          Beauty of language in a novel is such a great thing, and I’m sure Jhumpa Lahiri is equally good with characters and story in her new book.

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          • Dave just finished the ” Low Land”…I found the book to be powerful and so well written.
            So many times choosing a book I get helpful hints by library patrons. This person when returning the book said to me she was satisfied how it ended. I say the same thing…

            Somewhere as the book was progressing I found some characters particularly the younger brother to be too tolerant and yielding with the circumstances given to him that surrounds him.

            In the end…the book become alive again, the daughter who was not really his…stood up for the only father she had ever known in full of splendor yet remained open for the future for the sake of her own little girl which was denied in life by her own mother.

            The chapter ended but there still remains hope…

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            • Thanks, bebe, for your interesting thoughts on Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel! After seeing your comment, I very much want to read it. I’m hoping my local library will have it later this month.

              Satisfying endings (among other things) are very important to a book; I’ve read a lot of great novels with conclusions I wished were a little better.

              Lahiri’s earlier “Interpreter of Maladies” and “The Namesake” were certainly excellent!

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              • Actually I like this book better than the other two…although somewhere in the middle it lost a bit I thought, but take your time. The book was from an year ago..so is less in demand. What I understand after Namesake this was the other novel.
                There is another…book or short stories Unaccustomed Earth I have not read.

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                • “The Lowland” better than the other two books? Now that’s VERY good. And a number of excellent novels have less-than-stellar parts amid the more-numerous better parts. πŸ™‚

                  I haven’t read “Unaccustomed Earth,” either.

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                  • But that is only my opinion..this one is a fiction yet covered a lot of raw history and unrest during that time period, young lives of bright students were lost unceremoniously for the wrong reasons.

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                    • Well, bebe, your opinion about various novels and novelists has been correct so many times — on books by Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, John Grisham, etc.!

                      Sounds like “The Lowland” has some historical-fiction elements…

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                    • yes…the history no matter how unpleasant and unwelcome that was not to be ignored. As the scoreboard is trying to do…erase the unpleasant truth. So history remains a mystery among school children.

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                    • I totally agree, bebe! Negative history should be known and needs to be known, despite what a certain Colorado school board’s members (and many other conservatives) think. There are unfortunately plenty of people who would like students to be ignorant. It’s great that many students won’t accept that.

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                    • Dave…hi…that is excellent that you found the book, eventually I will buy The Lowland paperback…today not at the grocery story. There is book rack of old books , anyways then I could mail it to you.

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                    • Thanks, bebe! I might eventually take you up on your very kind offer, but will hope “The Lowland” is at the library next time. They did have two copies of “The Namesake”… πŸ™‚

                      I’m going to read Henry James’ “The Portrait of a Lady” first, then move to Harper Lee’s novel — which I haven’t read in SO long!

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                    • Hope so…I would like to purchase Lowland but do not want to pay so much…hope you get it and if I am able to get one I could easily mail it to you. I was home today except running to the grocery..it has been a spectacular day already walked my pup ! Last 3 days soaking rain and cold and starts again the same tomorrow.

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                    • I hear you, bebe, about purchasing relatively new books; they often cost a lot.

                      Weather’s beautiful here today, too. Sounds like today is the one weather bright spot for your area this week. I’m sure your dog greatly enjoyed the walk!

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      • Interesting point on the female author question , one that occurs to me is Zora Neale Hurston and Their Eyes Were Watching God. After running away from a bad arranged marriage Janie marries Joe Stark who becomes the big wig Mayor of an all black town in Florida. The union turns so awful that when Joe is lying on his death bed Janie takes the opportunity to tell him all that was wrong and everything he missed. His passing leaves her as a rich women and the town’s virtual queen so of course she runs away with Teacake ,a man 10 years her junior and with next to nothing. This ,her “happy marriage” , ends when in the midst of a hurricane Teacake is bit by a dog ,becomes rabid and Janie is forced to shoot him. As I said that was her good romance.

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        • Donny, the very absorbing “Their Eyes Were Watching God” doesn’t have many upbeat moments, as you so descriptively note. Perhaps that was one of Zora Neale Hurston’s points — happiness was a very elusive thing for most African-Americans decades and more ago, for all the obvious reasons. Even when things went well, it often didn’t last.

          The Hurston relationship I sometimes wonder about: How did she get along (as a coworker) with Margaret Mead when those two Barnard College graduates were on anthropology projects? πŸ™‚

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    • I wqould say thaMr and Mrs. Bennett’s realtionship was a more endeariong one than that, with time spent in the library a purposeful ingredient to a family in which he is a country gentleman and does not need to work to support the estate. The fact that the entire first paragraph is a conversation between them does reveal endearing qualities about each person and their actual admiration and respect for one another with humorous interludes in between.

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      • You have a point there as I have forgotten there endearing relashionship.
        Read the book so many times and later the movies including the BBC’s came about .
        Thanks for the reminder that means I should re-read the book again.

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        • As so often with the great classics, they may have things we imagine to be there which aren’t, and don’t see things which are readily apparent. My students love to argue how they hated each other and every once in a while, I can see their point.

          How great classical characters become so familiar to us is a mystery and that we consider them to almost be as real as people we know is very mysterious indeed. I don’t know how many PhD dissertations I read simply on the first chapter alone of “Pride and Prejudice.”

          It reminds me of the two scholarly works by two professorial brothers at Oxford who argue opposite views of Hamlet’s madness, in over 400 pages each.

          And of course, YOU may be right! haha

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          • Oh I know better than to argue with someone who deals with the classics in their profession. Actually after I wrote my post I read yours about the happy marriage of the Bennett’s and chuckled to myself and sure enough you caught that..ha…

            In my mind was the picture of the six part BBC series with the actors stuck in my mind whose faces particularly Colin Firth as Darcy took over the actual book.
            It is hilarious…

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  5. As bad marriages is our topic, I mention another: the marriage between inventor Carl Tobler and his wife in Swiss author Robert Walser’s The Apprentice. Tobler fancies himself to be a genius inventor, a wonder-worker, but his inventions are more often than not a bit odd–a vending machine for bullets is one, a clock to which one might affix advertisements is another– and find no investors. Tobler has squandered his inheritance on his chosen career, and cannot pay salaries or his debts. His marriage, dependent on the fiction of his genius and the inevitability of his commercial success, founders amid recrimination and impending ruin.

    But I mention it mostly as a lead-in to something that occurred to me last night as I watched a biography of Albert Einstein:

    Before his offerings to scientific journals catapulted him to international renown, from 1902-1909 Einstein worked in Berne Switzerland in the patent office. He read through applications from Swiss citizens, naturally, and so, he must have read through some of the more exotic and peculiar ones in the course of his duties, which means, he read through the applications from the real-life equivalents of Carl Tobler!

    Even a bit more coincidentally, The Assistant is first published in 1909, when Einstein was still working in the patent office. And a last one: Carl Seelig wrote Wandering with Robert Walser, a biographical work on the author, on the basis of several walks they took together late in Walser’s life. Seelig today, according to the internets, is best known for his biography of Albert Einstein! I have found no indication that Walser knew Einstein, but it’s fun to think he might have.

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    • Good one, jhNY! That was indeed a problematic marriage in Walser’s excellent novel. Literature is full of the impractical/not-always-responsible hubby — whether in “World’s Fair,” “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” or with the secondary character of Semyon Marmeladov in “Crime and Punishment.”

      And I love those coincidences/connections you mentioned relating to Walser and Einstein. Nicely played.

      History definitely has a few of those weird “xx degrees of separation” things — whether it’s John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both dying on the exact 50th anniversary (July 4, 1826) of the Declaration of Independence or Shakespeare and Cervantes dying within a day of each other in 1616 (though the differences in England’s and Spain’s calendars meant they died a few more days apart than that).

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    • For some odd reason, I was just reminded of the really bad marriage between Torvald and Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” Ibsen painted a very real understanding of not only how husband and wife grow apart, but how rapidly it happens in fiction.

      And speaking of other bad marriages, Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog accentuates the future of two people who have been cheating on their spouses for such a long time, there is no reason to believe their rela;relationship will be any better.

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      • Thanks for those Ibsen and Chekhov mentions, Eric!

        Yes, things can indeed happen really fast in fiction. It takes a lot of authorial skill to believably telescope a year or a lifetime in a novel that’s read in a few hours.

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        • And a lifetime in a mere few pages, as the life imagined by Mrs. Mallard and the freedom that she would enjoy after hearing upon the news, though incorrectly, of the death of her husband. in the Kate Chopin short story, “The Story of an Hour.”

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          • Eric, that Kate Chopin story sounds VERY intriguing!

            I’m reminded of the famous, haunting “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode in which Capt. Jean-Luc Picard is under some sort of power that has him live a lifetime in an hour.

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            • I actually remember that episode, Dave. The captain was struggling with having a son who wanted to be a stage performer and not another scientist in the family, and his ability to extract water from the atmosphere to save the planet which some people knew was dying (the planet, not his son) at he time.

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              • That’s it, Eric! One of the best episodes of the seven-year “TNG” series, and there were many great ones. Patrick Stewart’s acting in that episode, and in the series in general, was magnificent.

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                  • Sounds fantastic, Eric! Somehow I missed that one, despite watching at least 95% of the episodes.

                    “It was a dark and stormy night” — the famous opening line in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel “Paul Clifford.” As you know, later used many times by Snoopy as he typed away on top of his doghouse. πŸ™‚

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                    • Thanks, Eric! That might explain why I missed that episode. I watched some of season one, much of season two, and then I don’t think I missed an episode after that. Had almost everything videotaped, too, but the tapes got ruined when my (former) basement flooded during Hurricane Irene in 2011. Not that I had a working VCR to play them anymore… πŸ™‚

                      If I’m remembering right, season two was when Diana Muldaur temporarily replaced Gates McFadden as the doctor. Not a great move!

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                    • At least they fixed it by bringing Dr. Crusher back!

                      (I forget whether her year-long absence from The Enterprise was somehow explained, or whether it was depicted as never having happened.)

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                    • Being a Trekkie is great! Thanks, Eric, for that explanation of Dr. Crusher’s absence!

                      I guess The Enterprise in “TNG” could return to Earth, or have a crew member return to Earth — unlike the catapulted-much-too-far-away spaceship in “Star Trek: Voyager” (until the last episode).

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                    • Thanks, Eric! It has been so long since I watched that 1987-1994 series that I forgot about those periodic returns to Earth — though, as our conversation indicates, I didn’t forget some specific episodes. πŸ™‚ In many ways, “TNG” was my favorite of the five “Trek” TV series — even over the iconic original. Which was your favorite?

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                    • TNG was also my favorite series, but I didn’t like two aspects of it. Families lived on board which created too many similar plot lines when it dealt with the families,. And too many episodes centered on the Holodeck which made things too unrealistic, even though the series does require a small suspension of disbelief; the Holodeck just crushed it.

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                    • Eric, glad to hear “TNG” was also your favorite! I don’t think any other performer in the five series had Patrick Stewart’s acting “chops,” and the story lines were often inventive and fantastic.

                      I hear you about an over-reliance on family and Holodeck story lines, though some of the Holodeck scenarios were quite engaging and exciting.

                      By the way, I once saw Capt. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) of “Voyager” in a NYC restaurant!

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                    • I didn’t. She was busy eating and chatting with some people at her table, and, also, I’m someone who never asks celebrities for autographs. I’ve missed out on some good ones because of that. 😦

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                    • Eric, it makes me wonder if the off-the-charts prolific Asimov had one of those time-bending things going, (like Hermione Granger in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) that enabled him to produce so much. πŸ™‚ Fantastic that he responded to you personally!

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  6. nick and amy dunne from the book gone girl – I kind of hated in parts and liked it others.. mostly because i dislike the both of them so much… they blame the economy for their marriage being in the state it is in but it seems that their whiney entitled immature spoiled personalities have more to do with it then anything else.

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    • Great mention, Kristy, and very timely with the “Gone Girl” movie less than a week in theaters!

      I hear you — it CAN be hard to like a book with unlikable characters. Some exceptions, of course — for instance, I loathed the characters in Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian” but was bowled over by the novel itself.

      Thanks for your two comments!

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  7. Lana’s parents and rita and harry from the novel the lion is in – delia Ephron
    lana’s mom is violent and mean and her dad just takes it .
    harry is a domineering bully who takes advantage of sweet rita and tells his church he married her out of charity.

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    • Thanks, Kristy, for mentioning and vividly describing that Delia Ephron book! That book fits right into this sobering topic we’re all discussing.

      Coincidentally, I just saw an Ephron-cowritten play — “How to Eat Like a Child” — in my town’s community theater. It was VERY funny, unlike “The Lion Is In.”

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      • Eric, please describe that Hemingway letter to Dietrich! πŸ™‚ I’m not familiar with it.

        (Hemingway certainly had a checkered love life/married life (lives)! And, speaking of Dietrich, I believe she and author Erich Maria Remarque had a relationship at one point.)

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        • They had met each other in First Class on an ocean liner in 1934. He had sent her several letters in which he addressed her as “Dearest Kraut”, very bizarre, and after she had complained about her Las Vegas shows, he replied that he would have shot her out of a canon, naked and drunk, I think and then approach her from her seat. I am not really sure of the details, because I haven’t read the letter in a while but we had looked at it in class when I found a copy online a few years ago. one of the letters can be read here:

          http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/03/19/read-ernest-hemingways-love-letter-to-marlene-dietrich/

          In a way, it resembles his succinct style and emotional prose, but like one of my students said, AH, WHEN YOU ARE IN LOVE….” I think he meant we can say the craziest things when in love. Maybe we should not have gone over “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the week before.

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          • Eric, that is indeed a bizarre letter — very crude and kind of engaging, and, as you note, one can definitely see Hemingway’s famous writing style lurking within the banter.

            If Dietrich were ever shot out of a cannon, that scenario could be titled “The Actress Also Rises.” πŸ™‚

            Loved the wry last line of your comment!

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          • What is even stramger is when he mentions how he would envision himself with Burt Lancaster’s body, but pictures of Hemingway without a shirt at the time suggested he was even in better shape than Burt

            If you ever get to the JFK Library, in Boston of course, you can read about 25 letters in their collection from Hemingway to Dietrich.

            The letters are so “Hemingway-ishly written.”
            But the topic is “off the charts.”

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            • Eric, thanks for the follow-up comment!

              I guess Hemingway might have been in better shape than Lancaster from a visual point of view, but I’ve read that “Papa” had some serious health problems by that point.

              Author letters can be fascinating. One wonders whether they realized or not that there was a good chance those (sometimes very personal, sometimes quite embarrassing) letters would eventually be published!

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  8. Did you mention Alice walker’s Color Purple? Kate Chopin was probably the “Queen” of the bad marriage story. In everything from “The Storm” and beyond, she portrayed marriage as essentially a prison that women should break free from.

    But surprisingly, when i think of bad marriages, I think of “Pride and Prejudice” in which the bad ones are sandwiched between the good ones. The good ones: Mr and Mrs. Bennett, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (at the end), Jane and Mr. Bingley (at the end), and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.

    The bad ones: Lydia and Mr. Wickham, Charlotte and Mr. Collins, I actually thought there were a few more. My memory must be fading.

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    • Eric, I had thought of mentioning “The Color Purple” but had drawn a blank on remembering whether the bad relationships in that novel involved marriages or not. I last read Alice Walker’s terrific book three decades ago.

      Heck, Kate Chopin was essentially right about many marriages during the era in which she lived, more than a century ago.

      Great paragraphs about “Pride and Prejudice”! It’s amazing how many marriages Jane Austen depicted in that novel and her various other books. She certainly could expertly juggle a lot of characters and situations.

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  9. Dave, read Chekhov’s (very) short play “On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco”:
    http://www.wdjoyner.org/writing/public-domain/chekhov/chekhov_on-the-harmful-effects-of-tobacco_play1902.pdf

    The main (and only) character, Ivan Ivanovich Nyukhin, gives a hilarious and heartbreaking — as usual in Chehkov — glimpse into a dysfunctional marriage and a sorry situation of a henpecked husband.

    I watched it last night on YouTube (but that’s not where the above link will take you) in a brilliant 1971 performance by a phenomenal Polish character actor, late Tadeusz Fijewski, who exemplified the type of henpecked husbands and poor Joes Schmoes everywhere.

    You can see him for yourself — although his performance is in Polish, you’ll get a sense of who he was (perfect for that particular role): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd0h34hiBwk

    Fun fact: that was the first color transmission of the Polish TV Theater.

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    • Bella, I just read that short Chekhov play. It is indeed hilarious, and sad, and written like a dream, and definitely stars a henpecked husband in a very problematic marriage. Thank you very much for linking to it!

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  10. For a troubled and troubling bad marriage, in the context of the precious pretensions and poses of a circle of brightish young people who would be artists but are office drones and their wives, I’d recommend “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates. The husband chafes at his advertising job because he sees himself as a serious writer, hobbled only by the necessity of work and the usual expectations and problems of middle-class life. And she imagines herself to be an actress, though the novel makes it apparent her imagination is stronger than her talent, though her own energies are mostly put in service of her husband’s ambitions. They are not what they would prefer to be, and when events test their vanities, tragedies, in various manifestations, ensue– one of which is literally deadly.

    The book is meticulous and unsparing in its dissection of American 1950’s suburban life, marriage and self-delusion of the artsy variety. One of the most disturbing novels I have read, possibly because it hit me where I live, more directly than I was prepared for.

    Yates deserves more readers than he has ever had, but will not likely get them, I think, until such time as his observations and depictions lose a bit of their unsettling power.

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    • Thanks, jhNY, for the exceptional description of “Revolutionary Road” — and the work, social, and personal issues that novel brings up. I want to read it!

      Though I didn’t see it, I remember the relatively recent “RR” movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in their first teaming since “Titanic.” Being thwarted in one’s creative ambitions is like hitting a metaphorical iceberg.

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      • Having more ambition than creativity is possibly worse– worse still, having more pretension than either.

        Yates is one tough read. His “Easter Parade” has haunted my wife for decades. I have yet to work up the gumption to tackle it. Have read a short story collection of his, and found it uniformly good. In the last fifteen years or thereabouts, a Yates fragment describing a Second World War experience made its way in to Harper’s Magazine– very nicely done, and, though I haven’t seen it since, something I’ll bet is well worth seeking out.

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        • “Having more ambition than creativity is possibly worse – worse still, having more pretension than either” — so true, jhNY, and well said!

          And thanks for the further thoughts about Richard Yates’ work. A book haunting someone for decades is one haunting book.

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    • Revolutionary Road is an excellent example of a marriage gone sour while as you say hugely underrated. I feel Yate’s indictment of mid 20th century American suburbia a lot more profound than that of the more popular and critically praised John Cheever. Interestingly enough when the awful movie of the novel was released James Wood wrote an excellent essay on Yates for the New Yorker in which he contrasted Frank Wheeler to Madame Bovary , to the disadvantage of the former in many ways as a genuine seeker of either a higher love or creative existence . It does seem in every work discussed so far the women started off with the deck stacked against them and however hard they strived for whatever they were seeking there was never a doubt the future held failure. I do hope things have at least inproved a little.

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      • Agree with your thoughts re Cheever by comparison to Yates. That Bovary reference made me look up the book on wikipedia and there I found two quotes of note by notables:

        Kurt Vonnegut called it “The Great Gatsby of my time… one of the best books by a member of my generation.”

        Tennessee Williams also praised the book: “Here is more than fine writing; here is what, added to fine writing, makes a book come immediately, intensely and brilliantly alive. If more is needed to make a masterpiece in modern American fiction, I am sure I don’t know what it is.”

        ps Wish you lived in New York– I would love to scan your bookshelves and write down titles I haven’t read, or better, know nothing about. You and I seem to have read many things in common.

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  11. Dave, good topic, are a lot of books driven by bad marriages as well as having them as part of another story. I first thought of the following two that you didn’t mention.

    In the last two books of “The Kent Family Chronicles” John Jakes demonstrates two marriages falling apart, one because of abuse by the husband and the other because the wife goes crazy. Both result in divorce and drive portions of the story such as a second husband moving to Boston (if I remember correctly) from Virginia in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the ex-wife of the abuser actually dating him for a while. (The two men were 2nd or 3rd cousins).

    The other is Arthur and Guinevere. That unhappy marriage has really stuck in our minds as a culture. Though there is little to discuss about it directly it does result in Arthur’s death in several of the tales. Lancelot not being there at the final battle due to his banishment over the affair is the listed cause.

    I must say you really tapped a nearly limitless and quite old literary tool.

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    • Yes, GL, this topic is nearly limitless. Things may have been more manageable if I wrote about HAPPY marriages in literature. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for the interesting paragraph about those two “Kent Family Chronicles” books, which sound very dramatic. Many marriages of course were just as bad in the 19th century as in more modern times, but divorce was considered more shocking then and women were often stuck in bad unions for reasons such as having fewer opportunities to make an independent living.

      Arthur and Guinevere — excellent addition to this discussion, going way back.

      I appreciate the great comment!

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  12. The first one that comes to mind is Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Underneath the surface gags, misdirection and laughs, there is a festering cesspool that promotes deep-seated hatred, but perversely sustains the marriage.

    How about The Taming of the Shrew? Well, the marriage comes at the end, but Petruchio’s pursuit of Kate is a raging battle. Until Kate surrenders and has been “trained” to obey her husband in all matters. In Shakespeare’s time, this may have been a just resolution, in ours not so much.

    (Interesting side note: in film versions of these two plays, both couples were portrayed by Burton and Taylor.)

    Continuing with Shakespeare, how about Macbeth/ Lady Macbeth? Don’t accept an invitation to their castle.

    Even in children’s literature, we see something like Roald Dahl’s Mr. and Mrs. Twit, where the couple plays mean tricks on each other.

    Another that comes to mind most recently that I’ve read is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. The subtext and dynamics corroding the marriage of the main characters makes you want to squirm as you read it.

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    • Responding to your comment from the bottom to top of it, I agree that the marriage dynamics between the sort-of-neurotic Patty and the lower-key Walter are fascinating in Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom.” That’s a union that struggled with mismatched personalities, different priorities, adultery, and more.

      Though I didn’t get into it in my column, many plays — three of which you named — have really intriguing troubled marriages. (“Don’t accept an invitation to their castle” — LOL, re the Macbeths.) Among the other great plays I can think of with marriages that leave something to be desired include Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” and August Wilson’s “Fences.”

      Great point about how disdain can ironically sustain a marriage, as in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In a way, hatred prevents the age-old problem of a marriage becoming boring! πŸ™‚ But not a price most people would want to pay.

      Thanks, Joe, for your eloquent and informative comment!

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        • You’re right, Joe, likable characters in “Freedom” are few and far between. Perhaps Joey’s girlfriend Connie and Walter’s girlfriend Lalitha? And the unlikable characters have likable moments — as when Walter does his TV rant and Patty matures somewhat. (The rocker Richard is one of the exceptions; I found him thoroughly obnoxious!)

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    • Joseph, you reminded me of “Maniac Magee” with your mention of children’s books. In that book the title character has to go live with his aunt and uncle. The two are described as devote Catholics who will not get divorced so they have two of everything, even toasters.

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      • GL, that two-of-everything situation is sadly hilarious!

        Joe and GL, I imagine that unhappy marriages aren’t TOO prevalent in children’s literature, which is often designed to reassure kids. (YA lit, of course, is another matter.) I have two daughters, and I’m drawing a blank on children’s books with battling parents. Of course, I’m sure there are some kids’ books that specifically talk about divorce and such.

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        • Dave, I was intrigued by your question about children’s books and unhappy marriages, so I did a little research, and the one book written by someone I knew about was “Jane of Lantern Hill,” by L.M. Montgomery. From reading the plot, it appears that the unhappy marriage had most to do with the mother’s interfering parents than anything (who convince Jane that her father is dead). However, I’m pleased to say that there appears to be a happy ending, thank goodness.

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          • Thanks, Kat Lib, for doing that research and finding what might be a rare example of unhappy parents in children’s literature! Leave it to the amazing L.M. Montgomery to do something original like that. πŸ™‚ One my favorite authors.

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        • What about this angle: authors who were children of divorce and/or grew up in unstable homes. Perfect example would be Richard Wright. In Black Boy, he described the dysfunctional relationship between his parents. The father decided he didn’t want to be a husband and provider, and left his family for another woman. I believe at one point, Wright met his father’s mistress (he was around 5-6 years old).

          For years, Richard Wright associated his hunger, brutal poverty, and anger with his father’s absenteeism. And with good reason too because the father’s departure caused a domino effect. Father left the marriage and children, and moved on with another woman…mother worked menial jobs to support her children the best way she could…relatives stepped in…bouncing back and forth between relatives did not create a safe, nurturing, and stable home life.

          It’s horrible to say, but Richard Wright’s circumstances molded him and made him one of the greatest authors in history (IMO).

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          • Thanks, Anonymous! That IS an interesting angle — one I can relate to, being the child of a very bad marriage that ended in an acrimonious divorce.

            Rough childhood experiences, such as the horrendous ones faced by the great Richard Wright, can indeed profoundly affect a future author’s psyche and what they eventually write. One even wonders if a totally happy person (if such a person exists) could write a truly great novel.

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            • Growing up in the Mid-South, I was surrounded by music. Delta and juke joint musicians used to say “you can’t play the blues unless you’ve lived it.” Same philosophy applies to some authors. Richard Wright could not have created his masterpieces without life experiences. Novels as brutal and raw as Native Son and Black Boy came from a place of anger, pain, poverty, and a myriad of social ills. So you’re right…a totally happy person content with life would have been unsuccessful in producing something along the lines of those two books.

              And congratulate me for once again working in the topic of music where it doesn’t belong. LOL.

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              • Music belongs everywhere. πŸ™‚ Actually, another comment thread under this column ended up discussing ZZ Top!

                As for your eloquent first paragraph, absolutely. Authors “born on third base” can certainly write compelling novels about suffering (Edith Wharton is an example), but it’s harder for them to depict suffering as viscerally as someone like Richard Wright did. Charles Dickens, too, couldn’t have written the way he wrote without his painful experience as a child laborer when his father was in debtors’ prison.

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              • A hearty Helloooooooo and Well…congrats , Love reading especially when you incorporate music in your post so very artfully !
                I should try to do the same, why didn’t I think of that before ?

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                • *waves at bebe* I normally wave with both hands, but I’m holding and eating an apple with my right hand *waves my left hand and apple at bebe* LOL.

                  Listening to music and reading are on my top 5 list of favourite activities. When I travel in the U.S., Canada, or abroad, I hit the local book and music stores before I do anything else. Very easy for me to integrate two activities that I love doing.

                  Out of all of Dave’s HP articles (and they’re all great), my number one fav is and will always be his “Music in Literature” piece. I was like a kid in a candy store…didn’t know where to begin:)

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                  • Anonymous, I realize you were replying to bebe, but thought I’d pop in here briefly to thank you for your kind words about my HP pieces in general and the “Music in Literature” one in particular! It was fun to write, and fun to read your comments and others’ comments under it!

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                    • There was another one you wrote: Literary References in Songs. You mentioned Rush/Tom Sawyer, and I took it from there:)

                      I’m pretty sure it’s been removed by HP, but I clearly remember that piece.

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                    • Thanks, Anonymous! When I last looked, the literary-references-in-songs piece was still there but all the comments underneath it were gone. Perhaps HP was making an ironic statement about “The Sound of Silence”?

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                    • Ha! Very kind of you to say that, Eric! Paul Simon certainly was the “brains” behind Simon & Garfunkel and of course has had an infinitely more successful post-S&G career. Any success I’ve had is gnat-sized compared to that of HP, but the site is not exactly, shall we say, reader-friendly. πŸ™‚

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                    • LOVE that Joni Mitchell song, bebe! Thanks for linking to it! Thanks, also, for your kind words about my HP posts in “the olden days.” πŸ™‚

                      I have a new post planned for this Sunday evening with a theme that will be a little different. (Jhumpa Lahiri is mentioned briefly in it.)

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                    • You are so welcome Dave, the sad part is we are not allowed to read the conversation because they erased all of them.
                      What are they so afraid of to do that ?
                      Oh well…it is their loss and your blog is getting better and better..brilliant idea on your part. Also by next week i should be able to finish the book also.

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                    • As you know, bebe, a lot of people put a lot of thought and effort into those comments. Then, thrown away like garbage. 😦

                      Thanks for your generous words about the blog, and I look forward to your thoughts on Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest book!

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                    • Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies” is one of my favorite short stories of hers, and is incredibly ironic when the protagonist, a professional medical interpreter, is unable to correctly interpret a woman’s true feelings towards him. I don’t want to reveal the plot further; it has always been one of my favorites.

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                    • Eric, “Interpreter of Maladies” is indeed an incredible short story in an impressive collection of the same name, and you mentioned the very reason the tale is so exceptional.

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        • Joe, I just read a description of “The Twits” on Wikipedia, and it sounds…memorable. πŸ™‚

          The Roald Dahl books I remember my daughter reading were “Matilda” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

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  13. For epically bad unions it would be well nigh impossible to top the ancient Greeks. Menelaus’s bride Helen’s running off and shacking up with Paris led to the Trojan War and the end of The Age of Hero’s. When Jason foolishly started stepping out on the witch Medea according to some telling’s as revenge she slit the throats of their two youngest children in front of him. Horrific consequences to be sure but are they really that much more brutal than a modern divorce proceeding with lawyers?

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    • “Epically bad unions” indeed! The ancient Greeks did indeed seem to show that happy marriages were often a “myth.” But, as you say, many modern marriages and breakups are pretty crazy, too. I guess certain things don’t change THAT much over the course of 2,000-plus years.

      Thanks, Donny, for another excellent comment! (And I won’t telling any ancient-Greek-literature lovers that “we’ll always have Paris.” πŸ™‚ )

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        • Agreed! I’ve got a book of his quotes someplace, which I hope to stumble upon again sometime, just for the insightful humor and humorous insight.

          When my grandfather died, I inherited a cheap but sturdy edition of Twain’s collected works (maybe 2 dozen volumes), including some after-dinner speeches and other relative rarities, minus some of the suppressed stuff, such as Letters from the Earth. Read everything, just about, by the time I was fifteen. But being so young, I know I missed a lot, or rather, they missed me– by going over my head.

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          • What a wonderful inheritance, jhNY! I wish I had time to delve a little more into Twain’s letters, speeches, and other creations besides his novels, short stories, and nonfiction books. Maybe someday.

            “…insightful humor and humorous insight” indeed. Nice phrase!

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  14. Hi Dave, when I saw the title of your latest post, the first novel that came to my mind was “The Custom of the Country,” and the loathsome Undine Spragg. The second was “Anna Karenina,” already mentioned by Donnie. So getting back to Edith Wharton, I’d like to mention her novel “The Age of Innocence,” which chronicles the loveless society marriage between Newland Archer and May Welland. At least it was loveless on the part of Archer, who was madly in love with Countess Ellen Olenska, a cousin of May’s. It’s hard to feel too sorry for Archer, who goes through with the marriage after so much doubt on his part; and then when he is on the verge of leaving May, she announces she is pregnant and he stays with her (although that is understandable, particularly given the era and society he lived in). Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel, the first woman to ever receive that honor (as I just learned from Wikipedia, while checking the spelling of the names of the main characters). “Ethan Frome” is also a good example of a bad marriage, as you so noted.

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    • Kat Lib, you’re absolutely right about the marriage in “The Age of Innocence.” It wasn’t as unhappy as some unions, but, as you note, Newland loved (or thought he loved) Ellen, and May knew it. I still occasionally think about the Paris ending of that superb novel, and why Edith Wharton didn’t allow things to turn out differently for Newland and Ellen.

      Thanks, also, for the mentions of those other novels! Wharton was certainly commenting on a particular kind of American “step on others as you go up the ladder” attitude when giving Undine Spragg the initials of U.S.

      Great piece of information about Wharton’s Pulitzer honor — and great comment in general!

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      • I too always wondered about that ending, as my romantic side wanted them to have their remaining years together. But evidently Archer (or I should say Wharton) knew better than I. Thanks to you for pointing out the why Undine had such a strange name; it now makes perfect sense, as there can’t be too many names starting with “U” (Ursula, maybe?). Thanks too for mentioning “Daniel Deronda.” I watched a TV adaption of it (probably done by the BBC) and have been tempted to pick it up at B&N or the library, which I’ll now do and add it to my ever-growing pile(s) of books to be read, ready to collapse at any moment!

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        • Yes, Kat Lib, I guess we have to respect Newland’s decision. πŸ™‚ But, as you say, it was disappointing. I’ve read six Edith Wharton novels, and, as is the case with many great authors, happy endings didn’t seem to be her thing. Of course, real life often isn’t happy, so non-escapist novels tend to reflect that.

          Undine Spragg’s name is indeed one of the strangest in classic literature. I’ve always been intrigued by the initials some authors use for their characters. Two other prominent examples include Jim Casy (Jesus Christ) in Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and Martin Eden (the autobiographical “me”) in Jack London’s “Martin Eden.”

          To-be-read books piled higher and higher in a soon-to-collapse pile! I can totally see that “picture” you humorously describe! “Daniel Deronda” is definitely worth reading if you ever get a chance. It’s one of my top-ten favorite novels along with “The Age of Innocence” and eight others. “DD” is more sprawling than “The Age of Innocence,” which doesn’t seem to contain a wasted word.

          Thanks for the excellent follow-up comment!

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          • So true about Wharton’s endings. The one that got to me most was “The House of Mirth,” and the tragedy of Lily Bart’s life, which was mostly due to her impoverished state while still being part of New York society and unmarried. Her original “crime” was having the audacity of going to Selden’s rooms unaccompanied. Dave, I think we’ve discussed this before in another one of your posts from the old HP days.

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            • I agree, Kat Lib — the ending to “The House of Mirth” was devastating. Lily Bart was in an almost impossible position in her society; as you note, being single and impoverished helped lead to her downfall. Tied in with that was sexism, bad luck, and bad decisions. Plus some integrity — she could have married for money, not love, but wouldn’t do it.

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            • Kat Lib, there was a “challenge” rattling around Facebook a few weeks ago asking people to name their ten favorite novels. I answered quickly this way, not necessarily in order and with a note saying I probably left some favorites off!

              Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck), Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky), Daniel Deronda (Eliot), The Blue Castle (L.M. Montgomery), Harry Potter series (Rowling), The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), Possession (A.S. Byatt), History (Elsa Morante), The Age of Innocence (Wharton).

              I’d love to see your (approximate) top ten list!

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              • OK. I asked for this, so here goes: “The House of Mirth,” by Edith Wharton; “Pride and Prejudice,” by the great Jane Austen, along with “Persuasion” by the same; “War and Peace,” by Tolstoy; “Gaudy Night,” by Dorothy L. Sayers; “Bleak House,” by Charles Dickens; “The Poisonwood Bible,” by Barbara Kingsolver; “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green; “The Portrait of a Lady,” by Henry James; and the entire Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. Oops, I think I went over the ten, but there is a volcanic event happening right now which shows the fact that the world we live in is not secure.

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                • That’s a great list, Kat Lib! Thanks!

                  Several of your list’s novels — including “The House of Mirth,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Persuasion,” and “The Poisonwood Bible” — might be in my top 25.

                  I’m currently reading Henry James’ “The American” (love it!), and hope to get to “The Portrait of a Lady” during the next few months.

                  Hadn’t heard about that volcanic event until you mentioned it, and just looked it up on Google. Awful. There is no end to bad news during the past few months. 😦

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                • Yes, I found it THAT good. Thanks again for recommending it; I had literally never heard of it before. As we’ve discussed, a real shame it isn’t better known.

                  If you want to post a top-ten list, jhNY, please do! (I know it can be almost impossible to narrow books down to that arbitrary number, and one inevitably forgets about some titles that were read decades ago. If I somehow had a list of every book I’ve ever read to consult, my top ten might look somewhat different.)

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                  • 1. Stendahl

                    My enthusiasms for books and writers do not last long enough for me to imagine I might make a durable list of my fave tens.

                    But in the last few years, I have re-read a few, which to me means I felt they were fine enough to justify going over again, even at the cost of the time I might have spent reading something new: Moby Dick, The Leopard (Lampedusa), A Hero for Our Times (Lermontov), Waves (Ibuse), and The Following Story (Nooteboom).

                    I have also loved reading Walser, Bruno Schultz, ETA Hoffmann, and Joseph Roth over this period. Big previous enthusiasm: IB Singer.

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                    • Thanks, jhNY! Great works and authors there, some I’ve read and some I haven’t. I would love to eventually reread Stendahl, and “Moby-Dick” is definitely in my top 20.

                      You make a great point that wanting to reread a book usually means it’s “up there” in one’s personal rankings.

                      I’ve just read one work by Isaac Bashevis Singer (a short-story collection), but was deeply impressed.

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          • I think we have a tendency to judge these unhappy endings from the perspective of our 21st century freedom where marriage and divorce, while costly, are within the reach of all of us and no longer leave a social stigma. So many of these bad marriages in the 19th century were economical and social necessities and if one was to retain any kind of status, even the men, he would generally continue to stay married (and allow himself the liberty of keeping a mistress). Newland Archer was caught in a trap just as Isabel Archer was caught in one a few years earlier, just for different reasons largely based on their sex. The only thing that liberates Dorothea Brooke and Gwendolen Harleth from their disastrous marriages is death of the reviled spouse; otherwise, they too would have remained unhappily married. To live as openly and freely as George Eliot and George Henry Lewes did was probably pretty rare, in life as well as fiction, in that era.

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            • Superb points, bobess48, and stated perfectly. Marriage was a whole different ballgame back then, and ending a bad union ranged from hard to impossible given unfortunate factors such as women having lesser rights. As you note, death of one spouse was often the only way awful marriages ended. Luckily for Dorothea and Gwendolen, they were still young when that happened.

              Yes, George Eliot and George Henry Lewes (who couldn’t divorce his wife) were outliers in that time. And they (especially Eliot, given the sexist double standard) got plenty of flak. Heck, as you know, Eliot’s jerk of a brother wouldn’t talk to her for decades.

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            • The character in Faulkner’s superb “Light in August”? Indeed an unusual name!

              Once when I was pulling into my driveway several years ago, my car was hit by a car driven by a drunk guy who gave his last name as “Christmas” when he pleaded with me not to call the police. He said he would pay me directly for the damage. Seemed down and out (old clothes and very old car), so I stupidly gave him a break and never got the money from him despite several phone calls (he did give me a real phone number). I guess I could have reported him after the fact but I just let it go.

              He didn’t seem like the type to read Faulkner… πŸ™‚

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              • The JC part is what I was referring to– in an attempt to add to your list of characters with initials of import.

                As for the Christmas story, no good deed, etc.

                I was leaving my apartment building about 30 years ago, and a window grate fell at my feet. I looked up and there was a man dangling out the window, one leg inside, but the rest of him was out, his back against the outer wall, I ran up the eight flights of steps (it was 30 years ago) to his floor and in the hall met a woman who was so frightened she could not talk, but could only point at her door with her key. I grabbed the key, raced inside, and with that strength that can sometimes come to you in an emergency, pulled the man back into the apartment. He was a local lush, who had been paid by a yuppie coupe to wash windows at a dollar each– it had been she who was struck speechless in the hall. He had been holding onto, and not very effectually, the pantscuff of the lush, but had not been able to haul him inside, having no leverage, from his (the yuppie’s) seat on the floor. As the fire engines began to gather outside, the man began counting windows with a ten in his hand, trying to make sure he wouldn’t be over-paying. I pointed out his liabilities as the employer of an obvious lush to do a death-defying job, and passed the ten to the lush who was shaking, but standing, nearby. Then I hustled the lush out of the apartment and into the hall, pressing the down button once I got near it. The firemen came up the elevator just as my door closed and we went down. When we reached the lobby, the lush hugged me and thanked me for saving his life. Then, next beat, he asked me for some money for beer. The couple never spoke to me again, though occasionally, over the next year or so, they would, singly or together, study the elevator floor when I shared the car.

                No good deed, etc.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Oops — sorry I misunderstood your reference, jhNY. As you’ve seen in multi-person threads, a new comment sometimes appears several comments under the comment it’s referring to. While reading “Light in August,” I hadn’t thought of Joe Christmas vis-a-vis Jesus Christ. Will have to mull that one over!

                  Wow, your dramatic story has everything from bravery (yours) to ingratitude (theirs). It’s no wonder that many people prefer their pets over some humans.

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                  • Unthinkingly– that one word describes me throughout.

                    As for pets– my building makes a tenant deposit $500 and get approval of dog from co-op board before acquisition. Having only adopted strays or unwanted puppies in my past,I do not believe there’s such a thing as a $500 dog. And my wife is allergic to cats. At least we have each other. And I almost never cough up hairballs, so that’s an advantage right there.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Well, concern is concern — and you showed concern, whether you reacted consciously or instinctively.

                      $500 — yikes! And sorry about your wife’s cat allergy. I’m “between cats” now, but have had six in my life, and am very fond of them. Love dogs, too, but never quite found myself ready for the walking part of having them. (I enjoy walking, but not with my hands on a leash. πŸ™‚ )

                      LOL to your hairball quip!

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      • Undine’s unusual name is also derived from Ondine, a mythological water nymph in the European tradition, who becomes human only after falling in love with a man and bearing his child. Wharton certainly knew what she was doing in assigning her best characters such layered names!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Kelsey, for lending your Edith Wharton expertise to this discussion! I didn’t know that about Undine’s first name — fascinating. There are indeed so many layers to Ms. Wharton’s work, and that’s one example.

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  15. Interesting coincidence Dave, read Madame Bovary probably a good thirty years ago and on a whim decided to give it another go. It’s almost always instructive to redo the classics when one has gained a little knowledge about life some intellectual maturity and perhaps a little humility about making certain types of judgments, of course in my case that may all be questionable but none the less. So far the first thing that strikes me is a sympathy for poor cuckolded Charles that I don’t recall from my first go round. A boring, bourgeoisie, barely competent Doctor with little self awareness and clueless about not only the world he lives in but missing what’s going on under his nose may well seem beyond disdain to a young idealistic, sensitive reader but is he really that bad of a guy? I wonder also was it really a bad marriage as they both got what they wanted mostly, well at least until arsenic and the poor house made their appearance. I think the other great cuckold of 19th century literature while much brighter than Mr. Bovary not only had a worse marriage but was quite a bit more loathsome ,while his wife was certainly a lot more fascinating than Emma. I am speaking obviously of Anna Karenina , I’m also pretty sure I’ll be able to come up with a worse union .

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    • That IS a coincidence, Donny! And one that makes me realize I wouldn’t mind rereading “Madame Bovary” myself; it’s also been about three decades for me. You’re right that rereading a book many years later can be kind of a revelation. In my case, as we might have discussed before, I liked “The Scarlet Letter” and “Moby-Dick” better the second time around.

      That said, thanks for your very interesting thoughts from your rereading of “Madame Bovary.” Charles Bovary is indeed to be pitied in a way; not everyone can be brilliant and/or charismatic. And great observations about “Anna Karenina”!

      Speaking of the Russian classics, the Karamazov dad in “The Brother Karamazov” also did not do well in the marriage department. His fault — he had the personality of an ogre.

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      • I add this so as to have it handy here, though I’m sure you and Donnie know it:
        “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

        Liked by 1 person

        • May favorite thing about that line is it opens a novel in which the title character commits suicide and her husband suffers an even worse fate by becoming a religious mystic of the shallowest sort yet the family referred to is actually not the Karenins but the Oblonsky clan.

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          • jhNY and Donny, that “Anna Karenina” line is indeed evocative and immortal. And I sort of see what Tolstoy is saying. But I don’t agree with the line. I think happy families — and their happiness — can be different. Now, I’ll wait to be struck down by lightning (not a lightning bug) for questioning one of the greatest authors of all time. πŸ™‚

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            • You are absolutely correct in my opinion Dave, Tolstoy may be close to incomparable as a novelist but he could be shockingly wrong about big questions on life in general and art in particular. This is ,after all , the man who famously told Anton Chekov that the best he could say about his dramatic efforts was at least they weren’t as bad as those awful plays of Shakespeare’s.

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                  • LOL!!!

                    Unfortunately, a 19th-century ZZ Top wouldn’t have had that amazing red car.

                    I agree that ZZ Top is an overrated band. I think the long-beard look has as much to do with their success as their music. “Legs” was kind of catchy, but sexist.

                    Tried to think of other rockers with long beards, and all I came up with was Garth Hudson of The Band. But the ZZ Top guys had longer ones.

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                    • Donny, that video is definitely still rattling around my brain after all these years!

                      I like listening to classic rock on occasion, but I prefer to pick and choose on YouTube rather than listen to something like 104.3 FM, which plays some great songs but has a rather limited playlist so one hears the same songs over and over. With all the older tunes to choose from, that’s annoying. Guess it’s the noxious Clear Channel influence.

                      But one disadvantage of YouTube is seeing how much some classic-rock musicians have aged (as we all do).

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                    • Nice list of Texas musicians, jhNY! I’m afraid my music-listening range is more limited than yours. A lot of alternative rock, some folk, and few other things, but not a lot of blues, country, etc.

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                  • I have to disagree a bit. Perhaps my bar for what constitutes a good band is lower, but I actually liked the 90’s incarnation of the band a lot, most especially Rhythmeen. Much giant guitar tone of a sort I adore.

                    Ironically, I’m less fond of the 70’s stuff that most prefer– and the other day, eating lunch, I stumbled on a showing of the She’s Got Legs video that was just eye-gougingly awful.

                    Billy Gibbons is, as a guitar player, a kind of ideal to me: he never leaves anybody behind. He plays a riff, and then he plays it again, just to make sure everybody’s with him, then he plays a variant and the whole crowd hears what he’s trying to say. He doesn’t seem intent on wowing other guitar-slingers at the expense of the average listener. And mostly, he sticks to his roots.

                    I also admired the band for having a stage the shape of Texas, complete with pens of cattle covering the eastern and western portions, for at least one of their tours many years ago.

                    What I despise: the company that l’il ol’ band from Texas is content to keep.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • jhNY, LOVED your Smith Brothers quip! Will be chuckling over that one for a while… πŸ™‚

                      It almost goes without saying that we all have different reactions to the same music. ZZ Top isn’t my thing, but they undeniably have talent. Excellent paragraph about Billy Gibbons’ guitar playing!

                      My favorite bands or musicians with part or full Texas roots would include the Dixie Chicks, Don Henley, and Phil Ochs, off the top of my head. Of course, the last two don’t necessarily have a Texas sound, whatever that means.

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              • Wonder if Tolstoy could read English?

                On the topic a little, another Russian author hated Dostoevsky thoroughly, and disincluded the man from his courses of Russian literature: Nabakov.

                If I were Chekhov, and boy am I ever not, I would be pleased more than a little to have been favorably compared, by Tolstoy, to The Bard.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Excellent question about whether Tolstoy could read English, jhNY. I have no idea.

                  I also didn’t know that about Nabokov and Dostoyevsky. What was Nabokov’s problem? Did he find Dostoyevsky too intense? What a dolt to drop Fyodor from his courses. Nabokov was a great author, but Triple A compared to Dostoyevsky’s Major League brilliance.

                  Yes, Chekhov being compared to Shakespeare, even the way Tolstoy did that, is quite something.

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                  • What I gathered off the interwebs:

                    “My position in regard to Dostoevsky is a curious and difficult one. In all my courses I approach literature from the only point of view that literature interests me-namely the point of view of enduring art and individual genius. From this point of view Dostoevsky is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one-with flashes of excellent humor, but, alas, with wastelands of literary platitudes in between.”

                    “In Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov for some reason or other kills an old female pawnbroker and her sister. Justice in the shape of an inexorable police officer closes slowly in on him until in the end he is driven to a public confession, and through the love of a noble prostitute he is brought to a spiritual regeneration that did not seem as incredibly banal in 1866 when the book was written as it does now when noble prostitutes are apt to be received a little cynically by experienced readers.”

                    “A good third [of readers] do not know the difference between real literature and pseudo-literature, and to such readers Dostoevsky may seem more important and more artistic than such trash as our American historical novels or things called From Here to Eternity and such like balderdash.”

                    There’s a hierarchical ladder of Russian literary prose figgers– according to Nabakov. Lermontov and Pushkin are precursors.
                    Then the biggies: 1. Tolstoy 2.Gogol 3. Chekhov 4 .Turgenev

                    Nabakov seems intent on making sure the former prisoner of the czar stays on the lower rungs, possibly so as to leave room above for an exacting stylist who stuck butterflies through the heart with a straight pin.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Interesting, jhNY. Thanks for the window on Nabokov’s thoughts about Dostoyevsky! While I admire Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” novel and love/hate “Lolita,” his views on Dostoyevsky seem way off base. “Crime and Punishment” is one of the most riveting, psychologically complex novels I’ve ever read, and, if Nabokov didn’t like that one, “The Brothers Karamazov” is in some ways even more brilliant.

                      I’ve read only a little Turgenev (“Fathers and Sons”) and a little Gogol (his “Dead Souls” novel and “The Overcoat” short story), and was impressed with both authors, but Dostoyevsky is, well, a literary colossus.

                      As for your deliciously sharp last point, Nabokov never did like the play “Butterflies Are Free.” πŸ™‚

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    • How interesting to hear you say that, Donny.

      These were my reactions, too: first time around, I identified strongly with Emma (I was very young at the time) and her seemingly impossible predicament. But on the second reading Charles had most of my sympathy. I’d lived a little by then, which undoubtedly helped change my perspective. He was a genuinely good guy; if only Emma gave him the chance he deserved…

      But the heart has its reasons and all that.

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  16. Somebody beat me to it with “Jane Eyre,” so I’ll stick with Rebecca. What a pair! An unfaithful wife knocked off by her pseudo aristocratic husband who then deceives an innocent young girl into becoming his #2 wife and lies to her until he can no longer do so. Well, at least he probably didn’t write run-on sentences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said — and humorously said, thepatterer!

      Daphne du Maurier definitely depicted her share of problematic marriages in various novels, also including “My Cousin Rachel” and “The House on the Strand.”

      But three of her works (“Rebecca,” “Jamaica Inn,” and “The Birds”) were happily married to Hitchcock film adaptations. πŸ™‚

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  17. I’m smiling as I write this. πŸ™‚ The most outrageously bad marriage that I can think of in literature is Edward Rochester’s marriage to Bertha Mason πŸ™‚ Bertha couldn’t help descending into madness, but the family basically pawned her off on Mr. Rochester, knowing what she was and what she would become. Another novel in which a mentally challenged young girl is allowed to enter into marriage with an unknowing suitor is “The Light in the Piazza” by Elizabeth Spencer. I read it years ago, but it stuck with me. Let us not forget about Rhett and Scarlett! It would take too long to even go there, so I won’t.

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    • Great additions, Mary! Obviously, I wrongly omitted one Bronte sister from my post! The disastrous Edward Rochester/Bertha Mason marriage was also explored in “Wide Sargasso Sea,” the “Jane Eyre” prequel by Jean Rhys.

      Spot-on comparison between the Rochester/Mason marriage and the one in “The Light in the Piazza.” Never read the novel, but saw the wonderful Broadway play almost a decade ago.

      “Let us not forget about Rhett and Scarlett! It would take too long to even go there, so I won’t” — loved the droll way you said that! πŸ™‚

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    • LOL, Cathy! The National Enquirer certainly mixes fiction and nonfiction… πŸ™‚

      The Enquirer, if it existed in the 19th century, would probably have had a field day with the unmarried relationship between George Eliot and George Henry Lewes (which, incidentally, was a loving relationship that lasted about a quarter century).

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      • True, jhNY. I guess it’s in the category of even a broken clock being correct twice a day. Not to mention the Enquirer paying for stories. But, heck, there’s probably some journalistic talent at that publication, too.

        John Edwards — what a slippery hypocrite, indeed. Then again, he didn’t start any unnecessary wars like Bush and Cheney did (though Edwards might have if he had reached the White House). Still, cheating on one’s cancer-stricken wife (and lying about it) was about as low as a person can get.

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        • Cheatin’ on the party was also pretty low. Democrats don’t get to have such sexy misdeeds on their cv’s. The press won’t stand for it, and neither will the GOP. That’s common knowledge, unfair though it might well be. For Edwards AND his wife to have decided to press his candidacy forward with the scandal liable to erupt at any time, is hubris of the first order. But of course to have had an affair after your wife had sacrificed her health via fertility drugs so that she could bear another child to somehow make up for the one lost– lower than the dirt under the belly of a snake.

          Liked by 1 person

          • True, jhNY. John Edwards really did the Democratic Party wrong. Of course, there have been just as many or more sexual miscreants on the GOP side (Gingrich, Giuliani, David Vitter, ad infinitum) — so it’s indeed unfair that the Dems get brushed with that more.

            Yes, Elizabeth Edwards did have some unseemly ambition herself, but, as you colorfully said, John Edwards was indeed infinitely lower in character. Heck, his hair had more character than his brain…

            I hadn’t connected Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer with the fertility drugs, but that’s entirely plausible.

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            • That connection is probably just logical projection, on my part. I just figure her late age for childbirth, coupled with radical hormone therapy, might have given rise to her cancer. At the very least, it made cancer more likely– and that’s an order of sacrifice that any decent husband should have realized was in play– and any decent husband should have realized created an obligation to his wife he could never repay, much less betray. But JE came to other conclusions.

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              • I think it’s a very logical connection, jhNY. And, yes, John Edwards’ libido and ego won out over his decency and gratitude. Also, as in many cases, the cynical cover-up compounded the atrocious behavior.

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  18. Oh Dave, I can think of dozens of unhappy marriages in literature (as well as, unfortunately, life). You already beat me to the punch with those George Eliot unions. I’m about to get to the climax of the disaster that’s ensuing in ‘Daniel Deronda.’ Of course, you found one already in ‘The American’ but that’s mild compared to Isabel Archer’s marriage to the monster Gilbert Osmond in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ (Gilbert Osmond is a brute lacking in either the intellectual attributes of Casaubon or the physical attributes of Grandcourt–he is supposed to be somewhat handsome isn’t he? otherwise, why, other than money would anyone bother with him at all?). One of the ones with the highest profile are George and Martha in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ which is, essentially, a staged and performed marital fight. And I still have the dysfunctional family of the Pollits in Christina Stead’s overlooked novel, ‘The Man Who Loved Children’ to look forward to. Really must dive into that hornet’s nest one of these days. Of course, by definition, a dysfunctional family must have a dysfunctional marriage at its center so that’s why I mention these people. From what I’ve read about the novel the father is probably more disturbed than the mother although she probably contributes her own neuroses to the mix. There are many more of these specimens but that’s as many as I’m going to throw into the mix at this time. I think pondering a few of these at a time is probably the healthiest approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, bobess48, there are so many unhappy marriages in literature that the list is longer than a divorce lawyer’s itemized bill. πŸ™‚

      As you know, the unhappy union between the Tristrams is what I spotted early in “The American.” Perhaps there will be another bad marriage or two later in that novel. So far, I absolutely LOVE the book; thanks again for recommending it!

      Gilbert Osmond of Henry James’ “The Portrait of a Lady” with fewer redeeming attributes than George Eliot’s Causabon and Grandcourt characters? Wow! That’s pretty bad. Hope you’re liking “Daniel Deronda”; as I’ve mentioned, I found it riveting.

      George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”? They’re WAY up there in the unhappy marriage department. Glad you mentioned that couple.

      Thanks also for your thoughts on “The Man Who Loved Children.”

      As for your conclusion, I hear you. Pondering troubled relationships is indeed best in smaller doses!

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      • Martha and George were high on my list, too, Dave. The saddest thing is to watch from the outside while someone is tortured from the inside, and to have no way of helping them.

        Good article, Dave. Very interesting comments by all, too.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Deb, for your kind words, for also mentioning that memorable Edward Albee couple, and for your heartfelt “watch from the outside” line. You alluded to a very important fact: Unhappy marriages are not only bad for the couple, but also upsetting for others around them (children, friends, extended family, etc.).

          And I agree — interesting comments by all, including you!

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      • I remember our conversation about it from HP, Dave. As we ran through the list of literary marital disasters, we — collectively speaking πŸ˜‰ — were trying very hard to come up with portrayals of some happy marriages for a change. With no success, for some reason open to speculation.

        Either good marriages are too boring to deserve writerly attention, or the literary circles are unfamiliar with marital bliss. Maybe a bit of both.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nice to hear from you, Bella!

          It’s still hard, post-HP, to think of happy marriages in literature. πŸ™‚ I guess a lot of unions are blissful before and just after the wedding vows, and some novels don’t allow time to ruin that happiness because the books end with the engagement or while the marriage is still rather new! Among those would be “Jane Eyre,” “Persuasion,” “Mansfield Park,” “Emma,” “The House of the Seven Gables,” and L.M. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle,” among others.

          Your insightful second paragraph may very well contain two of the reasons why longer-term happy marriages don’t seem to appear too often in literature.

          Thanks for your excellent comment!

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  19. Grace’s fragmented memory of a marriage to her never-named husband in Eleanor Bailey’s Idioglossia. The marriage is subtextual, really. It is briefly mentioned in Grace’s memory/hallucinations, and is not the central relationship in her brief waking life, but the marriage’s failure – and her mother and sister’s complicity in the rupture of both Grace’s marriage and her psyche is the whispered foundation of Bailey’s novel. Gorgeous book, if you haven’t already read it. Thank you for reminding me to read it again. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment, DesiValentine! I hadn’t been familiar with “Idioglossia,” but, from your eloquent and evocative description, it sounds very intriguing. I appreciate you mentioning it.

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  20. Thanks to β€œdrb19810” for recommending β€œWorld’s Fair”! (Also, thanks to Brian Bess for recommending Henry James’ “The American,” which I just started but an unhappy marriage has already appeared!)

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