BKMT READING GUIDES

The Marriage Plot: A Novel
by Jeffrey Eugenides

Published: 2011-10-11
Kindle Edition : 416 pages
1 member reading this now
53 clubs reading this now
1 member has read this book

A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Book of 2011
A Kirkus Reviews Top 25 Best Fiction of 2011 Title
One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2011

A Salon Best Fiction of 2011 title
One of The Telegraph’s Best Fiction Books of the Year 2011

It’s the early ...
No other editions available.
Add to Club Selections
Add to Possible Club Selections
Add to My Personal Queue
Jump to

Introduction

A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Book of 2011
A Kirkus Reviews Top 25 Best Fiction of 2011 Title
One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2011

A Salon Best Fiction of 2011 title
One of The Telegraph’s Best Fiction Books of the Year 2011

It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.


Editorial Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: Even among authors, Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a rare talent for being able to inhabit his characters. In The Marriage Plot, his third novel and first in ten years (following the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex), Eugenides describes a year or so in the lives of three college seniors at Brown in the early 80s. There is Madeleine, a self-described â??incurable romanticâ?? who is slightly embarrassed at being so normal. There is Leonard, a brilliant, temperamental student from the Pacific Northwest. And completing the triangle is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major from Eugenidesâ?? own Detroit. What follows is a book delivered in sincere and genuine prose, tracing the end of the studentsâ?? college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood. This is a thoughtful and at times disarming novel about life, love, and discovery, set during a time when so much of life seems filled with deep portent. --Chris Schluep

Excerpt

No Excerpt Currently Available

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

Does modern love have any need for romance, much less marriage? For Madeleine Hanna, an English major writing a senior thesis with the marriage plot as the centerpiece, the question looms large. In Madeleine’s favorite novels, marriage is the plot. But in the story line of her own life, sexual liberation and career goals have made hopeless romantics obsolete—even while two thoroughly postmodern guys are vying for her affection. After all, it’s the 1980s: she’s supposed to be reaping the rewards of feminism.

As Madeleine’s love triangle unfolds in the wake of college graduation, Jeffrey Eugenides brings us an exuberant portrait of contemporary relationships and the realities that sometimes drive them wildly off course. Released from the Ivy League, Madeleine and her suitors Leonard Bankhead (whom she met in a semiotics seminar) and Mitchell Grammaticus (the toga-less interloper at a freshman party in her dorm) dive into the world of adulthood. While Madeleine follows Leonard to Cape Cod, where he’s accepted a biology fellowship, Mitchell travels the globe to get Madeleine out of his mind, probing the meaning of life and the existence of God throughout his sojourns.

Offering a wholly new approach to the classic love story, this is an intimate meditation on the quests—romantic and otherwise—that confound and propel us. The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of The Marriage Plot. We hope they will enrich your experience as you explore this enthralling novel of life and literature.


1. The opening scene features a litany of the books Madeleine loves. What were your first impressions of her, based on her library? How are her beliefs about love transformed throughout the novel?

2. When Phyllida fell in love with Alton, she gave up her dream of becoming an actress in Hollywood. What sustains the Hannas’ marriage despite this sacrifice? How are Alwyn and Madeleine influenced by their parents’ marriage? Is Alwyn’s marriage to Blake a bad one?

3. In Jeffrey Eugenides’s depiction of Brown University culture in the 1980s, what does it take for the students to impress one another and their professors? What might Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida have to say about the signs in Dr. Zipperstein’s Semiotics 211 class?

4. Why is Madeleine more attracted to Leonard than to Mitchell? As she copes with Leonard’s instability and her feelings of guilt, how does mental illness shape the relationship?

5. What does Mitchell hope to discover as a student of religion? What role does religion play in his quest to be loved? Is his ideal—a religion devoid of myth and artificial social structures—attainable?

6. What does sex mean to Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell? Over the course of the novel, what do they discover about fantasy versus reality and the tandem between physical and emotional satisfaction?

7. What recurring themes did you detect in Mitchell’s trip overseas as he tries to manage his money, his love life, and Larry? Does he return to America a stronger, changed person or an amplified version of his college self?

8. What does Alwyn try to teach her little sister about being a woman by sending the Bachelorette’s Survival Kit? What does the kit help a woman survive?

9. Madeleine’s parents are affluent and have enough free time to stay very involved in her life. Does this liberate her, or does it give her less freedom than Leonard, who is often left to fend for himself?

10. In their chosen career paths after college, what are Leonard and Madeleine each trying to uncover about life? Does his work on the yeast-cell experiment have anything in common with her work on Victorian novels?

11. Would you have said yes to Leonard’s marriage proposal?

12. How does the novel’s 1980s setting shape the plot? Do twenty-first-century college students face more or fewer challenges than Madeleine did?

13. Discuss the novel’s meta-ending (an ending about endings). Does it reflect reality? What were your expectations for the characters?

14. Eugenides’s previous fiction has given us unique, tragicomic perspectives on oppressive families, gender stereotypes, and the process of trying to discover our true selves. How does The Marriage Plot enhance your reading of Eugenides’s other works?

15. Who did you become during your first year after college?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

“Eugenides's first novel since 2002's Pulitzer Prize–winning Middlesex so impressively, ambitiously breaks the mold of its predecessor that it calls for the founding of a new prize to recognize its success both as a novel—and as a Jeffrey Eugenides novel. Importantly but unobtrusively set in the early 1980s, this is the tale of Madeleine Hanna, recent Brown University English grad, and her admirer Mitchell Grammaticus, who opts out of Divinity School to walk the earth as an ersatz pilgrim. Madeleine is equally caught up, both with the postmodern vogue (Derrida, Barthes)—conflicting with her love of James, Austen, and Salinger—and with the brilliant Leonard Bankhead, whom she met in semiotics class and whose fits of manic depression jeopardize his suitability as a marriage prospect. Meanwhile, Mitchell winds up in Calcutta working with Mother Theresa's volunteers, still dreaming of Madeleine. In capturing the heady spirit of youthful intellect on the verge, Eugenides revives the coming-of-age novel for a new generation The book's fidelity to its young heroes and to a superb supporting cast of enigmatic professors, feminist theorists, neo-Victorians, and concerned mothers, and all of their evolving investment in ideas and ideals is such that the central argument of the book is also its solution: the old stories may be best after all, but there are always new ways to complicate them.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by mpaniaguatej (see profile) 11/26/19

 
by tschendt (see profile) 07/16/19

 
  "Details about college english don't contribute to the plot"by ValerieW (see profile) 09/09/16

 
  "Not my cup of tea"by sircricket (see profile) 06/03/14

Frustrating at times and didn't like the characters

 
  "Recommend"by drjac (see profile) 05/10/13

 
  "A great writer"by sarahmonahan (see profile) 09/22/12

I have read all of Jeffrey Eugenides books and feel an odd kinship with him because we grew up in the same suburb at around the same time. He is a beautiful writer who weaves an evocative story with rich... (read more)

 
  "Difficult to Finish"by catoupin (see profile) 03/20/12

I could not get vested in the characters. I thought the various "side" stories being told proved to be pointless. I found this book very difficult to finish.

 
  "Not worth the effort"by aahayes (see profile) 03/19/12

I wasn't impressed with this. It was slow, had a lot of esoteric knowledge, the characters weren't engaging.

 
  "Beautifully written, excellent character development"by colleenberg1 (see profile) 03/14/12

 
  "Interesting.."by Kat012 (see profile) 02/29/12

Rate this book
MEMBER LOGIN
Remember me
BECOME A MEMBER it's free

Join the leading website for book clubs with over 35,000 clubs and 20,000 reading guides.

SEARCH OUR READING GUIDES Search
Search




FEATURED EVENTS
PAST AUTHOR CHATS
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...