Thursday, July 26, 2012

Five best books that explore marriage

Edward Mendelson is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of books including Early Auden and The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life. In 2008 he named a five best list of "works [that] explore marriage with uncommon clarity" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
Riceyman Steps (1923)
by Arnold Bennett

Marriage, George Eliot wrote in "Middlemarch," is a state of awesome "nearness." Arnold Bennett's greatest novel is a terrifying and exhilarating story of the nearness that joins the miserly London bookseller Henry Earlforward to his wife, Violet, as they shut themselves off from a threatening outside world -- and also shut themselves off from their uncontrollable inner passions. The only person who intrudes on their solitude is their servant, Elsie, who has very different ideas about her relation to her shell-shocked lover, Joe, and to the world around her. Bennett is best known as the quiet realist of "The Old Wives' Tale," but "Riceyman Steps" probes the unsettling psychological and symbolic depths of a marriage that becomes too close. "Astounding Story of Love and Death," shouts a newspaper headline in the last chapter. This partly describes Bennett's novel, although Elsie and Joe counter it with an equally astounding story of love and life.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue