In conversation with Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of MiddlesexThe Virgin Suicides and most recently, The Marriage Plot, spoke to a full house at the City Recital Hall in Sydney last Thursday night.

He related some of his personal experiences that inspired characters and scenes from his novels but resisted drawing too many parallels between his life and those of his characters who are, he says, ultimately fictional.

The title of his most recent novel, The Marriage Plot, refers to the traditional ‘marriage plot’ of the English novel, which is primarily focused on who the main character is going to marry.  Eugenides believes the ‘marriage plot’ is no longer possible in contemporary literature given societal changes, except perhaps in cinematic romantic comedies.

Perversely the main character in The Marriage Plot –  Madeleine, a waspy white Anglo Saxon Protestant – is at Brown University studying and deconstructing love in literature as she falls madly in love with the brilliant but manic-depressive Leonard Bankhead. “Madeleine’s love troubles had begun at a time when the French theory she was reading deconstructed the very notion of love.’”

Eugenides did admit to similarities between himself and the lovelorn Mitchell Grammaticus in The Marriage Plot. In an attempt to escape from the pain of Madeleine’s unrequited love and in search of spiritual solace Mitchell travels to Europe and India where he disastrously volunteers to help at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying in Calcutta, as had Euginides as a young backpacker.

Both Mitchell and Eugenides eventually find peace by attending Quaker meetings in the US. Eugenides points out that Quakers have stood up for significant movements in society: the abolition of slavery, the promotion of equal rights for women, and peace.

Jeffrey Eugenides spoke to Caroline Baum at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney on Thursday May 17 as part of the Sydney Writers Festival 2012.

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