In light of Rhett’s interesting (and true!) thoughts on what novels do for us, I was intrigued to read Francis Watson’s rather critical comments of their form in western literature:

The assumption that ‘love’ (or ‘romantic love’) is the primary basis for marriage is often said to be an innovation of the modern West.  It is certainly a central preoccupation of the novel, the literary genre most characteristic of the modern West.  The novel holds up a mirror to what is held to be the reality of ‘love and marriage’; it is the image of a representation that arises from the reality and exercises an influence over it, although the reality is never reducible to the representation…

Even in the traditional novel, the link between love and marriage is in fact contingent.  Marriage is often an end (the end of the novel), and not a transition to a new beginning.  If marriage is the goal of love but not the context of its continuing development, is marriage tacitly presented as the end of love?

Where, at the beginning of the novel, marriage has already occurred, love may well be sought outside marriage; the rendering of a love that both issues in marriage and develops and matures within it is much less usual…The more recent convention that ‘love’ is the precondition not of marriage but of ‘sex’ is a natural development of tradition rather than a reaction against it.  ‘Modern’ and ‘traditional’ novels tend to display an ambivalence towards marriage combined with an unshakable faith in ‘love’ itself…

These novels are familiar with the assumption that marriage is the proper context and home of love, but, in declining to make this assumption narratively plausible, their tendency is to induce scepticism toward it.

Watson’s point could easily be made against Shakespeare as well as the modern novel.  But his association with the novel as the predominantly Western form of literature and the rise of romance in the West as the basis for marriage bears more reflection.

Certainly some literature stands out in contrast to Watson’s critique, but not a whole lot is coming to mind right now.

Are there novels that present marriage not only as the culmination of romantic love, but also as its context and home (that is, husbands and wives who are still ‘romantic’)?

Make your suggestions in the comments.  I’m interested to hear them.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

0 Comments

  1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and some of Wendell Berry’s novels (notably Hannah Coulter and Remembering) come to mind. But they’re certainly the minority.

    Interesting question, will be curious to see what others say!

    Reply

  2. Novels against Marriage | Mere Orthodoxy http://shar.es/mo2Ck

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

    Reply

  3. Thanks, Jake. I think Gilead is an interesting suggestion…I’m going to have to think more about it. It certainly challenges most people’s views of marriage, and I like that. That’s a good suggestion.

    Also, when were you planning on telling me you had started blogging? Punk. : )

    Best,

    matt

    Reply

  4. Is the Western novel as a genre opposed to marriage? http://bit.ly/9N7Wcy

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

    Reply

  5. Matt – Ha, I’m sorry. I just kinda started it back up and never really told anyone.

    Plus I’m still kinda searching for an identity for the blog, so I’m not promoting it too much. Sometime we need to start up that e-mail exchange again :).

    peace

    Reply

  6. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

    Reply

  7. It goes without saying that movies and TV shows about already married couples also derive their drama from the temptation of extramarital relationships.

    For that reason one of the most remarkable TV shows I’ve ever seen is Medium with Patricia Arquette. It’s the only TV drama I can think of that features a happy, functional family and a marriage that is not only loving but still exciting. It’s an astonishing depiction of maturity that regards family as a part of rather than an obstacle to personal fulfillment.

    The pre-credit dream sequences are clever and the episodic plots are also compelling, but it is the everyday domesticities of the husband-wife relationship that keep me coming back to this show and these characters.

    Reply

  8. Nobody,

    I love that you say what goes without saying anyway. Well done! : )

    That said, I haven’t seen Medium. I’ll look into that. Another possibility would be Friday Night Lights–the Taylors seem to have a very happy marriage (with difficulties), but have avoided any hint of the prospects of marital infidelity.

    And John, I can’t believe that quote didn’t come to mind. The memory’s slipping–good thing Google isn’t!

    Best,

    matt

    Reply

  9. Middlemarch, by George Eliot, illuminates three unhappy marriages and brings to light that overlooked aspect of true love: commitment. The husbands and wives aren’t “romantic” but they do learn to love each other in ways that “romance” can’t contain.

    Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *