Wedding Bells


On August 15, my handsome, intelligent, exciting boyfriend got down on one knee and presented me with a beautiful ring and asked me to be his wife! So now I have a fiancé! And I’m ecstatic to be planning our wedding, which has me thinking about all the fine works of literature that feature weddings. I thought I’d share a few. (Jane Austen will have to have her own blog.)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides  marriage-plot

According to the author, this was his attempt to write a modern Jane Austen novel. As such, it is a woeful failure. It’s far too jaded. But not as a work of its own. Madeleine Hanna is graduating from Brown University in the early 1980s with a degree in literature, a hangover, a best friend who’s in love with her, Mitchell, and a mentally unstable, sometime-boyfriend named Leonard.

. . .Leonard sat up. His head wasn’t crowded with thoughts. There was only one. Rolling off the bed onto his knees, Leonard took Madeleine’s hands in his much bigger hands. He’d just figured out the solution to all his problems, romantic, financial, and strategic. One brilliant move deserved another.

“Marry me,” he said.

The Marriage Plot follows Mitchell, Madeleine’s best friend, to Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta, as well as tracking along with Madeleine and Leonard through Leonard’s bi-polar disorder and treatment and Madeleine’s attempts to find her way as a neo-victorian. It’s a great read, but not romantic.

member of the weddingThe Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

“They are the we of me.”

Remember in high school when you read about 12-year-old orphan Frankie Addams and how she believed she was going to run away with her sister, the bride, and her new husband? How superior you felt, as a mature 16-year-old, to the foolish child? How you felt sorry for the kid but thought she just needed to grow up? Or maybe that was just me.

Read The Member of the Wedding again for the beauty of the language and Carson McCullers illuminating thoughts about identity, society and isolation.

“She was afraid of these things that made her suddenly wonder who she was, and what she was going to be in the world, and why she was standing at that minute, seeing a light, or listening, or staring up into the sky: alone.” 

seating arrangements

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

It’s a summer wedding on a New England Nantucket-ish Island, and the WASPy Van Meters have gathered to honor daughter Daphne, about 7 1/2 months pregnant, with a wedding. Despite his obvious superiority, patriarch Winn Van Meter has been shunned by the island golf club and unremittingly tries to find a way in around the circus-like atmosphere of the wedding. Add a naughty bridesmaid with a daddy fixation, an escaped lobster, a recent abortion and a troubled aunt, and you have what the New York Times called “a smart and frothy debut novel.”

It’s probably the funniest of the marriage books I’m discussing here, full of ironic humor: “This was truly advanced WASP: how to comfort a wronged wife and mother without acknowledging any misdeeds done or embarrassment caused by loved ones.” But that doesn’t lessen the intensity or passion or beauty of Shipstead’s writing.

A tiny light appeared, like a distant lighthouse, diffusing through the fog in a soft, pale sphere and then fading to something smaller, like a firefly. He had lit a cigarette. She was close enough that she could smell the tobacco and hear him take a drag. The firefly floated in a little curlicue, enticing her. Or maybe it was not a firefly but the bioluminous lure of an anglerfish, lighting the way to a set of nasty jaws. Maybe she had stumbled out of an ordinary night and into a benthic underworld. “Livia,” he sang again. “Livia, Livia.”

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwanON-CHESIL-BEACH-380x231

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.

If there is a master of the novel in this 21st Century, by my reckoning it is McEwan. He of Atonement, Saturday, Amsterdam. And On Chesil Beach. This small book examines the first twenty-four hours of a marriage and the great misunderstanding in the honeymoon bed that has the potential to alter everything thereafter. I love this book and have given it as a gift on occasion. It is a masterpiece.

How did they meet, and why were these lovers in a modern age so timid and innocent? They regarded themselves as too sophisticated to believe in destiny, but still, it remained a paradoxto them that so momentous a meeting should have been accidental, so dependent on a hundred minor events and choices. What a terrifying possibility, that it might never have happened at all. And in the first rush of love, they often wondered at how nearly their paths had crossed during their early teens, when Edward descended occasionally from the remoteness of his squalid family home in the Chiltern Hills to visit Oxford. It was titillating to believe they must have brushed past each other at one of those famous, youthful city events, at St Giles’ Fair in the first week of September, or May Morning at dawn on the first of teh month – a ridiculous and overrated ritual, they both agreed; or while renting a punt at the Cherwell Boat House – though Edward had only ever done it once; or, later in their teens, during illicit drinking at the Turl.

princess brideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman

I know! It was a book first! You’re picturing Billy Crystal: “Have fun storming the castle!” and Mandy Patinkin: “My name is Inigo Montoyo. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Maybe even the young and ethereally beautiful Robin Wright refusing Chris Sarandon’s marriage proposal yet again. (Yes, I’ve seen the movie a dozen times. Just like you.)

But William Goldman’s novel, published in 1973, was actually as important. Contemporaneous with Watergate, the OPEC oil embargo, a stock market crash, The Princess Bride offered a measure of hope. l

“I love you,’ Buttercup said. ‘I know this must come as something of a surprise to you, since all I’ve ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn’t matter.’ Buttercup still could not look at him. The sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. ‘I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison. I love you so much more now then when you opened your hovel door, there cannot be comparison. There is no room in my body for anything but you. My arms love you, my ears adore you, my knees shake with blind affection. My mind begs you to ask it something so it can obey. Do you want me to follow you for the rest of your days? I will do that. Do you want me to crawl? I will crawl. I will be quiet for you or sing for you, or if you are hungry, let me bring you food, or if you have thirst and nothing will quench it but Arabian wine, I will go to Araby, even though it is across the world, and bring a bottle back for your lunch. Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do for you; anything there is that I cannot do, I will learn to do. I know I cannot compete with the Countess in skills or wisdom or appeal, and I saw the way she looked at you. And I saw the way you looked at her. But remember, please, that she is old and has other interests, while I am seventeen and for me there is only you. Dearest Westley–I’ve never called you that before, have I?–Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley,–darling Westley, adored Westley, sweet perfect Westley, whisper that I have a chance to win your love.’ And with that, she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done; she looked right into his eyes.
So there you have it. Some of my favorite novels contemplating marriage. Now, I still need a photographer . . .
Happy Reading!

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