Saturday, January 5, 2008

Five best works that explore marriage

Edward Mendelson, 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, named a five best list of "works [that] explore marriage with uncommon clarity" for Opinion Journal.

One title on his list:
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (Century, 1918).

This brief and devastating novel explores the conflict between marital duty and romantic love but is startlingly different from the many hundreds of other novels on the same theme. Chris Baldry, a British officer in World War I, is sent home from the battlefield after suffering a psychological wound that has erased his memory of the past 15 years. He is puzzled by the expensive-looking stranger named Kitty who explains that he is married to her, and he longs for Margaret, an innkeeper's daughter whom Kitty had never heard of until now. For Chris, the sober reality of marriage (his and Kitty's only child died young) is an illusion, and the bright illusion of romance is a reality. Rebecca West's first novel is a masterpiece of surprise and inevitability, with an ending that evokes intense and unresolvable feelings.
Read about the other four titles on Mendelson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue