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Friday, February 05, 2010

Question of the Week: What's Your Favorite Adultery Novel?

The book blogs are full of nothing but political adultery scandals, thanks to books by Andrew Young and Jenny Sanford about sordid politicians-cheating-on their wives. Sigh. Besides being just horribly, sickeningly ashamed of my own judgment as a former John Edwards booster, I'm kind of horrified yet intrigued bythe whole messy fuss (and I really enjoy watching "The Good Wife" on TV, but that's another story).

It has made me think, though, how much "great" literature centers around adultery. For novels about female protagonists up until quite recently, of course, marriages were symbolic prisons and adultery was the only means of escape-- usually an unsatisfying, even fatal means at that. In contemporary novels, adultery can symbolize the same kind of release from entrapment, but it's a prison of boredom and bougie expectations rather than of absolute social necessity.

At a few of of my all-time beloved novels are adultery novels (or their tantalizing counterparts, the novel of pseudo-really-wanna-almost-but-just-can't-go-through-with-it-adultery). The Scarlet Letter, and Anna Karenina are my favorites in the former category, The Age of Innocence and The Mill on the Floss in the latter.

And of course there's Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley and The Awakening and Updike and Irving and dozens more. So what are your favorite tales of marital bond-breaking, readers?

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  1. Bridges of Madison County? (jk!)

  2. Anonymous5:23 AM

    過去的事早已消失,未來的事更渺不可知,只有現在是真實的 ..................................................

  3. The Awakening is definitely up there for me. I remember exactly where I read it- in my parents kitchen in one sitting out of a huge anthology. Of course, The Age of Innocence is terrific. I read that when I was twelve (yes, twelve!) and loved it. Whereas Edna's adultery in The Awakening in shocking, Countess Olenska's is Not. I'm not sure if it's the span of decades between the two books, the social circles of the authors themselves or what that makes the two adulteries have such a different vibe. I'd love to discuss it though! Any compare and contrast thoughts out there? anyone anyone?

    And although this isn't one of them, I really wish Isabel Archer ended up committing adultery with a nice guy and eventually getting out of that ghastly marriage with Osmond. O, if "Portrait of a Lady" could have only ended with adultery...

  4. I wonder if it's not because Wharton presents Olenska as someone who has made her choice and owns it, including the social consequences... I really ought to re-read the Awakening. I really liked it but have never been able to remember it with the clarity I should. The Age of Innocence, though--I just re-read the summary on Wiki and got all teary-eyed thinking of Newland just sitting on that bench outside the countess's apartment in paris. sigh.

  5. I'm up for rereading the Awakening if you are! :D I know it's around here somewhere...
    And who needs an excuse to read the Age of Innocence again? I've been wanting to do that ages anyway.