Marriage in Literature: Late 20th-Century Portrayals

This is a 10-week seminar, starting on September 27th, 2017.

Moderator:                Bobbie Reitt
Co-moderator:         Joan McKelvey
Day and Time:         Wednesday, 10:00AM-Noon
Format:                       Seminar
Location:                   Amherst Women’s Club, Amherst
                                        (free parking on site)


To read and discuss selected works of fiction that portray marriages to discover the authors’ views of the elements of a successful marriage and the various factors causing the breakdown of a marriage.

Fiction abounds with married people, so you’d think it would be easy to find works focused on marriage. We were surprised to learn that such works are not that common, but we persevered. We chose Gail Godwin, Barbara Kingsolver, Alison Lurie, Wallace Stegner, Anne Tyler, John Updike, and August Wilson because they each tell a story that will provoke thoughtful, lively discussion about what drives us into marriage and then can cause us to make a mess of it, even desperate to seek escape.

In this seminar each work on the reading list will be the subject of an entire session and will be approached twice: once for its literary qualities and once for its portrayal of marriage. On the literary side, we will observe how authors’ choices like tone, narrative style, plot, use of point of view, setting, kinds of characters, and use of metaphor shape readers’ responses. As we explore each marital situation, we will ask such questions as: What brought the couple together? How do their personalities match up? What are the major stressors? Who’s dominant or in control? What are the elements of a good marriage?

Role of participants:
Read all of the listed works: 6 novels and a play; lead a discussion of either the literary aspects or the marriage portrayal in one work

Required readings:
Gail Godwin, The Good Husband
Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior
Alison Lurie, The War Between the Tates
Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety
Anne Tyler, The Amateur Marriage
John Updike, Too Far to Go: The Maple Stories
August Wilson, Fences (Any edition–hardback, paperback, electronic–is acceptable)

Suggested background reading: Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, The Good Marriage

About the Moderator:
Bobbie Reitt: retired book editor, frequent seminar moderator. Joan McKelvey: retired social worker specializing in adolescent and family therapy, new moderator. Laura Price: retired pediatrician, experienced moderator, member of curriculum committee.

Maximum number of participants: 17

Emeritus/a accepted: yes, up to 2 We ask that emeritus participants do all the reading and join in the discussions.