Jeffrey Eugenides’ Defense of the Novel
On Monday, September 25, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides read from his latest novel, The Marriage Plot, as part of the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Series promoted by the Folger Shakespeare Library.
The Marriage Plot, Eugenides’s third novel, revolves around a love triangle formed between three college students. He was a charming and affecting reader of his own work. When Eugenides was asked about where he got his inspiration for the novel, he explained that he came from a place of debutante balls and coming-out parties and that in writing the novel he was most recently influenced by Henry James and his novels of the late 19th Century. Critics of the book, it was mentioned, are quick to identify the character of Leonard with the late writer David Foster Wallace. Eugenides dismissed this comparison, commenting, “Leonard is not Wallace.” Although Wallace and Eugenides did not know each other extremely well, they kept written correspondence after meeting at a writing institute.
When asked about his writing process—specifically the amount of time invested in each one of his novels (The Virgin Suicides, 1993; Middlesex, 2002)— Eugenides explained his process is time consuming because he is constantly in the state of “reinvention.” Eugenides explained further that one’s “next book is a rebellion from the first book,” but noted that one brings with them to the second novel lessons gleaned from writing the first.
As the conversation wound down, Mr. Eugenides spoke to the merits of the liberal education and to the importance of it, and when asked why we should read novels he responded, in defense of the novel, “[They are] our best record of human consciousness.”
Jeffrey Eugenides teaches at Princeton. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides was made into a film; his second novel, Middlesex, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2003.
The complete list of this season’s forthcoming PEN/Faulkner events can be found here.
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