a mash-up of marriage & cooperation
As part of an effort to work my way through the over-sized stacks of unread books cluttering my bookshelves, I’ve been doing a lot of extra reading lately. It is worth mentioning because making a deliberate choice to read certain titles, fiction I would not normally have squeezed into my tightly packed reading agenda, has offered up both (a) an example and (b) a metaphor for the context around this essay. In particular, this reading has served in informing the question of what classic literature teaches us about modern marriages.
I’ve been reading Tolstoy. In particular, the Russian novelist has been filling my time with a tale of the late-nineteenth century aristocratic confusion that precluded the revolution there and the realist portrayal of gender roles and social perceptions surrounding infidelity in the marriage of one young socialite named Anna Karenina. There is much complexity in the story, the interwoven threads of narrative sweeping between multiple character viewpoints, but each of those viewpoints targetting towards the growth of those characters in understanding the role and purpose of marriage in their lives. For some it is about love, others security, religion, status, or pursuit of family.
Notably, however, and with the caveat that I have yet to finish reading the novel, these goals are all seemingly pursued in isolation. Independent characters seem very aware of the designs of their spouses (or intended) with respect to their unions, but the concept of a mutually beneficial relationship seems as though it is a topic that is an unspoken topic lacking clarity or focus.
Again, I am only about half way through this hefty-sized novel, and perhaps this is a theme that will resolve itself in the second half: but I’m not sure. And at the very least, it has not escaped my notice that (like a bad television sit-com where you scratch your head at the obvious miscommunication) the characters in Anna Karenina seem as though they simply need to cooperate a little more actively towards their relative pursuits to ultimately resolve the plot.
The metaphoric linkage back to my own life, on the other hand, stems directly back from my previous allusion that nineteenth-century romantic period novels don’t normally fit into my diet of speculative science fiction and Tolkien-esque fantasy novels. In fact, I have learned to appreciate these fictional tropes with much keener interest for the simple reason that the pursuit of marital cooperation has offered me the opportunity to share in my wife’s taste for novels and television dramas stemming from the works of Jane Austin and her ilk, watching a seemingly endless parade of public television broadcast period pieces, and actually learning to appreciate them.
In other words, classic literature and the pursuit of a happy marriage have prompted me to appreciate my spouse’s interest in the same, and our mutual cooperation in the enjoyment of our entertainment time has grown as a result.
If only Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin had figured that out a little sooner.