Valerie Martin is the author of eight novels, including the Orange Prize winner Property and last year’s Trespass, now available in paperback. Below, she recommends six other novels about doomed marriages.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Penguin, $7). Rich, innocent Edgar Linton pays the price for putting himself in the line of fire between the famously passionate Catherine Earnshaw and her beloved Heathcliff, the revenge-driven prototype of the romantic hero. The big question: Did Cathy and Heathcliff actually have sex?
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (Dover, $5). Jude Fawley, stonemason, wants to be a university man. His marriage to the earthy Arabella ends when he fails to properly slaughter a pig. Next he falls for his ethereal and married cousin Sue Bridehead. Eventually the cousins become a miserably unhappy couple, struggling to survive with too many mouths to feed. It ends badly for all, especially the children.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Penguin, $9). In this testament to the dangers of a romantic education, Emma Rouault imagines love as “a great rosy-plumaged bird soaring in the splendors of poetic skies,” but husband Charles Bovary’s conversation is “flat as a sidewalk.” One day Rodolphe Boulanger, a local aristocrat, whispers to Emma, “Ah, but there are two moralities.”
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (Signet, $6). Isabel Archer, a lively American heiress abroad, sets out to make an “interesting match.” After turning down good offers from two wealthy men who adore her, she chooses an indifferent, arrogant art dealer frankly in need of cash.
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (Modern Library, $12). Wharton’s antiheroine Undine Spragg is an adept at marriage, a serial dismantler of the sacred bond. When her third husband attempts to rein in her clothes budget, she has his aristocratic French family’s Boucher tapestries valued by a tradesman.
Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki (Vintage, $14). The gullible Joji sets out to turn Naomi, a seductive teenager he discovers in a sleazy Tokyo cafe, into a suitable mate. The sly girl represents for Joji all the liberating possibilities of the West, but she turns out to be more than he bargained for. Their marriage, in this 1924 gem, is a nightmare of jealousy, betrayal, and craven capitulation.