Did you know that there are a trio of classic novels known as the “adultery tragedies”? It’s true. And they are the inspiration for my new idea of Three Book Tuesdays as blog content. There is a whole story behind how I came to know this too.
So let’s begin.
As a teenager, high school person, I was a little bit (alright, a lot) obsessed with Russian things. This stemmed from my pre-teen fascination with figure skating. That combined with my early on passion for history. And I was hooked on all things Russia. Once I discovered the tragedy of the Romanovs, it really was a done deal. So, in high school, I bought a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
This was not required reading for any class. I did this on my own, because I wanted to read it. I was weird, I know. Still am. But I read it. It took me eight (8!) months, but I read it. Then I wrote a paper on it for English class, startling my Mrs. Marshall when she realized I actually had read the book. This made me rather proud of myself for having worked through it.
Did I like it? Yes. Do I remember a lot of details? Not really. Have I read it again? Not yet, but I will.
Then in college I took a German History class (recall that history makes a done deal for me and it was my major) and the professor assigned both non-fiction and fiction as reading for the class. There was a lot of reading for that class, which was actually in two parts over two semesters, but my favorite fiction was Effie Briest by Theodor Fontane. That was just the sort of heartbreaking, complicated, classic novel set in Europe that I love. I’ve read that one a couple times since I had to for class.
And then, for the final book in the trio of adultery tragedies, I was at a used book sale and, because I thought reading classics meant something about me as a reader, I bought a copy of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Strange reason for buying a book, I know, but I bet that all readers have done it.
After I read this one, which I have not yet re-read, I thought to myself “this seems an awful lot like Effi Briest” so, wondering if it was just because it was the time and place they were written and set, I did what any person would do and asked Google to explain things to me.
Only then did I discover that all three novels are considered part of the trio.
To say that I was excited by the discovery that I had done something that might, and maybe this is stretching, be considered scholarly or literary would be an understatement. Very excited!
Hmm… maybe my general aversion to required reading turned that accidental feat into “work” and this is why I haven’t re-read the first or third books?
Anyway, these three books are the adultery tragedies. There are female leads; Anna, Effi, and Emma, who are in painfully unhappy marriages. They all have affairs, taboo things in the times and places they live, and a reader can’t really blame them. The thing is, the tragic thing is, that the affairs don’t make the women any happier. There are no happy endings for Anna, Effi, and Emma. They cling to the little things that make life easier to bear and then they bravely, but sometimes not so bravely, endure that which makes life nearly unbearable. And sometimes it isn’t bearable.
They are all raw, real stories. And they are stunning when considered together.
So if you’ve read one and liked it, wondering now what else there is like that one, consider the others. They are really good. As far as I know, Effi Briest isn’t as well-known as the other two so you might be missing out on that one.
Or if you’re looking for some scholarly topic for a paper or a post, this might help.
And remember, Effi Briest is far, far, far shorter than the brick that is Anna Karenina and even shorter than Madame Bovary.
That’s the first installment of “Three Book Tuesdays” so let me know in the comments what you thought, if you’ve read any of these books, what other trios of books you group together!