A Married Man (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
About midway through Read’s novel, John Strickland, the barrister-protagonist, asks one of the characters, “So what am I?” In the immediate context of that question, Strickland is exploring his dual identity as lawyer and soon-to-be parliamentarian, but in fact that question permeates the entire novel. Who are we? Can we be sure we have any reliable understanding of ourselves? Are we perhaps only reflections of what others see in us, mere exterior identities without inner substance or value?
On the surface, Strickland is mildly prosperous, making about fifteen thousand pounds a year. He owns both a house in London and a cottage in Wiltshire. He has two model children and a lovely wife. To be sure, he cannot afford to replace his rusting old Volvo, and he is beset with mortgages, life insurance premiums, pension funds, club dues, and sundry other expenses which reduce his material well-being; but on the whole he is firmly ensconced in the English upper-middle class.
Beneath the surface, Strickland is on the edge of despair, although his condition is not represented in his mind as anything so dramatic. (He would not understand the term “despair” in its religious sense anyway, being an agnostic.) He calls the feeling “Ivan Ilychitis,” since it comes upon him only after he stumbles over Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych. Vaguely discontent and anxious about his life in a way he cannot articulate, Strickland knows only that...
(The entire section is 2687 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!