D. A. N. Jones

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450

The title of this quiet, sad American novel [The Married Lovers] is bound to recall Coventry Patmore's poem, "The Married Lover". A comparison is not frivolous, since both writers are, in their generation, far superior to the average in their command of the English language. Like Patmore, Mr Horwitz seems eager to repudiate the notion that marriage is too dull and familiar a subject for imaginative writing; but Patmore's narrator, Felix, is made to exult in the everyday excitement of his situation, whereas Mr Horwitz's narrator—a middle-aged surgeon, called David—is appalled and driven to desperation by both the concept and the reality of marriage….

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David is anxious to reason things out—the novel is stiff with argument and generalization—and his wife, Anne, is equally articulate and explicit. There is a third prominent character, a Miss Wharton, who offers David advice about marriage in much the same tone of voice. All three speak in the best sort of American English, a spare, graceful, aphoristic style, which is pleasing to read but makes the novel implausible—as if Socrates, Xanthippe and Diotima were all on one wavelength….

It is not until the last four brief chapters that the immediate cause of David's breakdown is revealed…. It seems a disappointingly simple explanation, after all the sociology and metaphysics. But it comes at the right place in the book, as if David had only just managed to spit it out, get it off his chest: he is refreshed, ready for more advice from Miss Wharton—whom he then neatly characterizes to Anne as a woman who "talks about herself like a film editor who takes bits and pieces of film and puts them together to make a movie". That is just how all three of them talk about themselves.

The argumentation, we begin to recognize, reluctantly, is leading nowhere, but within the fiction it has a healing property: it is a kind of exercise or massage. In the final chapter, David is ready to leave the hospital. There is another dialogue with Miss Wharton, the rhetoric still heady but much simpler, with the word "good" musically reiterated. All the dialogue, however sensible and stimulating, has been sort of impressionistic music…. The music of Mr Horwitz's language is quite different from Patmore's: the Victorian Catholic's mysticism is sustained by a faith in reason and rational discourse, whereas Mr Horwitz uses exceptional verbal fluency merely to illustrate confusion, irrationality and failure in communication. His elegant book is well worth reading, particularly by the married and the marriageable.

D. A. N. Jones, "Married Dialogues," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1974; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3797, December 13, 1974, p. 1405.

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