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The Virgin Suicides  
Virgicides.jpg
Author Jeffrey Eugenides
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date 1993
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 249 pp
ISBN 0-374-28438-5
OCLC Number 26806717
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 20
LC Classification PS3555.U4 V57 1993

The Virgin Suicides is the 1993 debut novel by American writer Jeffrey Eugenides. The story, which is set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s, centers around the suicides of five sisters. The Lisbon girls' suicides fascinate their community as their neighbors struggle to find an explanation for the acts.

The novel is atypical in that it was written in first person plural from the perspective of an anonymous group of teenage boys who became infatuated with the girls, a style mirroring a Greek chorus.[1] The narrator(s) rely on relics and interviews gathered in the two decades after the suicide to construct the tale. The novel is rich in descriptive detail, using observations about the state of the Lisbon house and the contents of the girls’ rooms to advance the plot. The effect is that the reader glimpses the novel’s main characters as if he or she were one of the neighborhood onlookers.

The novel was released and adapted into a 1999 film by director Sofia Coppola.

Contents

Plot summary

The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan in the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a math teacher at the local high school and the mother is a homemaker. The family has five daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.

Their lives change dramatically within one summer when Cecilia, a stoic and astute girl described as an "outsider", attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. A few weeks later, the girls throw a chaperoned party at which Cecilia jumps from their second story window and succeeds in ending her life, by being impaled by a fence post.

The cause of Cecilia's suicide and its after effects on the family are popular subjects of neighborhood gossip. The mystique of the Lisbon girls also increases for the neighborhood boys, the narrators of the novel.

Lux begins a romance with local heartthrob Trip Fontaine. Trip negotiates with the overprotective Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to take Lux to a homecoming dance, on the condition that he finds dates for the other three girls. Lux then misses her curfew - consequently, the Lisbons become recluses. Mrs. Lisbon pulls all the girls out of school, believing that it would help the girls recover. Mr. Lisbon officially takes a leave of absence. Their house falls into a deeper state of disrepair and none of them leave the house. A strange smell coming from the house permeates the neighborhood. From a safe distance, all the people in the neighborhood watch the Lisbons' lives deteriorate, but no one can summon up the courage to intervene.

During this time, the Lisbons become increasingly fascinating to the neighborhood in general and the narrator boys in particular. The boys call the Lisbon girls and communicate by playing records over the telephone for the girls.

Finally, the girls send a message to the boys to come to the house. Shortly after the boys arrive, three of the sisters kill themselves: Bonnie hangs herself, Therese overdoses on sleeping pills, and Lux dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mary attempts suicide by putting her head in the oven, but fails. Mary later succeeds by taking sleeping pills. Newspaper writer Linda Perl notes that that mass suicide comes a year after Cecilia's first attempt. After the suicide "free-for-all," Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon leave the neighborhood. The house is sold to a young couple from the Boston area and most of the Lisbons' personal effects are either thrown out or sold in a garage sale. The narrators scavenge through the trash to collect much of the "evidence" they mention.

Style and point-of-view

The story is told by an anonymous narrator in the first person plural. The narrator is one or all of a group of adolescent boys who obsessed over the Lisbon girls from a distance in their youth, and now, as middle-aged men, continue to try to piece together the girls' story. Several of the boys are mentioned by name, but the narration never slips into first-person singular and the speaker's identity remains unclear.

The narrative looks back on the time when the boys knew and loved the Lisbon girls, who continue to haunt them in adulthood. The men keep in touch with each other to continue to be the "custodians of the girls' lives", and the subject of the girls always comes up when they "run into each other at cocktail parties or business luncheons."

Still in mourning, the group treasures a collection of "evidence" they have gathered ("Exhibits Nos. 1-98") concerning the Lisbons. It includes Cecilia's diary, family photographs and personal objects from the girls' rooms. Due to their connection with the Lisbon girls, many of the objects are seen as having an almost magical, fetish-like quality. Indeed the entire point-of-view reveals the reader to be part of this act of childhood voyeurism made innocent by the eventual deaths of the girls. The girls are very well aware of their viewers and are complicit in their participation as ´suicidal exhibitionists´ and in this way the novel proves to be much more dark than even the title suggests.

The narrators refer to several interviews they have conducted with people who lived in the neighborhood during the time of the Lisbon suicides. Some are people who played a prominent role in the story (Mrs. Lisbon and an aging, substance-addicted Trip Fontaine) and some are merely onlookers, such as an old drunk who lived across from the Lisbons and a teacher who was the neighborhood's sole Communist. All the people mentioned in the novel—amounting to more than 150 names—become witnesses to, and commentators on, the tragedy that befalls the Lisbon family.

It remains unclear whom the narrative chorus is addressing. Though it sometimes seems as though the mourners have collected all their memorabilia and conducted their interviews for some official purpose, this is never made clear. In their attempt to understand who the Lisbon girls were and why they committed suicide, they never find a truly satisfying answer. But the entire novel, meanwhile paints a poignantly sharp and critical portrait of the suburban American life experienced by the baby boom generation.

Film adaptation

Sofia Coppola wrote the screenplay and directed a 97 minute film version, filmed in 1999, and released on April 21, 2000, in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The film starred Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, and Josh Hartnett (as well as Danny DeVito in a short cameo). Much of the dialogue and narration is taken directly from the novel. The film is considered faithful to the book in spite of the latter's non-traditional narrative and was rated R for strong thematic elements involving teens.

The French band Air created the score to the film, also entitled The Virgin Suicides.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Eugenides told 3am Magazine: "I think that if my name hadn't been Eugenides, people wouldn't have called the narrator a Greek chorus. The traditional Greek chorus stays apart from the action, but the boys in The Virgin Suicides meddle in the action quite a bit, so they really [are] different from a traditional Greek chorus."

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Virgin Suicides is a 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Unsourced

  • It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.
  • “We’ll have fun without you”
  • The flagpole that had flown at half-mast the day Cecilia died, though it had been summer and no one but the lawn crew had noticed
  • Everybody had a story as to why she tried to kill herself. Mrs. Buell said the parents were to blame. "That girl didn't want to die," she told us. "She just wanted out of that house." Mrs. Scheer added, "she wanted out of that decorating scheme."
  • The small statue of a girl… donated in memory of Laura White, her bronze skirt just beginning to oxidize. Scars crossed her welded wrists, symbolically, but the Lisbon girls didn’t notice.
  • “I knew I had to close that window or else she’d go on jumping out of it forever.”
  • A series of dissolves, their house, street, city, country, and finally planet, which not only dwarfs but obliterates them.
  • The girls were right in choosing to love Trip, because he was the only boy who could keep his mouth shut.
  • We realised that the version of the world they had rendered for us was not the world they really believed in, and that for all their caretaking and bitching about crabgrass, they didn't give a damn about lawns.
  • We realized that our fathers, brothers and uncles had been lying, and that .no one was ever going to love us for our good grades.
  • “None of my daughters lacked for any love. We had plenty of love in our house.”
  • They knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all.
  • We had never known them. They had brought us here to find that out.
  • “Obviously, Doctor… you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl."
  • We asked Father Moody whether he had discussed Cecilia’s death or the girls’ grief, but he said he hadn’t.
  • The blue slate roof… visibly darkened. The yellow bricks turned brown… There were other signs of creeping desolation. The illuminated doorbell went out. The bird feeder fell in the back yard and was left on the ground… Mrs Higbie insisted that Mr Lisbon, using a long pole, had closed the outside shutters.
  • Cecilia’s party had never been cleaned up. The paper tablecloth, spotted with mice droppings… A brownish scum of punch… sprinkled with flies… A profusion of withered balloons hung from the ceiling… The domino game still called for a three or a seven.
  • The room’s changes- water bugs adhering to walls, one bobbing dead mouse- only heightened what hadn’t changed
  • You don’t understand me… I’m a teenager. I’ve got problems!
  • Vince Fusilli held up his lighter… It was the best we could do for an eternal flame.
  • So much has been written about the girls in the newspapers, so much has been said over back-yard fences, or related over the years in psychiatrists’ offices, that we are certain only of the insufficiency of explanations.

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