Study Guide

Life After Life Marriage

By Kate Atkinson

Marriage

"Can a house be a corner? Isn't it at one?" So this is marriage, Sylvie thought. (4.43-4.44)

We see early on Sylvie's tendency to take control (naming the house) and kind of rolling her eyes at her husband. She doesn't seem to have much affection for him at all, but maybe that's just how marriage is back in the early 1900s.

"Of course I am [looking forward to being married], why would I be doing it otherwise? I like the idea of marriage. There is something smooth and round and solid about it." (20.400)

Pamela has a traditional view of marriage, despite being a somewhat more modern thinker. It's incredible how much her marriage mimics her mother's, except Pammy seems to be faithful.

"Sometimes," Sylvie said, "one can mistake gratitude for love." (20.436)

This is wise advice, because this is exactly why Ursula marries Derek: She's grateful that he isn't a total jerkwad like every other man in her life. (Of course, he turns out to be the worst of them all—it helps to get to know someone better before marrying them.)

[Ursula] was going to belong to someone, safe at last, that was all that counted. Being a bride was nothing, being a wife was everything. (20.443)

Ursula seems to have bought into Sylvie's belief that being a wife is the most important thing ever. Ursula has given up any sense of personal agency, giving up her entire identity to be married to Derek, in the hope of being "safe," but he takes advantage of her lack of power.

"Everyone marries a stranger," Hugh said. (20.460)

This is the truth, especially in these days where courtship doesn't seem to be the same as dating is today. People often let their true natures show after getting married, maybe because divorce is so uncommon.

[Ursula] had started wearing a wedding ring when not at work, for appearances' sake. (22.59)

While Ursula is living with Crighton, she has to pretend to be married. Cohabitation isn't a thing at this time.

"For me, marriage is about freedom," Izzie said. "For [Sylvie] it has always been about the vexations of confinement." (22.107)

This is a shrewd insult on Izzie's part. Sylvie often buys into norms regarding women and marriage just because they're the norm, and then she seems stifled by them, but accepts them for how things are. But does Izzie do the same thing? What was her motivation for getting married?

"Marriage is based on a more enduring kind of love," Sylvie cautioned. (24.83)

Sylvie is warning against marrying after "love at first sight," and we have to admit it's wise advice. Love at first sight is often lust in disguise, and not the best basis for a marriage.

"No one can understand what goes on in a marriage, every couple is different." (25.237)

Sounds like someone has been reading Anna Karenina. This reminds us of the first line: "All happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Replace family with couple, and you won't be too far off base.

"What a lovely young wife you have […] It's the best way—getting them young—then you can mold them to how you want them." (26.13)

A sleazy man says this to Hugh while Hugh is pretending to be his pregnant sister's husband. We're not sure if he's serious or not, but his attitude seems in line with the attitudes of many men at this time.