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Constance Ring (European Classics) Paperback – November 27, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
This novel, first published in Norway in 1885, in some ways is refreshingly dissimilar from other works of its era. Skram outspokenly covers such topics as sex, adultery and women's rights in her story of a woman trapped into marriage and betrayed by hypocritical men. Skram animates her writing with conviction by describing the minutiae of everyday lifean apartment's furnishings, the goings-on at a supper party. The first portion of her book, in which the title character, a vibrant woman in her early 20s, is stifled in a marriage to a boor 16 years her senior, is compelling indeed. Skram's description of Constance's slide into depression after she learns of her husband's adultery appears autobiographical (an afterword notes the author's hospitalizations for mental breakdowns). But in the novel's major flaw, Constance retains her childishly idealistic notions of love and marriage. She marries again, only to learn that her second husband has an illegitimate child. To spite him, she sleeps with a musician and then finds that her lover has been having an affair with her maid. Skram makes an important point on the double standard for men and women, and equates marrying for money with prostitution. However, Constance's unchanging behavior and total passivity are ultimately boring. The three men in her life are variations on the same monotonous theme. And although Skram departs from convention for most of the book, she punishes her adulterous heroine in the denouement, true to Victorian form.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Most of Skram’s works focus on the plight of women in a man’s world. She felt strongly that Norwegians—and indeed Scandinavians—should be confronted with the gender imbalance and inequality to spark debate and reforms. This novel was therefore as much a sociopolitical statement as it was a fictional narrative. There are no heroes here. Most males are portrayed to be womanizers. The women are of two kinds: committed to their marriage vows at all cost, or single women (mostly young and of lower class) preyed on by opportunistic men. Constance, who in modern medical analysis would be termed as bipolar, is mentally and emotionally capricious. She chases shadows. She succumbs to a habit of analyzing her own and her husbands’ and lover’s failures. She makes no attempt to be socially involved (other than hosting frivolous parties). Some men love her but she mercurially manipulates them by successively granting and then denying them her emotional and physical affections. Consequently her husbands and lover seek sexual solace elsewhere. As she learns of these indiscretions she is devastated. Yes, Constance is victimized but tragically she fails to discern how her own failures may have contributed.