The Ravishing of Lol Stein (1964)
by Marguerite Duras
How many novels can one man read about upper middle class wealthy white women who are unhappy and act out that unhappiness by cheating on their husbands? In the 1960s, it's like one out of every three books on the 1001 Books list. Nothing says literature between 1950 and 1970 like an unfaithful, middle class house wife.
Here, the eponymous protagonist is jilted at the altar by her husband to be. He runs off with a much older woman, leaving Lol traumatized. She quickly marries the next man she comes across, a musician, moves away and has three kids, returning to her ancestral home after the death of her parents (to inherit the estate.)
In the United States is best known for the 90s movie version of her book, The Lover. The Lover was a thinly veiled roman a clef about her lover affair with an older Chinese gentleman in Vietnam. Like other French, women writers of her generation, she was more explicit in her treatment of human sexuality than authors in other countries like the United States and England. The overwhelming victory of the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s has obscured just how late prudery and Victorianism ruled the roost.
Despite the titillating title, The Ravishing of Lol Stein lacks the explicit sex scenes of The Lover. While the characters spend much of the book in bed, they are just talking, the sex takes places off-stage.