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Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Marjorie Taylor Greene

By Tom Baxter

To understand where U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was coming from when she called for a national divorce between the red states and blue states, a couple of 19th century novels are a better guide than any of the charts and graphs her comment has provoked.

Emma Bovary, the unhappy wife of a small-town doctor yearning for a life of excitement and change in Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary,” would have picked up on the special emotional power of the word “divorce” right away. It was something Madame Bovary was prohibited from seeking by French law, despite a couple of affairs and a loveless marriage. Disgraced and in debt, she finally expresses her irreconcilable differences with arsenic.

The title character of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “Anna Karenina,” is the unhappy wife of the Russian Minister of Justice during a time of great social upheaval in that country. She takes up with a young cavalry officer, and unlike Emma Bovary, is able to obtain a divorce. Like Emma, however, infidelity doesn’t bring her happiness and she comes to a tragic end.

Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, impulsive women frustrated by the societal barriers of their age, are closer in temperament to Marjorie Taylor Greene than might appear at first. Her story is playing out on a modern stage, and she’s had opportunities those 19th Century heroines could only dream about. But in Greene’s tweets, we can still trace the psychological triggers which propelled these characters.

The word “divorce” implies a rational legal process, as does Greene when she explains what she’s proposing: “…The left and right should consider a national divorce, not a civil war but a legal agreement to separate our ideological and political disagreements by states while maintaining our legal union.”

But underneath the formal language of the legal agreement, divorce stands for the emotional chaos which comes with it.

“I’ll speak for the right and say, we are absolutely disgusted and fed up with the left cramming and forcing their ways on us and our children with no respect for our religion/faith, traditional values, and economic & government policy beliefs,” Greene wrote. Change just a few of the nouns, and this could be the dialog of a classic breakup argument.

The word has to have a very personal meaning for Greene, whose divorce story spans a decade and includes many of the messy details you’ll find in French and Russian novels. In 2012 she filed for a divorce from her husband, Perry Greene, but the couple reconciled shortly afterward. Last September, the tables turned, and Perry Greene filed for divorce. After dividing a considerable family fortune and their interests in the company where Perry is CEO, the two ended their 27-year marriage in December.

A twice-divorced friend once said that in the period after a divorce, “the highs are higher and the lows are lower.” For Marjorie Taylor Greene, that period has been acted out in the glare of a national spotlight, and the rhetoric of her red-state/blue-state tweets is more suggestive of a post-divorce high than a rational plan for governing.

In tweets elaborating on her proposal, Greene says that blue states would be allowed to descend into lawless anarchy, while red states would give police raises and respect and gun owners free rein to protect themselves. Blue states would probably allow “illegal aliens from all over the world to vote,” while people who moved from blue states to red states would have to undergo a five-year waiting period before they could vote.

It seems obvious she had her tongue pretty far in her cheek when she wrote all this, but that’s where her tongue is nearly all the time. Her divorce comment drew an even sharper reaction than dressing up in a white fur coat and hollering at the State of the Union speech. So she’ll lay it on as thick as she can, and probably raise a lot of money as a result.

If Anna Karenina had the same rights Greene enjoys, she might have sought public office herself, maybe even have challenged her ex, instead of sinking into a depression and staggering in front of an oncoming train. What Flaubert or Tolstoy might have made of Greene, we can only guess.


Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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  1. zidane February 28, 2023 8:40 pm

    thank you for the informationReport

  2. BDAtlanta March 2, 2023 4:45 pm

    This is a fantastic analysis. I’m having flashbacks to high school English class and realizing there was value in learning about literature after all! Concerning Ms. Greene, however, Oy Veh.Report


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