Committed (Gilbert)

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
Elizabeth Gilbert, 2010
Penguin Group USA
285 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780143118701

In her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert met Felipe, a Brazilian gemstone trader, in Indonesia. As she finished her travels (and the book), their magical affair evolved into a deeper love, and the two resolved to settle together back in the United States.

Both had been through bad divorces, and though they pledged fidelity to one another, they were content to live in domestic bliss unrecognized by official ceremony or legal title. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security, noting Felipe’s record of border crossing for business, had other plans for them. When an airport guard held Felipe and threatened deportation, Gilbert asked what legal recourse they would have. The guard suggested a simple solution: marriage.

The idea came as a shock to the couple, but recognizing that their options were limited, they agreed to set the process in motion and apply for a visa that would enable Felipe to return to the U.S. In the meantime, they set off on a peripatetic year in Asia, traveling with limited resources and waiting for word from their immigration lawyer as their case languished in bureaucratic uncertainty.

Gilbert used this time to research the concept of marriage in Western culture, as seen through the lens of historians, psychologists, sociologists, and poets, looking closely at how the institution has evolved to reflect our social needs and how it is so often intertwined with religion, politics, class, and money.

In an attempt to overcome her anxieties about returning to the altar, Gilbert also interviewed natives of Laos and Vietnam, as well as her own family and friends, about their attitudes toward matrimony. All the while she and Felipe deepened their commitment to one another, putting their beachside romance to a stronger test—living out of bags in foreign countries, under the emotional duress of indeterminate exile, for months at a time.

A thoughtful examination of marriage and true partnership in contemporary society, Committed is a deeply insightful and relevant book. Illuminating little-known facts such as the partnership rate among seagulls and the mating rituals in the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere, Gilbert explores divorce, compatibility, monogamy, gay marriage, child rearing, and feminism.

As in Eat, Pray, Love, her wit, curiosity, and human compassion elevate a personal journey to a compelling and important narrative. Committed delves into one of our strongest cultural institutions as its author finds her own place within it. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—July 18, 1969
Raised—Litchfield, Connecticut, USA
Education—B.A., New York University
Awards—Pushcart Prize
Currently—Frenchtown, New Jersey

Elizabeth M. Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist and memoirist. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which spent 200 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.

Gilbert was born in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her father was a chemical engineer, her mother a nurse. Along with her only sister, novelist Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Gilbert grew up on a small family Christmas tree farm in Litchfield, Connecticut. The family lived in the country with no neighbors, and they didn’t own a TV or even a record player. Consequently, they all read a great deal, and Gilbert and her sister entertained themselves by writing little books and plays.

Gilbert earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from New York University in 1991, after which she worked as a cook, a waitress, and a magazine employee. She wrote of her experience as a cook on a dude ranch in short stories, and also briefly in her book The Last American Man (2002).

Esquire published Gilbert's short story "Pilgrims" in 1993, under the headline, "The Debut of an American Writer." She was the first unpublished short story writer to debut in Esquire since Norman Mailer. This led to steady—and well paying—work as a journalist for a variety of national magazines, including SPIN, GQ, New York Times Magazine, Allure, Real Simple, and Travel + Leisure.

Her 1997 GQ article, "The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon", a memoir of Gilbert's time as a bartender at the very first Coyote Ugly table dancing bar located in the East Village section of New York City, was the basis for the feature film Coyote Ugly (2000). She adapted her 1998 GQ article, "The Last American Man: Eustace Conway is Not Like Any Man You've Ever Met," into a biography of the modern naturalist, The Last American Man, which received a nomination for the National Book Award in non-fiction. "The Ghost," a profile of Hank Williams III published by GQ in 2000, was included in Best American Magazine Writing 2001.

Early books
Gilbert's first book Pilgrims (1997), a collection of short stories, received the Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. This was followed by her novel Stern Men (2000), selected as a New York Times "Notable Book." In 2002 she published The Last American Man (2002), a biography of Eustace Conway, a modern woodsman and naturalist, which was nominated for National Book Award.

Eat, Pray, Love
In 2006, Gilbert published Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (Viking), a chronicle of her year of "spiritual and personal exploration" spent traveling abroad. She financed her world travel for the book with a $200,000 publisher's advance.

The memoir was on the New York Times Best Seller List of non-fiction in the spring of 2006, and in October 2008, after 88 weeks, the book was still on the list at number 2. Gilbert appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007, and has reappeared on the show to further discuss the book and her philosophy, and to discuss the film. She was named by Time as among the 100 most influential people in the world. The film version was released in 2010 with Julia Roberts starring as Gilbert.

After EPL
Gilbert's fifth book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, was released in 2010. The book is somewhat of a sequel to Eat, Pray, Love in that it takes up Gilbert's life story where her bestseller left off. Committed also reveals Gilbert's decision to marry Felipe, the Brazilian man she met in Indonesia as recounted in the final section of EPL. The book is an examination of the institution of marriage from several historical and modern perspectives—including those of people, particularly women, reluctant to marry. In the book, Gilbert also includes perspectives on same-sex marriage and compares this to interracial marriage prior to the 1970s. Gilbert and Felipe are still married and operate a story called Two Buttons.

In 2012, she republished At Home on the Range, a 1947 cookbook written by her great-grandmother, the food columnist Margaret Yardley Potter.

Gilbert returned to fiction in 2013 with The Signature of All Things, a sprawling 19th-century style novel following the life of a young female botonist. The book brings together that century's fascination with botany, botanical drawing, spiritual inquiry, exploration, and evolution. Kirkus Reviews called it "a brilliant exercise of intellect and imagination," and Booklist a "must read."

Literary influences
In an interview, Gilbert mentioned The Wizard of Oz with nostalgia, adding, "I am a writer today because I learned to love reading as a child—and mostly on account of the Oz books..." She is especially vocal about the importance of Charles Dickens to her, mentioning his stylistic influence on her writing in many interviews. She lists Marcus Aurelius' Meditations as her favorite book on philosophy. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/16/2013.)

Book Reviews
By the end Gilbert had…convinced me that "the book that I needed to write was exactly this book." Because really, in the wake of Eat, Pray, Love, wasn't she damned if she did and damned if she didn't? If this book were too similar to that one, some readers would say it was repetitive. If it were a complete departure, other readers would say she ought to have stuck to what she does well. By bringing along some elements, like exotic international locations, and leaving behind others, like a certain emotional rawness, she will no doubt displease those who will think she brought along what she should have left behind and left what she should have brought. But I'll bet most fans of Eat, Pray, Love will be quite content, book clubs nationwide will have a grand time debating Committed, and even those of us with grouchier dispositions—including those of us who review books—can appreciate the closure of knowing that Gilbert and Felipe live happily ever after.
Curtis Sittenfeld - New York Times

This story is essentially journalism, written by an extremely competent journalist. It doesn't pretend to be anything more than that. It's a charming narrative that ends, Shakespearean-fashion, with a happy-hearted wedding. What's not to like?
Carolyn See - Washington Post

Committed is an unfurling of Gilbert’s profound anxiety about reentering a legally binding arrangement that she does not really believe in. All this ambivalence, expressed in her high-drama prose, can be a lot to handle.... Ultimately, Gilbert is clear about what she, like most people, wants: everything. We want intimacy and autonomy, security and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it. Gilbert understands this, yet she tries to convince herself and her readers that she has found a loophole. She tells herself a familiar story, that her marriage will be different. And she is, of course, right—everyone’s marriage is different. But everyone’s marriage is a compromise.
Ariel Levy - New Yorker

It's all fascinating stuff, but ultimately Gilbert is more interested in the history of divorce than marriage. The reader can feel both her excitement when she tells us that in medieval Germany there were two kinds of marriages, one more casual than the other, and her rage when she recounts the ill effects of the Church on divorce as it "turned marriage into a life sentence." For all of its academic ambition, the juiciest bits of Committed are the personal ones, when she tells us stories about her family. There's a great scene involving the way her grandfather scattered her grandmother's ashes, and a painfully funny story of a fight Gilbert and Felipe had on a 12-hour bus ride in Laos. The bus is bumpy, the travelers exhausted, and both feel the frustration of not being able to make a home together. They bicker, and she tries and fails at a couples-therapy technique, and a "heated silence went on for a long time." Later in the story, when she is hemming and hawing about the Meaning of It All, he says, "When are you going to understand? As soon as we secure this bloody visa and get ourselves safely married back in America, we can do whatever the hell we want." I am happy for Gilbert that she did a lot of research before tying the knot again, but she already did the most important thing a gun-shy bride can do: choose the right mate. (Amy Sohn is author of Prospect Park West.)
Amy Sohn - Publishers Weekly

In the follow up to Eat, Pray, Love (2006), Gilbert examines her reluctant marriage to Felipe, the Brazilian businessman she met at the end of her post-divorce travels, and considers her doubts about the institution of marriage. After the narrative of her previous book ended, Gilbert and her beau moved to the United States, promised never to get married and set about building a life together. Immigration law soon intervened, however, when Felipe was denied entry to the country. The only solution was marriage, and the memoir recounts how the couple was "sentenced to marry by the Homeland Security Department." Both Gilbert and Felipe, however, had deep reservations about matrimony-some philosophical, some personal. The author narrates the months spent traveling abroad while waiting for the government to process the requisite paperwork, as well as Gilbert's quest to interview people from different cultures regarding marriage. She also delves into contemporary research on matrimony, divorce and happiness. In Southeast Asia, Hmong women don't have the same expectations about emotional fulfillment in marriage. "Perhaps I was asking too much of love," writes Gilbert. Her mother, we learn, loved raising children but profoundly regretted the loss of her career: "If I dwell on that too much, honest to God, I become so enraged, I can't even see straight." Gilbert provides a variety of grim statistics about marriage, her thoughts on gay marriage and a "rant" on gender inequity and social-conservative constructions of the institution. Presented in the author's easy-going, conversational style, the material is intriguing and often insightful. However, readers may wonder if Gilbert has actually made her peace with marriage, despite the nuptials at the end. "Forgive me then, if, at the end of my story," she writes, "I seem to be grasping at straws in order to reach comforting conclusions about matrimony."A vaguely depressing account of how intimate relationships are complicated by marriage, divorce and expectations about both.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
1. Gilbert, who has been through a divorce, calls herself a skeptic about marriage. Do you think a certain amount of skepticism about the institution is healthy or is it unromantic?

2. Why do Gilbert and Felipe react so strongly to the Homeland Security officer’s suggestion that they tie the knot?

3. When encountering the Hmong people, Gilbert is taken by their cultural belief that men and women are “mostly the same, most of the time.” What does this say about their ideas and expectations about marriage, and how does that contrast with Gilbert’s?

4. Gilbert weaves in cultural and religious history and a bit of on-the-spot anthropological research with her own personal story. What did these lessons from the past and other cultures teach her, as a potential bride, and what did they teach you, as the reader?

5. Gilbert discusses a few factors that contribute to a marriage’s success or failure, and she analyzes her relationship with Felipe in this context. What other factors might predict the outcome of a marriage?

6. Committed examines the ways marriage has been politicized and controlled by laws, reflecting the way its socially imposed meaning and purpose has changed over time. What role does marriage play in our current society?

7. Pointing out that the very word “matrimony” implies that a couple will bear children, Gilbert explores some of the expectations women face when they get married. How have these issues changed over time, and which ones, in your experience, remain problematic?

8. Gilbert compares marriages for practical reasons versus marriages for love and notes that divorce rates rise in societies where people marry for love. Why does this happen, and do you think people in our society should consider marrying for practical reasons?

9. After months of traveling together in exile, Gilbert and Felipe reach a kind of crisis point on a twelve-hour bus ride through Laos. What do they learn about each other in this moment?

10. Gilbert examines two basic worldviews that might be applied to marriage—Greek and Hebrew. Which one describes your beliefs?

11. What does Gilbert ultimately conclude about what marriage means to her? Do you find this conclusion satisfying?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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