The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides is a 1993 debut novel by the American author Jeffrey Eugenides. The fictional story, which is set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s, centers on the lives of five doomed sisters, the Lisbon girls. The novel is written in first person plural from the perspective of an anonymous group of teenage boys who struggle to find an explanation for the Lisbons' deaths. The novel's first chapter appeared in The Paris Review in 1990,[1] and won the 1991 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction. The novel was adapted into a 1999 movie by director Sofia Coppola, and starred Kirsten Dunst.

The Virgin Suicides
First edition
AuthorJeffrey Eugenides
CountryUnited States
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3555.U4 V57 1993

Plot summaryEdit

As an ambulance arrives for the body of Cecilia Lisbon, a group of anonymous adolescent neighborhood boys recalls the events leading up to her death.

The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in the suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s. The father, Ronald Lisbon, is a math teacher at the local high school. The mother is a strict homemaker. The family has five attractive blonde daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.

Without warning, Cecilia attempts suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. However, she is found in time by a boy in the neighborhood who had snuck into the home and survives. A few weeks later, the Lisbons meet with Cecilia's psychologist who suggests that the girls need more social interaction and that the potential cause of Cecilia's suicide attempt was the suppression of her libidinal urges. The parents allow the girls to throw a chaperoned party at their house in hopes of cheering Cecilia up. However, Cecilia excuses herself from the party, which is happening in the basement, and goes upstairs and jumps out of her second-story bedroom window. Cecilia is impaled on the fence post below, and she dies almost immediately.

The Lisbon parents, particularly Mrs. Lisbon, begin to watch their four remaining daughters more closely, which only further isolates the family from their upscale community. Cecilia's death also heightens the air of mystery about the Lisbon sisters to the neighborhood boys, who long for more insight into the girls' lives.

When school begins in the fall, Lux begins a secret romance with the local heartthrob, Trip Fontaine. Trip negotiates with the overprotective Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to take Lux to the homecoming dance, on the condition that he finds dates for the other three sisters as well. After winning homecoming King and Queen, Trip persuades Lux to ditch their group to have sex on the school's football field. Afterward, Trip abandons Lux, who falls asleep and misses her curfew. Trip and Lux never speak again.

In response to this incident, Mrs. Lisbon withdraws the girls from school and keeps them home in what the boys can only describe as "maximum security isolation". Mr. Lisbon is also fired from his teaching job due to the family's tragic situation.

Through the winter, Lux is seen by the anonymous teen boys having sex on the roof of the Lisbon residence with unnamed and unknown men at night. The tight-knit community gossip and watch as the Lisbons' lives deteriorate, but no-one has the courage to intervene. After many months of strict confinement, the remaining four sisters reach out to the boys across the street by using light signals and sending anonymous notes. The boys decide to call the Lisbon girls and communicate by playing records over the telephone for the girls to share and express their feelings.

Finally, one night the girls send a message to the boys to come over at midnight, leading the boys to believe that they will help the girls escape their suburban prison. The teens meet Lux, who is all alone smoking a cigarette. She invites them inside and tells them to wait for her sisters while she goes to start the car. As the boys wait, they explore the house. In the Lisbon basement, the boys discover Bonnie hanging from a rope tied to the ceiling rafters. Horrified, the boys flee the home.

In the morning, the authorities come for the dead bodies, as the girls had apparently made a suicide pact: Bonnie hanged herself, Therese overdosed on sleeping pills, and Lux died of carbon monoxide poisoning after sealing herself inside the garage with the car running. Mary attempted suicide by putting her head in the gas oven but failed. Mary lives for another month but everyone writes her off as dead. She finally ends her life by taking an overdose of sleeping pills like Therese. The adults in the community go on as if nothing happened. Local newspaper writer Linda Perl notes that the suicides came exactly one year after Cecilia's first attempt and describes the girls as tragic creatures who were so cut off from life that death was not much of a change.

After the funerals, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon leave Grosse Pointe, never to return and eventually divorce. The Lisbon house is sold to a young couple from the Boston area. All the furniture and personal belongings of the Lisbons are thrown out or sold during a garage sale. The narrators scavenge through the trash to collect mementos they will forever save as keepsakes. 20-something years later, as middle-aged men with families, they lament the suicides as selfish acts from which they have secretly not been able to emotionally recover. The novel closes with the now-grown men confessing that they had loved the girls but that they will never know the true motives behind the suicides.

Film adaptationEdit

Sofia Coppola wrote the screenplay for and directed a 97-minute film version, which was shot in the summer of 1998, and released on May 19, 1999 at the Cannes Film Festival. The Virgin Suicides was Sofia Coppola's feature directorial debut. The film then opened on April 21, 2000, in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The film starred Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, and Josh Hartnett. The film is faithful to the novel; much of the dialogue and narration is taken verbatim from its source. The film received favorable reviews and was rated R for strong thematic elements involving teens.

The French band Air created the score to the film, also entitled The Virgin Suicides.


The inspiration for the plot of the book came to Jeffrey Eugenides when his nephew's teenage babysitter told him that she and her sisters had planned to commit suicide. When Eugenides asked why, the babysitter only replied, "we were under a lot of pressure." Eugenides talks about this inspiration in his YouTube interview with The Paris Review.[2]

Eugenides told 3am Magazine: "I think that if my name hadn't been Eugenides, people wouldn't have called the narrator a Greek chorus".[3]

Several writers have also noted the similarities between The Virgin Suicides and the 1945 play The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca.[4][5][6][7]


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit