Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages

Harper. Feb. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9780062356918. $29.99. LIT
Literary critic Ciuraru (Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms) examines five literary marriages—some fairy tales, some nightmares. Each couple (Elaine Dundy and Kenneth Tynan, Elizabeth Jane Howard and Kingsley Amis, Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl, Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia, Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall) gets a chapter that discusses their complicated relationships, often filled with excessive drinking/drugs, infidelities, clashes, and resentments. The author honors these women who performed many household and other tasks to support their “needy” literary spouses. In sustaining their writer-partners they often sacrificed their own careers and ambitions (Howard, Troubridge) and experienced intense envy and vitriol from their spouses when they attained their own literary success or fame (Dundy, Neal) that eclipsed their husbands’. She calls Morante the least selfless of the five wives; however, her husband’s success often overshadowed her significant contributions to Italian literature. There are frequent quotes from letters and other sources but no footnotes and only a selected bibliography. The author also incorrectly states that Paul Newman won the Best Actor Oscar for Hud—he lost to Sidney Poitier. Of the featured marriages, only Troubridge and Hall’s lesbian relationship endured.
VERDICT A notable book about remarkable women that could have subsequent volumes. Recommended for readers interested in these authors or in 20th-century literature.
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