cover image Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages

Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages

Carmela Ciuraru. Harper, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-235691-8

Critic Ciuraru (Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms) delivers a harrowing history of five mid-20th-century literary spouses. “If we think of literary wifedom as a narrative genre,” Ciuraru writes, “it might be described as some blend of romance—turbulent, passionate, highly charged—and dystopian literature.” There’s Una Troubridge, whose marriage to Radclyffe Hall was marked by the former inhabiting “a subservient role with no trace of resentment or seething envy.” (Indeed, with Troubridge the “submissive wife” and Hall the “controlling husband, they did not exactly defy patriarchal norms,” Ciuraru notes.) Elsa Morante, meanwhile, was often “volatile” and made to feel “ignored, unwanted, taken for granted” by her husband Alberto Moravia; Kenneth Tynan sexually abused his second wife, Elaine Dundy, a writer whose “life was filled with fascinating characters, remarkable friendships, adventure, glamour, and literary success”; and while Elizabeth Jane Howard “always marveled” at husband Kingsley Amis’s “intense discipline in his work,” it often came at the expense of her own. Throughout, there are intense accounts of the writers psychologically (and sometimes physically) brutalizing their long-suffering partners; as Ciuraru puts it, “we must give writers’ wives their due, marvel at what they achieved... and reflect on what might have been.” This bracing survey delivers. Agent: William Morris, WME. (Feb.)