Ms. Ciuraru is intensely interested in the vicissitudes of relationships over time ... Refreshingly, Ms. Ciuraru has chosen to 'steer clear of the all-star wifely roster'—Zelda Fitzgerald, Véra Nabokov, Nora Barnacle, Sofia Tolstoy, plus Hemingway’s four wives, Bellow’s five and Mailer’s six. Instead, she has handpicked five accomplished duos whose stories are less widely familiar ... Amid the sometimes disheartening marital warfare, there are plenty of pleasant benefits in this deeply researched book, including enticing descriptions of forgotten literary gems ... It should be noted that Ms. Ciuraru’s compulsively readable book examines these unions from a 21st-century vantage point.
A tour de force ... Ciuraru diligently records the sources of even the most eye-popping details — journals, diaries, letters, biographies and memoirs — and assesses them for accuracy, at the same time keeping the story moving briskly along ... The stories Ciuraru tells are gripping, horrific and sometimes even funny, but most of all they are important. In her introduction, she writes that this book is a 'project of reclamation and reparation,' and indeed it is.
What could be more fascinating than others’ unhappiness — and what more fruitful ground for extravagant misery than the bad marriages of crapulous egotists? It’s upon this shameful little human truth that Carmela Ciuraru’s lively Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages is built ... Reading her five portraits of these conveniently deceased figures and their fraught unions feels a bit like chasing fistfuls of candy with slugs of vinegar. The sweetness comes by way of all the fabulous dishing and tidbits of gossip.
Painful, even incendiary reading ... All the same, these five marriages are very different in the nature of their dysfunctionality and the manner in which a talented woman is subordinated to the talented man she chooses to marry; Ciuraru’s attempt to cluster them together strikes me as a bit forced. Still, the mixture of high gossip and granular detail makes for enthralling reading.
It would be easy, thesis-wise, if all these women were kept down by their men (or woman, in the case of Troubridge). But this is not so ... Alas, Ciuraru is rather more Viking in her approach: she simply raids and pillages all the memoirs, letters and existing biographies, giving us the facts, but little more. Her synopses – for that is what these essays really are – feel lazy and rushed and somewhat on the familiar side ... Still, as gossip goes, this is juicy stuff ... I wound up feeling sorry for pretty much everyone, husbands included.
Brisk and enjoyable ... It’s more of a clever cuts job, using memoirs and newspaper articles to collage together evocative portraits of the artists and their beleaguered wives. Ciuraru...has an eye for the telling detail, lifting her group biography far above the Wikipedia-lite fare it could have been ... I suspect she chose these five because they interested her. Her interest is infectious, even if a lot of the book will be familiar to those who have read Dundy’s, Neal’s or Howard’s memoirs.
Lives of the Wives offers scintillating, no-prisoners-taking portraits ... Part cautionary tale and occasional horror show, Lives of the Wives is fundamentally a shimmering love story—that is, a story of love for the creative life, if not always for the person doing the creating.
Entertaining ... She appears to think that the spousal inequality and asymmetry is unique to literary marriages, and that the bias, initially at least, always favors the male partner. In fact, most of her chapters show both partners equally in thrall to gender stereotypes, conformity to which erodes at a more or less dramatic rate, which is pretty much what happens in many more banal marriages after all ... In short while the level of detail—and amusement—Ciuraru brings to each of her marriage portraits is not in doubt, her attempts to draw out general sociological principles to be applied to all literary marriages fails to convince and would be better abandoned ... With some variations of detail, the relationships follow familiar trajectories through passionate involvement, to waning sexual interest and infidelity, and to each party wanting their own way, more than they wanted each other. Nevertheless, these vivid studies of famous personalities and their interaction do tell us in some cases more about them than we knew, and perhaps confirm that this struggling model of conventional marriage is a thing of the past.
Eye-opening ... While the stories of betrayal and suffering might not exactly ruin literary heroes, readers beware: The reality is often harsh—but also fascinating ... An illuminating, well-rendered literary biography.