Carmela Ciuraru shares the stories of five literary marriages, exposing the misery behind closed doors. The legendary British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan encouraged his American wife, Elaine Dundy, to write, then watched in a jealous rage as she became a bestselling author and critical success. In the early years of their marriage, Roald Dahl enjoyed basking in the glow of his glamorous movie star wife, Patricia Neal, until he detested her for being the breadwinner, and being more famous than he was. Elizabeth Jane Howard had to divorce Kingsley Amis to escape his suffocating needs and devote herself to her own writing. As this work shows, each marriage is a unique story, filled with struggles and triumphs and the negotiation of power.
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.