Lives of the Wives
A witty look inside the tumultuous marriages of five famous writers--focusing on the "wives" of either gender--that illuminates the creative process as well as the role of money, fame, and power in these complex, fascinating relationships. "With an ego the size of a small nation, the literary lion is powerful on the page, but a helpless kitten in daily life--dependent on his wife to fold an umbrella, answer the phone, or lick a stamp." The history of wives is largely one of silence, resilience, and forbearance. Toss in celebrity, male privilege, ruthless ambition, narcissism, misogyny, infidelity, alcoholism, and a mood disorder or two, and it's easy to understand why the marriages of so many famous writers have been stormy, short-lived, and mutually destructive. As writer and critic Carmela Ciuraru reveals, the most conventional couple in Lives of the Wives is perhaps the partnership of two lesbians, Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall. 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 a critical success. Roald Dahl enjoyed basking in the glow of his glamorous American movie star wife, Patricia Neal, yet detested her being wealthier and more famous than he was. Elizabeth Jane Howard had to divorce Kingsley Amis to escape his suffocating needs and devote herself fully to her own writing. Yet as this erudite and entertaining work shows, each marriage is a unique story, filled with struggles and triumphs. The successful Italian novelists Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia were never sexually compatible, and it was Morante who often behaved abusively toward her cool, detached husband, even as he unwaveringly admired his wife's talents and championed her work. Theirs was an unhappy union, but it fed them creatively and enabled both to become two of Italy's most important postwar writers. A provocative exploration of the intersection of life and art, creativity and love, envy and rage, Lives of the Wives offers a fresh and unusual look at literary life that is insightful, poignant, humorous, and always surprising.
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