Seven Literary Couples Form 'Uncommon Arrangements'

By Kehe, Marjorie | The Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Seven Literary Couples Form 'Uncommon Arrangements'

Kehe, Marjorie, The Christian Science Monitor

Why are we always so fascinated by other people's marriages?

"We flip through magazine articles about celebrity breakups at the dentist's office, or carefully deconstruct the tension between a couple at a dinner party," notes author and cultural commentator Katie Roiphe.

What are we looking for? Some essential knowledge about ourselves? Answers to deeper riddles about life and love? Maybe it's simply that "marriage is perpetually interesting," as Roiphe writes, as "it is the novel that most of us are living in."

But whatever the reason, if there ever was a thinking person's excuse to read about the marriages of others, it's found in Roiphe's intelligent, absorbing Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910 - 1939.

In some ways, Roiphe's book is the sequel to Phyllis Rose's excellent "Parallel Lives." But while Rose studied the marriages of Victorian writers, Roiphe has chosen literary unions formed between 1910 and 1939.

It was an electric time, both heady and messy, vibrant with new ideas. And that's exactly the state of the seven marriages Roiphe observes: heady, messy, and, all too often, doomed by the very bold ideas that spawned them.

Might not monogamy be a form of hypocrisy? they asked. Why not invent a fresher, freer form of union? It was, to borrow a title from one of Mansfield's short stories, an experiment with "marriage a la mode." And so, although each pair Roiphe examines is utterly unique, a common thread of botched idealism runs throughout all their stories.

Essayist and author H.G. Wells and his long-suffering wife Jane tried to live the illusion that his constant infidelities would not bother her as long as they discussed them openly. Short story writer Katherine Mansfield and editor John Middleton Murray played at a responsibility-free union reminiscent of childhood.

Rather than settling for a union with just one partner, Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf, set up a household so complex that "at times one needed a chart like the one at the beginning of a Russian novel to keep them all straight."

Socialite and literary groupie Ottoline Morrell (perhaps the inspiration for "Lady Chatterly's Lover") cheated freely on her politician husband but was shattered when he confessed infidelity to her, not unlike lesbian novelist Radclyffe Hall, who tortured her faithful partner with her dalliances, only to end up devastated by another who wouldn't commit to her.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Seven Literary Couples Form 'Uncommon Arrangements'


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?