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"Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages"

The Book Review

10-02-2023 • 21 mins

Admit it: It's fun to look at other people's marriages — and all the more fun if those marriages are messy. In a new group biography, "Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages," the author Carmela Ciuraru peers into some relationships that are very messy indeed: the tumultuous marriages of Kenneth Tynan and Elaine Dundy; Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal; Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard; Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge; and Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante. As Ciuraru's title suggests, the book focuses especially on the role — and toll — of being a wife, stifling one's own creative impulses for the sake of a temperamental artist.

On this week's podcast, Sadie Stein — an editor at the Book Review, who commissioned the literary critic Hermione Hoby to write about Ciuraru's book for us — talks with the host Gilbert Cruz about "Lives of the Wives."

"They're all complicated people,"  Stein says. "I don't want to oversimplify it. Everyone knows you can't see inside anyone else's marriage. But these couples, you can see a little more. And in some cases, a little more than maybe you want to."

"It's a very gossipy book," Cruz says. "And I, to my own embarrassment, was not as up on 20th-century European literary gossip as maybe I should have been. So a lot of this stuff came as a total surprise, total shock to me. ... It's so juicy, but it also made me feel bad in a certain way."

And that, we can all agree, is good.

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