I really couldn't get into this book, to me it reads like a text book but if you have an interest in the politics of the victorian era you might like it.
This intellectual book profiles the lives of five unusual couples from the 1800's; Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle, Effie Gray and John Ruskin, Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill, Catherine Hogarth and Charles Dickens, George Eliot and George Henry Lewes. Each of the couples has some unusual arrangement, usually regarding sex (or the lack thereof). In fact, there's a lot of talk about sex (and the lack thereof) throughout the entire book, not in a descriptive way, but analyzing the customs of the time. Some knowledge of English writers and their literature may help. The two readers of this household found it entertaining in an oddly twisted sort of way. Be sure to read the notes at the end.
From the cover: "A lively study...a writer of great wit and freedom...Rose's anecdotes and insights provide a fresh view of the circumstances that bedeviled relations between the sexes a century ago."
A peek into the private lives of John Ruskin (wedding night trauma), Thomas Carlyle (his wife had the last word from the grave), John Stuart Mill (great thinker suffered from infantile dependency), Charles Dickens ('rock star' of the mid-19th century), and George Eliot (defied convention by co-habitation with her biggest fan).
Some of the most entertaining notes I've ever read!
The author explores five Victorian marriages to show the many ways a man and a woman can chose to be "married."
I love literary biography and I thought this book would be enjoyable. But it wasn't especially. The author said that she wasn't trying to provide representative marriages of the Victorian era. That's really an understatement. She picked out some of the poorest relationships she could find. I'm more familiar with American authors, but surely there are good marriages in literary England that could have been included. I was interested in one marriage that she devoted one page to, but could not see fit to write a chapter on. That was Charles Kingsley's. The Victorian era is a time period. She does not specify, nor is it defined generally, that it pertains only to England. There are a number of very good American marriages she could have featured, including Nathaniel Hawthorne's, William Dean Howells's, who was born the year Victoria began her reign, or Mark Twain's. These were all satisfying marriages.
For the most part, the author is more sympathetic with the women in the marriages she featured. She deliberately chose marriages that make the men look bad. That's called feminism. That's what we see in television's sitcoms today.
The author disparages the institution of marriage. One statement that testifies to this: â. . . assuming there are not children involved, we ought to be free to change partners until we find one who suits us.â In another way she does this by repeatedly referring to the relationship between George Eliot and George Henry Lewes as a marriage, and that he was her husband. Eliot herself does this, but a biographer need not follow that example if it's an exaggeration. An illicit relationship is not the same as a marriage, no matter how long the couple has been together. Commitment is not required in the former. She even says, âThe union of Marian Evans and George Henry Lewes has been legitimized by time and its progeny.â Their union was never legitimized in God's eyes or in the eyes of conservative Christians. Even in the subtitle of the book, she refers to all five relationships as marriages. In the chapter on Dickens, she asks how many clever people ever findâ ideal intellectual companionship with their mates.â How would she know if she only studies the bad marriages?
In the case of Dickens, the author states that âChristianity had already become. . . little more than an organized form of sentiment, a species of practical benevolence.â She ignores the fact that he wrote âThe Life of Our Lordâ for his children during this time he was living with his wife. This book defines his Christian thought. Even at the time âParallel Livesâ was written, books on the influence of Christianity on Dickens's writing had begun to appear. Rose ignores these as well. Christians divorce and have bad marriages, in his day as well as in ours. But God forgives, when we ask him, and the influence of Dickens's fundamental Christian outlook on his writing cannot be denied.
This book was written to promote the agenda of the author, which seems to be to de-emphasize the institution of marriage and its importance in our society, and in bringing up children. A more general examination of various marriages would have been a greater, more satisfying undertaking.
Nonetheless, there were things in the book that I was glad to have pointed out to me. Back to Dickens, it makes sense that his unhappiness in marriage had roots in his unhappiness in childhood and his resentment of his parents. He was especially resentful of his mother, who even when his father agreed to it, prevented him from going to school because she wanted him to stay in the factory to make money for the family. I also found it significant that his children as well apparently did not especially like their mother. With Carlyle, it was insightful to know that his life and thinking were changed when he realized, after her death, that his wife had been unhappy in their marriage.
The first couple discussed was Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle which was probably the most equal marriage according to the author. The tale was title "The Carlyles' Courtship" and I skipped ahead to read his final words about the couple. Interestingly, the marriage seemed to be based on intellectual stimulation. Letters between the two discussed writing. I found the discussion of movies about couple relationship inappropriate for the topic. Kept wondering why she did that.
The second couple is Effie Gray and John Ruskin whose marriage is strange indeed. On their wedding night Ruskin is unable to consummate the marriage. He keeps postponing it. Tied to his parent who want to rule every aspect of their lives, she eventually gets out of the marriage when she proves that she is still a virgin. The author further states that the Carlyle marriage was likely never consummated either because it was a marriage for companionship rather than love.
The third marriage was that of Harriet Tayler and John Stuart Mill, two highly intelligent individuals whose intellectual interests draw them together. Even though Harriet is married to someone else who largely tolerates her friendship with Mill, the marriage eventually breaks up. And, of course, they marry. Much of the writing Mills does is stimulated and edited by Harriet.
The next couple is Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth. Early in the marriage they are very happy and enjoy each other and their children. Many years later, he goes through a mid-life crisis and finds that Catherine and he have little in common. Not many women would have been able to keep up with the brilliant Dickens but he blames his unhappiness on his wife. Eventually they separate and maintain separate houses while he engages in a relationship with a much younger woman. His fame is widespread but the public does not approve of his new life.
The final pair is George Eliot (pen name for Marian Evans) and George Henry Lewis, whose happiness lasted throughout their lives. Never married officially, they made a private home removed from the hustle and bustle of society. Their regard for each other led them to encourage and stimulate one another in their writings and became successful. This is probably the most romantic of the pairings that the author discussed in this little book.
EXAMINES THE MARRIAGES OF FIVE FAMOUS VICTORIAN COUPLES: JANE WELSH AND THOMAS CARYLYLE, EFFIE GRAY AND JOHN RUSKIN, HARRIET TAYLOR & JOHN STUART MILL, CATHERINE HOGARTH AND CHARLES DICKENS, GEORGE ELIOT & GEORGE HENRY LEWES.