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Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages Paperback – October 12, 1984


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (October 12, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394725808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394725802
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

In her study of the married couple as the smallest political unit, Phyllis Rose uses as examples the marriages of five Victorian writers who wrote about their own lives with unusual candor.

About the Author

Phyllis Rose is the author of Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf, and of the highly acclaimed Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, which established her as a biographer of the first rank. Her most recent book is Jazz Cleopatra, a biography of Josephine Baker. She has taught literature at Wesleyan University since 1969, and has written essays, reviews, and articles for many publications. She lives in Middletown, Connecticut. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

My wife is the reader in our family and she loved this.
Asa Pace
I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever read and enjoyed any of these authors or who is just interested in what their lives were all about.
James Henderson
This one is a keeper, if you are interested in the lives behind the words and behind the praise and adulation, in some instances.
Patricia P. Downing

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Woodbury on August 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Phyllis Rose' Parellel Lives is an exploration of marriage: what makes a marriage, how marriages operate, the power struggles within marriage, the impact of patriarchy on marriage, sexuality within marriage and many, many other issues.
Ms Rose uses Victorian marriages to discuss these issues. This is a perceptive move. Our current culture, filled with self-help manuals and marriage classes, is in some ways less tolerate of eccentricity, more assured about how a successful marriage should operate. The tensions of sexuality, power and so on have been addressed, if not by individuals, within the culture and media at large. But Victorians did not have such an outlet. Dickens didn't know he was experiencing a well-documented male mid-life crisis when he engineered he and his wife's separation. This lack of self-knowledge makes the exploration of such marriages a fascinating study in human nature.
The book is split into the marriage biographies of five couples with two sections on Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle. A refreshing aspect of Ms Rose's Parallel Lives is that she is exploring these marriages from a feminist viewpoint that encompasses compassion for the man as well as for the woman. Her prose style is lively as she delves into the separate personal stories of her couples and how their personal stories influenced the marriage as a whole.
The book suffers a bit at the end. Ms Rose pulls back and attempts to apply general theory to her analysis. This is mostly unsuccessful. Ms Rose's gift lies in the personal--her ability to unravel this or that particular marriage and how this or that particular marriage was influenced by the problems of patricarchy--not in a general ideological stance that would supposedly solve those problems.
Recommendation: An intelligent and perceptive read. Buy it!
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Lee on March 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
I loved this book when it was first published in the 80s for all the reasons put forth by the preceeding enthusiatic reviewers. So was startled to see it had only a 3 star rating when I visited Amazon a short while ago, searching for a second-hand copy.
Why this book has been out of print for so long is totally mystifying. For, you see, I'm not alone in my love of it. - every person I've loaned it to has had nothing but praise for it.
But most telling of all, each person has liked it so much that they've passed it on to a friend of theirs, who's evidently done the same, in a never-ending chain of handovers.
Hence my search for yet another second-hand copy earlier today, But, more to the point, isn't this the best recommendation any book can genuinely have: being handed on from person to person with the exhotation : "You'll really love this book. . . you've got to read it now!"
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Crowley on November 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
Phyliss Rose has written a fascinating book on five notorious nineteenth-century couples: Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle, Effie Gray and John Ruskin, Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth, George Elliot and George Henry Lewes. One union was happy. The rest were far from happy, but all were unconventional in their own way.

Jane Welsh was pretty, clever, and wealthy, but married Thomas Caryle without being in love with him. Yet, she couldn't imagine marrying anyone else. Years later, she grew to resent the husband who was so engrossed in his writing that hardly noticed her presence. Ironically, his writing and his encouraging Jane's writing is what induced her to marry him in the first place. After her death, Thomas Caryle found a journal where Jane vented about her husband's lack of appreciation for all she had given up for him. She also wrote extensively about her husband's attention to Lady Harriet Ashburton, which Jane became quite jealous of.

The marriage of Effie Gray and John Ruskin will seem especially bizarre to twenty-first century readers. This disastrous marriage was never consummated. The groom, who grew up lonely and sheltered by his parents, had a strong attachment to his parents that prevented him from assuming the role of a husband. Phyliss Rose also writes that the couple did attempt to consummate the marriage, but John was quite disgusted by Effie's naked body. Ruskin did his best to push his unwanted wife on another men, Painter John Everett Millais took the role that John Ruskin never wanted to begin with, The Gray/Ruskin marriage was annulled since it was proven that Effie was still a virgin.

Harriet Taylor's marriage to John Taylor fared no better.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
Wonderfully balanced and perceptive, this probing look at five unconventional Victorian marriages provides many insights into the sexual mores of that era. The section on the novelist George Eliot is especially haunting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gentle Reader on June 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
I was initially a bit wary when I read the prologue, because I thought, "Oh, no, another tiresome angry feminist trotting out the same-old-same-old weren't-men-awful-back-then lamentations..." I mean, yes, in the days before birth control and job opportunities, things weren't idyllic. Enough has been written about all that, I sighed, and wondered if I'd picked a dud of a social history book.

Am I ever glad I kept reading! Truthfully, I might not have under ordinary circumstances, but I was trapped on a transatlantic flight. By the time I was three pages into the Carlyle-Welsh marriage, I was mesmerized. And every chapter was better than the last, although my personal favorites were the explorations of the Dickens's marriage, and that of George Eliot/G.H. Lewes. Of particular fascination is Rose's insights into how these particular unions informed the fiction of Dickens and Eliot.

I do agree with other reviewers here who have wondered why the very real possibility (probability, near-certainty in John Ruskin's case!) of homosexuality was never even alluded to by the author, as a reason for the sexless unions. Of course, there have always been and always will be companionate marriages, contracted for a variety of reasons, good and bad, but to omit any hint of the "gay" question seems like a flaw in her scholarship. But perhaps, with no documentary evidence of homosexuality, she was erring on the side of caution?

It's probably dangerous to "know too much" about authors one admires, as it carries the danger of spoiling one's enjoyment of his/her works. I will say that my love of Charles Dickens' books has been tarnished a bit, by learning what a jerk he was to his wife (I was struggling to find a better word, but couldn't!
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