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Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages Paperback – May 20, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this astute and engrossing examination of seven artsy marriages from 20th-century England, Roiphe (Last Night in Paradise) couples her penchant for social criticism with her training in English literature (she holds a Ph.D. from Princeton). The book's title is apt, for some of the unions Roiphe describes may strike even today's jaded readers as outré. Feminist writer Vera Brittain proposed that she and her husband, George Catlin, be joined in their household by her dear friend, Winifred Holtby. Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry found that their highly romantic conception of love failed to sustain them through illness and other crises. Roiphe also examines the unions of H.G. Wells and Jane Wells; Elizabeth von Arnim and John Francis Russell; Clive and Vanessa Bell; Ottoline and Philip Morrell; and Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge. Roiphe writes not just as a disinterested historian. She wants to know what she can learn from Brittain and the rest about marriage, and the themes Roiphe focuses on remain relevant to 21st-century marriages: is domesticity compatible with long-term emotional engagement, or are marriages destined to become boring? Roiphe finds that once people began to think of marriage as an arrangement that ought to produce human happiness, monogamy was no longer a given. Fans of Pamela Paul and Cathi Hanauer will enjoy this volume, which is vintage Roiphe: provocative, dishy, substantive and fun. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

What is it that makes intimate portraits of failed relationships so fascinating? Katie Roiphe doesn't romanticize or make excuses for her complex subjects and their entanglements but treats them with wit, warmth, and respect. Despite a few historical inaccuracies and questionable assumptions, critics considered Roiphe's perceptive exploration of unconventional marriages in the early 20th century a success. It can be difficult to empathize with the selfish and arrogant people who populate this book, but these revealing accounts are nevertheless captivating, the narrative intelligent and absorbing. Roiphe has done her research and produced an elegant, provocative, and entertaining description of an era and some of its more eccentric denizens.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 343 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385339380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385339384
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #583,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Kiki VINE VOICE on August 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy of this book a few months ago to review. I really enjoyed it! I happened to be reading Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim at the time, so that was a very happy coincidence. I had read her book before, but knew nothing about her. She is one of the artists/writers profiled in this book. There are seven sections for each "couple" or "group." And definitely do not skip the opening chapter, Marriage a La Mode, th author's brillant and helpful introduction to the book and to the times these artists and their works existed.

I really loved the section on Vanessa Bell, "Bunny" and the Bloomsbury group. Simply fascinating. Her daughter Angelica later married her biological father's lover. The complicated family groups created by these people are often bizarre, even incestuous, but they seem to have worked for them to some degree. Reading about these people and their complicated lives, mostly being lived out of a desire to be free from conventional, traditional, expected roles in their times, was truly fascinating. We "tut tut" daily over Britney, Lindsey and Paris; well, they can't hold a candle to these folks! Katherine Mansfield was much more lady-like, educated and interesting than any of them. Also read about HG Wells, his long suffering wife Jane, and his lover, young upstart journalist Rebecca West.

This book seems to be very well researched and is very well written. With what I am sure is an overwhelming amount of information available on these prolific writers and their lives, Roiphe has managed to handle the subject both delicately and thoroughly enough without letting it be too much information.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Linda Bulger VINE VOICE on March 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you've ever believed that modern relationships are more complex and unorthodox than those of the past, this magnificent book will quickly open your eyes to the truth. Katie Roiphe picks apart the tangled strands of seven couples' lives, looking for "the distilled wisdom of decades lived, of mistakes made, of love stirred by time." (p. 2) What did Katie learn?

The subjects of this book spent their childhood in the repressed Victorian age. Like some who grew up in the 1950s and 60s and came to early adulthood in the Age of Aquarius, the figures in Roiphe's book lived in a new age allowing them more freedom to defy convention -- and defy they did.

After a wonderfully expository opening chapter called "Marriage A La Mode," Roiphe devotes a chapter to each of her subjects. First we meet H. G. Wells and his wife Jane, whom he treated according to a Victorian ideal of fragile womanhood while carrying on a ten-year affair with Rebecca West, a thoroughly modern young writer.

Roiphe explores the marriage of Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry. Their love was, by their own admission, a "child-love" that was only passionate when they were apart. Elizabeth von Arnim and Frank Russell relied on "conflict and sparring as a prelude to reconciliation." Vanessa and Clive Bell lived in an ever-shifting menage that included her former lover, and her current lover along with his (male) lover. Ottoline Morrell, who may have inspired the character of Lady Chatterley, was outraged when her husband Philip confessed that he had two pregnant mistresses.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Francine D'Alessandro on December 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is such an interesting book and has so much going for it. Roiphe does a good job giving us enough background on the subjects to understand the nature of the conflicts in their relationships. I think she should have spent a little more time on how the "arrangements" may have been in conflict with the political positions and/or writings of some of the people involved, particularly in the cases of Rebecca West and Katherine Mansfield. The treatment of Vanessa and Clive Bell and Duncan Grant was well handled, though, and I appreciated the author's observations about how poorly the Bell children were served by not only their parents but also by the Bloomsbury circle. Roiphe also does a good job, for the most part, setting the social and political context of these relationships.

I didn't expect the book to be an exhaustive study of any of the subjects, so I had no sense of disappointment, as some reviewers have mentioned. Roiphe states that her intention is to sketch the relationships from the perspective of a significant point of conflict. I think she delivered on that promise. I enjoyed the writing style and the structure of the book. As the chapters move from one household to the next, Roiphe reveals in subtle ways the inter-relatedness of the literary figures of the period - through friendship, family, marriage, affairs, patronage - but the reader is never overwhelmed with the complexity of those entanglements. And beyond the primary subjects, many familiar voices of the period are heard commenting through letters, memoirs and diaries.

Roiphe rarely appears to pass judgment, which I admire. We do get a sense of her exasperation with Vanessa Bell, but in a group of such egocentric characters, Vanessa Bell seems particularly oblivious.
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