Customer Review

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life imitating art, March 15, 2008
This review is from: Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 (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. Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall had been a committed lesbian couple for eighteen years when Radclyffe (known to all as "John") fell in love with a Russian emigree and established what French gossip columns called a "trio lesbienne." Vera Brittain and Gordon Catlin and their children shared their homes with Vera's lifelong friend, Winifred Holtby.

The lives of these people were interwoven with family, social or sexual relationships; they were observers of and commentors on each others' dramas. The author has distilled a huge amount of primary material into this fascinating book, with no judgment or editorializing. Her notes are a treasure trove for any reader who wants to explore a wider context.

Roiphe's postscript takes the position that, however self-absorbed, the subjects of this book at least showed creativity and imagination in imposing their own mythologies on the drabness of daily life. She writes (p. 302), "This is storytelling in its most challenging medium: life itself."

Highly recommended.

Linda Bulger, 2008
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Showing 1-10 of 21 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 15, 2008 8:43:54 PM PDT
Congratulations on your 100th review, Linda. What a gigantic accomplishment ... and what wonderful reviews they are, this one included. This very unusual book sounds like fascinating reading to me; you aroused my interest in the very first graph. Thanks, bff. :)

Keep that golden pen flowing with your clever phraseology and charming wit!

Posted on Mar 15, 2008 8:47:33 PM PDT
Linda Bulger says:
Thanks for the kind words, Betty. I'm not forgetting who "dragged" me to Amazon in the first place -- YOU! Thanks for that too because I really enjoy reviewing.

Posted on Mar 16, 2008 7:28:36 AM PDT
Hey Linda,
That was the first thing I also noticed--your 100th!!! I remember that thrill well.
As for your review, may I ask what led you to read this book? Sometimes I think I am more interested in why a reviewer read "this particular book" than in the review itself. As for your review, as for ANY of your reviews--it's wonderful. Truthfully, I won't read it, but it is nice to know that someone is keeping files on famous people and it is unlikely that their actions will go unnoticed. Spitzer should know this!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2008 7:42:17 AM PDT
Great review, Linda! You really have a way with words. You've written a well-structured and concise review that's interesting and valuable. I really enjoyed reading it. I especially liked your comparision of Victorian age children to children of the 1950s and 60s. Great job!

Posted on Mar 16, 2008 10:27:26 AM PDT
The century mark! I raise a glass of brandy in congratulations! May the next 100 be as good as the first 100! By the way, a terrific review of a book that looks absolutely fascinating!

Posted on Mar 16, 2008 1:22:04 PM PDT
Cheers! A well written first 100 reviews!

Posted on Mar 16, 2008 1:58:54 PM PDT
Teddy says:
Congratulations on your 100th Amazon review! I enjoy reading all of your reviews, very much!


In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2008 1:59:05 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2008 2:43:07 PM PDT
Number 100(whistles loud applause) congrat. sweetie and you take care
have a great week you and Betty just make my day!
see ya YOU ;)
QUESTION: Where was that picture of you taken reading a book on the rock???

Posted on Mar 18, 2008 8:44:53 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 18, 2008 8:44:53 AM PDT]

Posted on Mar 18, 2008 9:24:13 AM PDT
Happy 100th review and what a great review it is.

A toast !
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Review Details



Linda Bulger

Location: United States

Top Reviewer Ranking: 8,154