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Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages Paperback – October 12, 1984
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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!
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.Read more ›
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!"
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!Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
One of the marvelous things about Phyllis Roseâ€™s PARALLEL LIVES: Five Victorian Marriages (Vintage, 1983) is that it so consistently refuses to settle for making a series of... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Glenn J. Shea
Interesting, but it took me a long time to get through it.Published 22 months ago by firstname.lastname@example.org
The author's observations and insights are as fascinating as the lives and marriages of the people she describes.Published 23 months ago by Patricia Piety
A great book. I read many books and keep but a few.
This one is a keeper, if you are interested in the lives behind the words and behind the praise and adulation, in... Read more
My wife is the reader in our family and she loved this.
That's about all I know. She recommends it highly.
The book was a page turner for sure, but you have to remember that the details are interpreted through the lens of a feminist author. Read morePublished on January 16, 2012 by Kathryn Phillips