Parallel lives : five Victorian marriages

by Phyllis Rose

Hardcover, 1983




New York : Knopf, 1983.


Phyllis Rose sets out to show that Victorian marriage was likely to have been far more varied, flexible, and even tolerant, than we liberated post-Freudians commonly suppose. Famous literary marriages are examined: that of John Ruskin and Effie Gray was unconsummated; those of Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh, and John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, almost certainly were also; the Dickenses' marriage degenerated into melodrama; and the liaison between George Eliot and G.H. Lewes, which scandalized London society, was the happiest of the lot.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JDHomrighausen
Rose, a literary scholar, examines the marriages of five famous Victorian authors: Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, and John Ruskin. (As a side note, I find it interested that two of these men are never read today, while three still draw readers. Why?) All of these marriages were miserable in their own quirky ways. Rose explains that she was going to write a chapter of Charles and Emma Darwin, but their marriage was so happy and loving it would have been too boring to write about.

One of Rose’s main points is that human relationships and desires are far too idiosyncratic to all fit the monolithic model of marriage. Why, she asks, are we so willing to create our own life narrative and self-identity in every area of our life but marriage? This is especially true for the Victorians. Yet some of the people Rose examines just seemed to be misadjusted by their own neuroses. For example, Charles Dickens crudely shoved his wife aside at mid-age simply for not being good enough any more. This was after she bore him ten children, which apparently was her fault. Or art critic John Ruskin, who never consummated his marriage because a naked woman’s body disgusted him too much. Sometimes it’s not the institution of marriage that’s the problem, but the people who enter into it without self-examination.

A really good book - highly recommended - and this coming from someone usually not interested in the Victorian era.
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LibraryThing member keywestnan
Through the examination of relationships of five Victorian literary couples, Rose illuminates the lives behind the work. Or you could think of it as very well-written literary gossip. Either way, a pleasure to read and an entertaining way to add to your literary education.
LibraryThing member Bill_Peschel
This is one of the best books I found about Victorian marriages and literary couples. Insightful, full of unique details, and a great pleasure to read. When I lost my copy years ago, I went out and bought a new one to replace it.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Who would imagine that a brief book highlighting the marriages of five literary Victorian couples would be such a delightful read. In the capable hands of author Phyllis Rose it is, as she surveys the marriages of John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, John Stuart Mill, and Marian Evans (George Eliot). The chapter on Evans focuses on her relationship with George Henry Lewes rather than her husband. The story of Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle bookends the narrative. The insights of the author into the incidents and foibles of these couples' lives portray their Victorian lives in a totally new perspective.… (more)



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