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.
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.