Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and Their Famous Literary Partnerships

Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and Their Famous Literary Partnerships

by Lesley McDowell
     
 

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Why did a gifted writer like Sylvia Plath stumble into a marriage that drove her to suicide? Why did Hilda Doolittle want to marry Ezra Pound when she was attracted to women?
Why did Simone de Beauvoir pimp for Jean-Paul Sartre? The list of the damages done in each of these sexual relationships is long, but each provokes the same question: would these women

Overview

Why did a gifted writer like Sylvia Plath stumble into a marriage that drove her to suicide? Why did Hilda Doolittle want to marry Ezra Pound when she was attracted to women?
Why did Simone de Beauvoir pimp for Jean-Paul Sartre? The list of the damages done in each of these sexual relationships is long, but each provokes the same question: would these women have become the writers they became without these literary relationships?
Incorporating research using diaries, letters, and journals, Lesley McDowell examines the extent to which each woman was prepared to put artistic ambition before personal happiness, and how dependent on their male writing partners they felt themselves to be. Fascinating and insightful, Between the Sheets is a marvelous read and an invaluable addition to the literature of feminism.

Editorial Reviews

The New Republic
Laudatory . . . A welcome addition to the lives of writers in love and lust.
From the Publisher
"Laudatory . . . A welcome addition to the lives of writers in love and lust." — The New Republic
J. Courtney Sullivan
McDowell…has culled incredibly juicy details.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Critic, novelist and literary journalist McDowell (The Picnic) takes a scholarly but fascinating look at the love lives of women writers, revealing how writers like Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir and Sylvia Plath were affected by their romantic liaisons. Using their letters, journals and diaries, McDowell explores the ambitions and desires of nine writers, often uncovering tell-tale signs of dependence on their male counterparts. McDowell reviews some famous, oft-covered romances-including Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway (the celebrity couple of their day), Nin and Henry Miller, Plath and Ted Hughes-but also finds the relationships between figures like Elizabeth Smart and George Barker, or Rebecca West and H.G. Wells, also rich in power struggles regarding art and sex. Almost every union explored had devastating consequences for the women involved, but fueled some of their best work, begging some big questions: Would they have become writers without their entanglements with these men? And was success in their art ultimately worth the heartbreak? This stirring account lets their devotees decide.
Kirkus Reviews
A literary critic takes an intimate look at famous literary partnerships of the 20th century. Writers such as Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Katherine Mansfield, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), Sylvia Plath, Rebecca West and Jean Rhys have long been considered essential to the development of modernist literature and the rise of feminism. In her nonfiction debut, McDowell (The Picnic, 2007) draws another connection-each was paired romantically, with varying degrees of success, to other significant writers of the time. Examples include H.D. and Ezra Pound, West and H.G. Wells, Nin and Ford Madox Ford, and Nin and Henry Miller. Certainly, this is a tradition not limited to the modernist movement. Writers and artists have long been drawn to one another, complicating the concept of the muse versus the creator. McDowell successfully pins down particular parallels in her chosen relationships that are especially significant to their artistic goals. It is notable, for example, that these women are largely known as the victims of their relationships. They were, for the most part, all deserted or rejected by their husbands and lovers, often in a particularly public manner, or forced to participate in humiliating or degrading relationships. Each reacted dramatically to their failed relationships-Plath taking the most drastic road by committing suicide after Ted Hughes' affair. McDowell questions the degree to which these women pined for their respective men, while also espousing the virtues of feminism and independence in their writing, hinting at what was often blatant hypocrisy. But she also speculates on the ways in which the men-ironically mostly less famous in death than their partners-were able toprovide the women with professional inroads, and also served as inspiration for some of their most influential works. The information is hardly new, but McDowell contextualizes it well, giving solid insight into a dynamic and influential group. Agent: Geraldine Cook/The Marsh Agency
Library Journal
In this engaging text, McDowell studies the intimate physical relationships of nine female writers and their literary partners. The Glasgow-based McDowell is a novelist (Picnic) and critic (e.g., Times Literary Supplement) whose own experience of a literary liaison led her to develop this work. Arranged chronologically, the book begins with Katherine Mansfield's relationship with John Middleton Murry in the 1910s–20s and ends in the 1950s with the most famous of the liaisons, Sylvia Plath's marriage to Ted Hughes. McDowell purposefully tackles the physical details of these relationships, asserting that while this may seem prurient, it is essential to understanding the central theme of desire in these authors' writings. She demonstrates that despite the fraught nature of many of their relationships, these women often subverted the stereotypes of the mistress or wife to the advantage of their own artistic ambitions. In this way, McDowell distinguishes her interpretation from many biographical works that have cast these women as victims of male dominance. VERDICT This well-researched text will appeal to scholars of literature and feminist theory.—Rebecca Bollen Manalac, Sydney, Australia

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590204382
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
02/28/2012
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Lesley McDowell writes for the Times Literary Supplement and the Independent. She is also the author of a novel, The Picnic, published in 2007. McDowell earned a Ph.D. from St. Andrews for her work on James Joyce.

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