"Laudatory . . . A welcome addition to the lives of writers in love and lust." — The New Republic
McDowell…has culled incredibly juicy details.
The New York Times
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.
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
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