Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages
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Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  403 ratings  ·  61 reviews
In her study of the married couple as the smallest political unit, Phyllis Rose uses as examples the marriages of five Victorian writers who wrote about their own lives with unusual candor.The couples are John Ruskin and Effie Gray; Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh; John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor; George Eliot and G. H. Lewes; Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth.
Paperback, first Penguin, 311 pages
Published 1985 by King Penguin (first published October 12th 1983)
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(Update May 2013)

Hi book. I am five-starring you after all, because I think about you all the time and I learned so much, and I've recommended you to everyone and thumbed through countless times to cite things. And I think my tolerance for academic-speak was raised a little bit in the last year, too, which was really the only relationship problem we had. How love can change, indeed! XO!!

(Feb. 2012)

Oh hello, now is when I catch up on all my Goodreads at once!

This is such a great plan for a book....more
I enjoyed this book so much I wrote the author. She responded graciously.
This was a perceptive exploration of marriage written from a feminist viewpoint, but with considerable compassion for both the men and women involved. The five marriages were of literary couples, including Charles Dickens and his first wife. One of the relationships described (and the only successful one, really) wasn't a marriage at all -- that of George Eliot and George Henry Lewes. Here the author builds a case that these two creative individuals were freer to build a solid relationship outsi...more
Phyllis Rose is doing something important in this book. I wanted to read it because I'm interested in Victorians and in the history of marriage, and if you're interested in those things you'll automatically love it. But her subject matter turns out to be much bigger than expected.

It's not really possible to summarize Parallel Lives. A central part of Rose's argument is that details matter, that complex narratives are usually better and more real than simplistic ones. The body chapters are full o...more
This book was fantastic. And it made me mad, and if Charles Dickens were still alive, I would picket in front of house about what a bad guy he was.

Dickens marries Catherine Hogarth--her father is a publisher and Dickens like that. He seems to be in love with her, too. She has four children--he even takes her to the US of A when he goes on tour. But then when he come home, she just keeps having babies. He doesn't like that, and blames EVERYTHING on her. He boards up the door between his room and...more
Interesting details about five Victorian marriages. The book lacks a strong analytical lens, which makes it an engaging read for lay readers interested in these person's lives. I really enjoyed reading about the trials of marriage and courtship among these very famous Victorians. Sadly, marriage does not hold up as an institution worth sanctifying as the law and social custom limited its enjoyment.

My main dispute with Rose's analysis was in her section on the relationship between John Stuart Mi...more
Apr 16, 2012 Adrian added it
Rose focuses on five partnerships; the Ruskins', Dickens', Mills', Carlyles' and Eliot/Lewes. These are separate essays really and brilliantly written. She is perhaps best in describing and parsing the Carlyles and Lewes/Eliot. Here she has the advantage of writing from both halves of the marriage. Can Rose really know what Catherine Hogarth (Mrs. Dickens) felt or truly suffered? Or Harriet Taylor, JS Mill's paramour? There is naturally a lot of supposition to make up for the lack of letters, di...more
So, why did I read Parallel Lives? I saw something about it in an article in the New Yorker. I was curious because I had read and loved Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey when I was in college and reading everything I could by and about the Bloomsbury Group. I thought of this as sort of a companion to EV. (You'll have to get a review of Eminent Victorians elsewhere but anyone who is a Virginia Woolf fan should read it. I also recommend watching Desperate Romantics for a view of the art scene...more
Sharon Pywell
A great companion to books like William Houghton's 1972 book on the Victorians (Victorian Frame of Mind). Lots of great detail shoring up and illuminating insightful generalizations about the time and place: Sexless marriages, marriages broken up because the wife actually has opinions of her own, marriages that stayed strong because the involved parties failed to actually get married. . .it's all here. Great historical perspective on that old truism: The personal is the political.
I just read this a second time and loved it as much as the first. I'm thinking it's probably because 1) She's so freaking smart 2) You get to see inside 5 relationships. So intimate! So much dirt! 3) George Elliot's my hero 4) Author links personal to political, role of women in relationships to role of disempowered in society 5) All about power! 6) Get to compare then and now 7) Victorians and their sex habits, always fascinating 8) Ah, the footnotes
What a great social history of personal relationships - whether they were larger-than-life literary figures or not, these well documented couples present variations on a theme of women's role in Victorian England. Fantastic read - well written, very enjoyable.
A fascinating account of five "literary" marriages - beautifully written and very provocative - read it when it first came out - read it in part because I was interested in Dicken's marriage (after seeing The Invisible Woman) and what a horror he was to his wife but what was really lovely is that of the five (John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, Ruskin and Effie Gray, the Carlyles and George Elliot and George Henry Lewes) that George Elliot's was, for Rose, the most successful of the lot - a mar...more
Brenda Clough
I searched this out in conjunction with a novel I am writing, and my! What a thrilling work! Rose juggles five widely assorted couples of the early Victorian period, many of whom knew each other and all of whom were literary. What a great cross section of the human condition. I read this and realize we are so lucky in the modern age, to have decent laws for property and modern divorce. There were some powerfully unhappy Victorians, you betcha. Beautifully written, marvelously informative, and es...more
The first couple discussed was Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle which was probably the most equal marriage according to the author. The tale was title "The Carlyles' Courtship" and I skipped ahead to read his final words about the couple. Interestingly, the marriage seemed to be based on intellectual stimulation. Letters between the two discussed writing. I found the discussion of movies about couple relationship inappropriate for the topic. Kept wondering why she did that.

The second couple is Effi...more
I don't think it's an accident that the most insightful chapter is account of George Eliot's common-law marriage to George Henry Lewes - you get the impression that it would have been a little tiring to be their friend, but Rose admits that if this book has any heroes, it's Eliot and Lewes.

The other chapters are not nearly so compellingly written nor so deftly portrayed. A group biography is necessarily going to be a little sketchy, I guess, but I think the book would have benefitted from a more...more
Phyllis Rose examines the fictions and realities of Victorian marriages, through analyses of five famous couples: Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle, Effie Gray and John Ruskin, Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill, George Eliot and G.H. Lewes, and Catherine Hogarth and Charles Dickens.

Rose does not attempt to provide a complete chronological portrait of each marriage, instead focusing on one period or issue per couple, with usually two chapters per couple (grouped together, except for the chapters o...more
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 auth...more
This is a study of the marriages of five Victorian writers, including Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Carlyle. Favorite lines:
“What is love if it cannot make all rough places smooth” (42)!
“The merely egotistical satisfactions of fame are easily nullified by a toothache” (227).
“Loving someone is like an increase of property—at the same time that it brings joy, it brings fears about loss” (228).
“The first condition of human goodness is something to love: the second something to reverence...more
I initially got this book as part of a research paper assignment on Victorian morality. The author takes several well known people of that era and talks about each couple's relationship issues and strengths. It has certainly changed my opinion of some of the people that I admire as writers, as I completely despise them now that I am aware of how shoddily they treated the people they should most have loved in their lives. I had a similar reaction to Benjamin Franklin from another book. I think th...more
This was an interesting book for the most part, but I thought the comparison with movies was strange. It was a lot more than I needed to know about these couples, familiarity breeds contempt. In Dicken's case, it just breeds.
Sep 11, 2009 Mary rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The ladies
Shelves: nonfiction
This was an amazing look at five marriages from a feminist perspective:

-Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle
-Effie Gray and John Ruskin
-Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill
-Catherine Hogarth and Charles Dickens
-George Eliot and Geoge Henry Lewes

The author gives a brief account of each courtship and marriage and views much of what has been said previously about the couples through a sort of corrective feminist lens. Many of these people knew each other and we get to compare how they've conducted themsel...more
Alyn McCarty
This book had great points to make. Unfortunately, it was written like a dissertation, that is to say, complete garbage. The author's lack of style makes this book unreadable.
Lloyd Fassett
heard about it on the March 2014 Double X podcast, recommended by Hannah Rosin
Was initially really excited about this book. The first few chapters deserved that excitement they were interesting – full of “gossipy” detail balanced well by the calm/authoritative reason of the author. But really it was just too long, maybe 3 marriages would have been enough. Last couple of chapters were a real effort to read.

Shame, because there really isn’t anything else like this out there and it is a potentially really rich and interesting topic. Also the author clearly has the ability t...more
Remy Kothe
This book is FANTASTIC! My synopsis will not do Parallel Lives justice. This is a well-written (couldn't put it down), factual analysis of 5 relationships (marriages) between 5 very notable english authors/thinkers and their wives, or in George Eliot's case, husband. The author uses these couples to analyze marriage, power, politics and sex - and you see that although plenty has changed. plenty has not.

I think all my "friends" on good reads would find this book fascinating. Liz, your mother must...more
Elizabeth Tangora
A great scholarly gossip book, it's educational but still a page-turner. The author is upfront about the limitations of exploring marriage through just five couples who were unconventional and even scandalous in their day, but delves into the humanity of each person so thoroughly you get a very intimate idea of how they did their best in the face of stern social restrictions. There's a fair bit of knowledge that the reader is assumed to have about the authors, but it isn't hard to follow along (...more
Frances Fuller
The most interesting part of this book was the amount of information the subjects had left, in great detail, about their marriages. No new information on the expected role of women during this period, it was really no different than any other period of history leading up to it. The author had too many "I think, I would like to believe, I feel" in it to satisfy my expectations in a supposedly well researched, historical based, book. For those who like more narrative and less analytical conclusion...more
If you like reading college dissertations you might find this book interesting. As hard as I tried to be open-minded about this book, I was never able to appreciate this writer's voice. It felt like a dull lecture with a lot of her personal opinions thrown into her research. I slogged through 220 pages of the 270 in the book, but I should have stopped sooner because I was really bitter about wasting my time on this stinker. Even giving this book one star is being generous.
Emphasis in this book seemed to me more heavy on the psychological than the historical details of the 5 sets of marriages. The postlude is heavily psychological. I would have been slightly happier with the book without the authors analysis there. The five marriages are all 'peculiar' to the extent that they involved at least one introspective, intellectual person. I do not think any insight in this book could be widely applied to the population of marriages of the period.
Dona Krueger
Second reading - amazing read. The lives of the outstanding literary giants of the time and there romantic relationships. Since it is biographical, full of psychological and historical lives of brilliant women who were kept in there "woman's place". How lucky we are in this time and place - I wouldn't change my life for all the brillance of women's lives before the last 30 years - and even now we still have a few ceilings to crack.
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