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Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  558 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
Katie Roiphe explores the unconventional relationships between renowned writers and artists - a fascinating combination of high-society gossip and historical enquiry.
Kindle Edition
Published (first published January 1st 2007)
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I can't rate this book, in good conscience, because I couldn't finish it. Terrible drivel. The problem isn't that Roiphe relies almost exclusively on already published material, nor that her prose is lumpy and dull. The problem is that she hasn't an idea in her head. She wants to say something about how these early twentieth-century literary relationships (be they marriages or affairs, or something less easily definable) show the very idea of sexual and affective relationship being cast into dou ...more
Jun 30, 2008 Cari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone.
Recommended to Cari by:
Uncommon Arrangements seems a simplistic title at first, until the reader begins to realize how very complicated and uncommon the subjects are. Though the era she focuses on overlaps with WWI, some of the unions author Katie Roiphe details may seem shocking or odd, even to modern readers. There is a general feeling today, what with skyrocketing divorce rates, people living together but not married, and the question over gay marriage, that marriage and relationships in general are more complex, h ...more
Jan 30, 2009 Cera rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I admit that I read this book in a rather uncongenial setting -- sitting in a doctor's waiting room while my husband got stitches after a bike accident.

But even after making allowances for that, I'm still disappointed in this book. As the title explains, it examines seven different marriages from a specific time & social mileu, looking at how the couples met, the ways in which they lived together or apart, took lovers or remained faithful, had children or avoided them. It's a fascinating sub
Sep 19, 2007 Maggie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at the marriages of prominent artists and writers in the years between the wars. Featured are H.G. Wells (who was crazy about the ladies), Radclyffe Hall (famous lesbian author who is sadly is only remembered for "The Well of Loneliness"), Virginia Bell and all her gentlemen and her gentlemen's gentlemen, and Vera Brittain.

The work opens with a fascinating introduction that touches upon the author's method and the nature of marriages today. Roiphe seems intent on learning som
Zen Cho
Celebrity gossip with a patina of literary scholarship. I enjoyed reading it and found the writing fluid and reasonably intelligent. But it was from a staunchly heteronormative, conventional viewpoint; you kind of know from the outset that Roiphe's not going to say anything challenging or useful about marriage or gender roles, when she describes marriage as something "most of us" experience in the preface. Slightly boggled by her offhand dismissal of the discrimination faced by lesbians in early ...more
Jan 07, 2014 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
*punches Katie Roiphe in the face*

Though I like Roiphe's writing style and adore her subjects, I can't get past my feeling that this is tabloid literature. You can almost see the wicked gleam in her eye as she reduces her idols to comic figures in a narrative of her own.

I give this two stars: one for being a book and a second for its vibrant cast. Catty Roiphe gets no stars from me!
Mixed feelings on this one. Excellently researched and written. Marriage is an almost impossible state to examine, I mean an individual marriage. Relationships that are mystifying from the outside often make perfect sense to the persons within it (or not, as the case may be). I can't say that I am less mystified by these relationships after reading this book, but I don't know that that was the point anyway. I certainly don't like some of the people involved - Katharine Mansfield really breaks my ...more
Oct 28, 2012 Christina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed immensely this examination of several literary couples in the early part of the twentieth century trying to break the traditional mold of marriage (i.e., two people committed solely to one another for life). The book is an interesting examination of what happens when people--smart, intellectual, passionate people--try to redefine the most traditional of relationships. The various couples in the book are more or less successful and more or less happy with the results. Given what we know ...more
It's probably more like 4.5 stars, but I so enjoyed and was fascinated by this book that I can't leave it at that.

The glimpses into the seven marriages between pre-World War II literary figures (including H.G. Wells, Katherine Mansfield, and Vera Brittain) seem, at times, too intimate (in the sense that I sometimes felt like I was prying into a life whose inner workings I shouldn't be privy to). Katie Roiphe, though, handles the relationships with care; she's not judgmental but, rather, in awe
Feb 18, 2008 Kelly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just read a review of this book that articulates exactly my thoughts by a user named Dorian:

"I can't rate this book, in good conscience, because I couldn't finish it. Terrible drivel. The problem isn't that Roiphe relies almost exclusively on already published material, nor that her prose is lumpy and dull. The problem is that she hasn't an idea in her head. She wants to say something about how these early twentieth-century literary relationships (be they marriages or affairs, or something les
Nov 17, 2007 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this title because the NYT Review made it sound a bit like two other works I had read and loved. The first being Francine Prose's Lives of the Muses and the second Claudia Roth Pierpont's Passionate Minds . In comparrison to those books this one seems unambitious, unimportant, and uninspired. Possibly because Pierpont and Prose focussed more on the professional lives of their subjects they were able to make their books feel more important and more analytical. This one never made me ...more
Jun 01, 2016 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
well, you certainly put me in MY place, all you who complained that this book was merely "tabloid," too full of previously published material, not idea-rich enough. I liked it. Quite a lot.

In fact, I would call it a must-read for anyone who has a strong interest in any of its principal characters. Not being a big fan of any of them, I was nonetheless fascinated by the ways in which they chose to live their conjoined lives. So unique, so artful, so wise-- if you ask them. So just-as-messed-up-as-
2.5 stars.

I picked up this book mostly because I am interested in a number of the people she wrote about -- Vera Brittain, Elizabeth von Arnim (because I liked the move based on her book, Enchanted April), and Vanessa Bell. The author sets out to examine seven marriages in the period between WWI and WWII in Great Britain (mostly), whose participants were trying to figure out how to live in a modern marriage -- which appears to be equated to involving other people, physically, emotionally, or bot
Aug 22, 2016 Jud rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"It comes to me, reading even the most tormented diary entries, the most pained accounts of jealousy, the most troubled fragments of memoir:these are love letters. There is Vanessa Bell stepping into a bath while Duncan shaves at the sink; there are h g wells and Rebecca west winding their way through Parisian streets, lost and arguing; there is Katherine Mansfield rushing to the French market to buy violets for murrays arrival; there is Vera Brittain carrying the orange tinted pink roses Roland ...more
Feb 21, 2014 Linnéa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An extremely interesting and unique read, recommended/lent to me by my sister. I feel like I can safely say that I've never read a book like this before, and because the topic is so original, I might never again. Although to be honest, I can only praise its uniqueness and originality for so long before making my most important point in that it didn't thrill me. Firstly, I found it extremely hard to get into. I consider myself to be a pretty fast reader, and yet a fairly short and seemingly simpl ...more
Feb 18, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Katie Roiphe has been recommended to me by a friend, and I dove into this book first to see what I thought. She writes non-fiction, essays mostly it seems, and for me that's a shift from a preference for fictitious novels. However! I really enjoyed this book. The way she digs up details on the romantic lives and histories of famous couples during the generation shift from the Victorian era into WWI and then the roaring 20's - and onward - sets an interesting scene. She does a good job of explain ...more
Faith McLellan
Oct 27, 2013 Faith McLellan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More than slightly mind-boggling. The intricate connections among the people/marriages profiled here! A work of enormous scholarship, but lightly worn. Thoroughly enjoyed this.
Even if you're not a fan of Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, or Katherine Mansfield, chances are you've heard of them or had to read them in school. And you might have heard they were part of something called the Bloomsbury Group. This is an eye-opening look at the decidedly unconventional marital arrangements members of the group made. For devotees of the authors involved, this book will add a new dimension to understanding their writings. For others, like me, it's interesting to read how these peop ...more
Jan 09, 2009 Kelly marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Yes, please.
Kathy Spada
Sep 01, 2012 Kathy Spada rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading the different chapters on these post Victorian era relationships it made me wonder if this would work in the 21st century. Clearly, artists such as H.G. Wells who was married and took Rebecca West(who later became a famous novelist in her own right) as a mistress, got her pregnant and continued on with others was interesting. His wife wrote West a congratulatory letter after the baby was born. It made me realize that many artists and creative people just desire and need "another" a ...more
Jan 30, 2013 Evelyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I became engaged, a friend called to congratulate me. During the course of that conversation he said something in passing that I remember vividly to this day: While discussing how easily people often jump to judgement about the suitability--or sometimes unsuitability--of friends' choices for their significant others and the balance and trajectory of their friends' married or coupled lives, this friend smartly said, 'anyone outside can never understand what goes on inside a couple.' (HT Char ...more
Andrea Dowd
This book is a small, snapshot biography of seven complex writers in early 20th century Britain. I didn't read the whole thing, I just read the author's who interested me: Elizabeth Von Arnim, Katherine Mansfield, H.G. Wells, and Radclyff Hall.

The whole premise of each of these relationships is Modernity. It was the turn of the century and most of these men and women were larger than life literary masters. They felt as though they were on the cutting edge of a new way of living and loving. And
Kasey Jueds
Aug 16, 2013 Kasey Jueds rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Loved this. Partly because of the time period, one of my favorites in British history; partly because the book includes favorite people, too (Vanessa Bell, Vera Brittain, Virginia Woolf--who doesn't have her own chapter but makes lots of appearances). Very readable--smart but also down-to-earth, accessible, sometimes funny, even. Most of all, actually, I loved the introduction, in which Roiphe writes not only about the time period but touches on her own interest in the subject. (There's a sectio ...more
Nov 19, 2011 Emily rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this because I didn't know much about the writers it discusses and I often hear people talking about how they're obsessed with Bloomsbury and etc., so I thought this might be a good juicy overview/introduction. But really I just found it incredibly boring. It seemed like it would be really interesting to learn about how people in the 1910s/20s/etc dealt with having relationships that were outside the accepted norms, and about how society reacted to them for doing so, but this bo ...more
Aug 10, 2009 skein rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2-star
What could have been such a fascinating subject (omg! the sordid love lives of london literati) is just ... ugh. I was unable to finish it (maybe someone else will have better luck.) A shame, really. I had such high hopes for the London Literary Circle, c. 1910-1939 - and then I find that beneath all the sex & HG Wells' enormous ... douchbaggery, there just - isn't that much plot.
Or maybe it's Roiphe. (Astute readers will notice I am always willing to blame the author.) Roiphe mentions once
A multiple biography, looking at seven literary “marriages” in the Bloomsbury set (London literati of 1910-1939). At least one of each couple had other relationships with the knowledge and usually consent of the other. It includes HG Wells, Katherine Mansfield, Vanessa Bell, Ottoline Morrell and Radcliffe Hall. The book tries to dissect these relationships individually and in the context of their time. Things are further complicated by the fact that they all knew at least one of the other couple ...more
This book would make a good movie, just to see how unorthodox all these relationships are and how they all are pretty much in the same social circle. It spans world war I and II in Britain among writers.

7 “marriages à la mode”—each rising to the challenge of intimate relations in more or less creative ways. Jane Wells, the wife of H.G., remained his rock, despite his decade-long relationship with Rebecca West (among others). Katherine Mansfield had an irresponsible, childlike romance with her hu
Mar 24, 2008 Vicki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book took me almost a month to read, which is really unusual. I kept stopping after the stories of each "arrangement" and wondering if it was appropriate to be reading so much about a real person's marriage. I managed to get past that, mostly. These people all documented their inner lives with such diligence that surely they must have anticipated that someone would read it, and perhaps even hoped that people would want to.
And while I'm not sure I have any more insight into my own life after
Jun 05, 2010 Anne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book a really interesting read, particularly in conjunction with Elizabeth Gilbert's recent book, Committed. Uncommon Arrangments is a series of essays about married British writers from 1910-1939. Each of the relationships is a study in the idea of marriage and committment, and questioning the traditional notions of monogamy and domestic/professional spheres. I am sure throughout history there have been couples who have consciously made an effort to redefine the idea of marriage -t ...more
Dec 04, 2008 Jesse rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The people and the place--upper class bohemia, Europe between the wars--are inevitably fascinating, but sometimes the crisp characterizations are undercut by Roiphe's tendency to add fictional flourishes, dramatizing her subject's thoughts and emotions instead of just letting them speak for themselves (and it seems they have plenty to say). But almost more fascinating than the individual vignettes themselves is how Roiphe reconstructs how these people--eloquent, artistic, witty, intellectual--sp ...more
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Katie Roiphe is the author of the non-fiction works The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism (1994) and Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End (1997). Her novel Still She Haunts Me is an empathetic imagining of the relationship between Charles Dodgson (known as Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the real-life model for Dodgson's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She holds a Ph ...more
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“She once complained that her stories were like ‘birds bred in cages,’ but that concentrated atmosphere, that claustrophobic hothouse of emotion, was her talent. Her stories were little masterpieces of compression: she succinctly contained whole lifetimes in a few pages, every moment loaded with as much as it could bear.” 0 likes
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