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

3.31 of 5 stars 3.31  ·  rating details  ·  74 ratings  ·  22 reviews
From Simone De Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre to Anais Nin & Henry James, the ruinous love affairs of the 20th century's greatest female writers.
The companion: Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry
The novice: H.D. & Ezra Pound
The mother: Rebecca West & H.G. Wells
The ingénue: Jean Rhys & Ford Madox Ford
The mistress: Anaïs Nin & H
Hardcover, 365 pages
Published 2010 by Overlook Press (NYC)
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The adage, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” is a backhanded compliment to women, and one that implicitly avers a submissive feminism of codependency. At first glance, it is easy to misjudge Lesley McDowell’s Between the Sheets as a kind of backward-feminist interpretation of women writers’ literary careers, such that the success of these writers was primarily a product of the men who mentored them and who essentially produced their success.

Feminist scholars of the last three decades, o
This was a well-researched, fascinating book focusing on some female authors. I had heard of some but not all of them yet I wasn't familiar with their works but am now intrigued enough to want to read the works of each of them. Ms. McDowell has a knack for viewing their lives and potential motives (we'll never truly know though) and I enjoyed the way she summed up each section.
I'd recommend this book to any who are interested in literature, the women who paved the way for female authors these da
Moira Russell
Despite the stupid tee-hee title (at least it wasn’t “My Back Pages” or “Everyday I Write the Book”?) this is fascinating. H.D. and Ezra Pound, Rebecca West and H.G. Wells, Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, Jean Rhys and Ford, de Beavoir and Sartre, Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway, Plath and Hughes, Nin and Miller, Elizabeth Smart and George Barker. ALL MY FAVOURITES.
Man, the copyeditor for this book needs a talking to, and the author as well. Com,mas in the middle of words,,, random "switch to quotes with no discernible source." Badly written, but the subject matter was incredibly interesting. Terrible title, too. "Ha, ha, get it, sheets? Writers? Sex?"
Susan Emmet
I found McDowell's thesis intriguing: women who have been portrayed as victims of their sexual or romantic and artistic lives are not victims.
But each suffered as a result of their various and varied liaisons. Faustian bargains abound.

I like the book's structure: three parts divided in three - nine women and their primary (and secondary and tertiary) partners. "The New London Women" (1910-1920s),"The Paris Set" (1920-1930s)and "Transatlantic Chasers" (1930s-1950s)are the frame for considerations
Interesting ideas, but really too few pages devoted to each couple.
Very interesting book on the literary romantic relationships of nine women writers. Some of the material was familiar to me, but there was lots new as well, and of course the focus was on how those relationships influenced the women's literary career. While I found myself wishing McDowell had gone a little deeper, I understand that these chapters were not meant to be complete biographies. Although there was much speculation ( really we can never know for certain how those romantic entanglements ...more
Really only dipped in and out, it's not the kind of thing I could read in one sitting. I love the idea of it but the writing is bland and to really get anything out of it you'd have to have a lot more than vague knowledge about the writers mentioned, so I think I will come back to this when I've read up about these authors.
I am not sure what to think of this book. Part of me loved it because it pays tribute to some amazing women and opened my eyes to writes that I had never heard about before (both men and women), but part of me also found it slightly boring and I had to struggle to finish it. I think the book is very well written, but it tends to jump quickly from one part of the womens lives to the next. Me not being overly excited with this book is probably my own fault, as I had expected a romantic novel that ...more
McDowell does a remarkable job of putting the literary and romantic partnerships of the listed writers under a fascinating lens of mutual benefit and assured destruction. Her thesis that none of the female writers could be called a victim seems to be proven true by the end of each respective chapter, always pinpointing exactly what was the Faustian deal that each of these women made - sometimes sacrificing some freedom, other times sharing their loves, but always boosting their literary prowess ...more
I just have so much respect for all of these women as authors, and I think the portraits painted of them in this book are incredible. Their relationships all clearly had such an effect on their work, but the most interesting thing is that many of them were only recognized because of these relationships, and not because of the work that they produced. The feminist in me was thrilled to encounter this book and then ingest every word of it, as was the writer in me.
Nikki Plummer
Aug 20, 2015 Nikki Plummer marked it as unfinished
I'm giving up on this book because, despite my interest in the subject matter, it's just rubbing me up the wrong way. McDowell's style reminds me of a try-too-hard undergraduate essay (and I would know, I wrote many of them). She's trying desperately to twist every piece of evidence to fit her hypothesis and as a result a lot of the points she makes are seriously reaching.
Sally Anne
Although I would recommend this book, I do have caveats. This book is reasonably well-written, but not brilliant. It is too wide and lacks a depth and insight that would have made it a fantastic read. I wish she had worked on it longer, edited it another time or two and really distilled it down.

Those things said, it is a perfectly acceptable read. Might make a good reading group book for those with a more literary or feminist bent.
DNF-ed at pg. 161.

I know I'm dnf-ing this but I still wanted to rate it. Why? Because I do think it's a good book. I really appreciate what McDowell is doing here - it's just not for me. I found it slightly boring and I've just lost interest in finishing it. I may pick this up again at a later date but for now, I'm just not in the mood for depressing and repetitive biographies of some REALLY dysfunctional literary couples.
Interesting take on relationships between famous writers, such as Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway (there they are again on my list!), Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Kind of a stretch to fit the author's thesis about how necessary the relationships were to their work, but good reading.
I don't think McDowell's thesis that these literary partnerships were necessary to the women authors' work quite fits, but "I can see how women lie down for artists," and there certainly is voyeuristic pleasure in reading about it.
Claire Haeg
It's terribly depressing that so many female authors tied themselves to egotistical, two-timing jerks. The only solace is that several of these female authors were egotistical, two-timing jerks themselves.
Helped me understand why smart women stay with male writers who treat them terribly - and was helpful to read at same time as the memoir of Norman Mailer's wife (A Ticket to the Circus).
Andrea Bronson
Terrible writing, interjects her own opinion constantly but the stories were interesting. Love Martha Gellhorn and Sylvia Plath.
Kristen Levitzke

I find the subject matter fascinating but thought the writing was a little dry. Should have been more compelling.
Passive Apathetic
Another dry read. She simply doesn't say anything.
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Lesley McDowell is an author and critic living in Scotland. She earned a PhD for work on James Joyce and feminist theory before turning to literary journalism. Her first novel "The Picnic" was published in 2007 and she is the recipient of a Scottish Arts Council award for a second novel, based on the life of a childhood friend of Mary Shelley. She reviews regularly for the Herald, the Scotsman and ...more
More about Lesley McDowell...
Unfashioned Creatures Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and Their Famous Literary Partnerships Unfashioned Creatures: [A Gothic Tale of Madness, Sexual Obsession & Murderous Impulses The Picnic. Lesley McDowell

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