Cecily's Reviews > Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits Of Married Life In London Literary Circles 1919-1939

Uncommon Arrangements by Katie Roiphe
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's review
Apr 21, 2009

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bookshelves: biog-and-autobiog
Read in April, 2009

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 couples and had relationships with them in complex permutations. A Venn diagram would have been useful!

Reading it feels rather prurient, even though there are no graphic details and almost all of it is drawn from published material (though not necessarily intended for that when it was written). Even so, there is too much empty speculation for my liking, coupled with occasional confusion, contradiction and inaccuracy (“Oxford Cathedral” is never referred to as such; Malta has neither “dramatic cliffs” nor much in the way of “white beaches”, and Shirley Williams is far more famous for her role in the SDP and Lib Dems than the Labour party).

I’m not really sure who it’s aimed at: it’s too tame for those wanting really juicy gossip; if you love any of the writers covered, there are doubtless other books covering the same ground in more detail, and if you’re not particularly keen on any of them, it’s not especially relevant. Overall, it was moderately interesting – it’s not just modern celebrities who lead scandalous lives – but I only read it because I was given it.

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