Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages
by Phyllis Rose
Books > Staff Picks
‘It is, of course, one of life’s persistent disappointments that a great moral crisis in my life is nothing but matter for gossip in yours.’
A book that Nora Ephron read every four or five years, Parallel Lives is an essential work of non-fiction about marriage, intimacy, power – and the search for more complex plots.
In Parallel Lives, the academic and writer Phyllis Rose examines five famous Victorian marriages, from Charles Dickens’ disastrous marriage to Catherine Hogarth to George Eliot’s joyful and unwed union with George Henry Lewes. In an age where divorce was scandalous and ‘until death do us part’ was taken literally, the subjects of Rose’s book found inventive and surprising ways to co-exist together. As she describes these fascinating parallel lives in detail, Rose shows how desire, fantasy, power and control continue to play out in our most intimate relationships.
‘An essential read… Replete with insight and wit, like Nora Ephron, you will return to this rollicking read with habitual avarice.’ — Irish Times
‘One of my favourite critical books: a study of Victorian marriage refracted through the lives of five famous literary couples.’ – Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch
‘Each case history is a model of brevity, wit and acumen.’ – Observer
‘By page five I was gasping with gratitude that this book exists and furious I hadn’t read it sooner. Parallel Lives is so incisive about the subtleties of power and intimacy that it’s basically addictive; I hope to be discussing it with friends for a long time.’ – Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror
‘I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I’d found this book earlier.’ – Haley Mlotek, New York Times
‘A robust investigation of what marriage is for and why humans like to be in couples (or don’t). It’s also a compelling argument in favour of gossip, and of recognising the role it can play in our lives.’ – AnOther Magazine
‘Filled with marvellous details and set pieces… Rose is consistently generous, knowledgeable and chatty.’ – The New Yorker