The ToB, presented by Field Notes, is here!

It's the 2023 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes! And it's finals week! Dig in!

Writing About Writers

Dirty Laundry

Nine relationships between famous writers examined for more than gossip.

Book Cover Though I am not convinced that most writers’ lives are particularly interesting, there is no dearth of biographies of writers nor is the supply of new offerings dwindling. There is a subset of field of inquiry that examines the lives of a writers identified with a literary clique or cadre—the Bloomsbury set, the Beats, and expatriates in Europe after the great war come to mind. My favorite study of writers in relationship (actually one of my favorite books) is Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting.

Now comes Scottish literary journalist Leslie McDowell’s Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and Their Famous Literary Partnerships (Overlook), which explores the relationships between Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry; H.D. and Ezra Pound; Rebecca West and H.G. Wells; Jean Rhys and Ford Madox Ford; Anais Nin and Henry Miller; Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre; Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway; Elizabeth Smart and George Barker; and Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

Of course, what this nonet has in common are they were reputedly damaging to women (e.g., Sylvia Plath). McDowell argues that whatever the personal emotional costs, all these women paid them in pursuit of their artistic goals and ambitions. As McDowell claims, “They made Faustian pacts with their male literary partners that cost them a great deal, but which also contributed to their status as iconic writers.”

Considering the parties involved, this investigation, which limns the journals, diaries, and letters, rises above mere literary gossip to provide some compelling snapshots of creative relationships, or at least relationships between creative people—which to some people is more interesting than TMZ or Access Hollywood, one would hope.
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