Named a Best Biography Book for 2023
A Washington Post Most Notable Nonfiction Book of the Year
“Delicious and infuriating . . . unputdownable.”—Sadie Stein, The New York Times
“A tour de force. . . . The stories are gripping, horrific and sometimes funny, but most important of all they are important.”—The Washington Post
“A compulsively readable book.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Enthralling . . . incendiary reading.”—Daphne Merkin, Air Mail
In Lives of the Wives, author Carmela Ciuraru offers a witty, provocative look inside the tumultuous marriages of five famous writers, illuminating the creative process as well as the role of money, fame, and power in these complex and fascinating relationships.
The legendary British theater critic Kenneth Tynan encouraged his American wife, Elaine Dundy, to write, then watched in a jealous rage as she became a bestselling author. In their early years of marriage, Roald Dahl enjoyed basking in the glow of his glamorous movie star wife, Patricia Neal, until he detested her for being wealthier and more famous. Elizabeth Jane Howard had to divorce Kingsley Amis to escape his suffocating needs and pursue her own writing. In the marriage of the Italian novelists Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia, it was Morante who often behaved abusively toward her cool, detached husband, even as he unwaveringly championed his wife’s talent and work. The most conventional partnership is a lesbian couple, Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall, both of whom were socially and politically conservative and unapologetic snobs.
Lives of the Wives is an erudite, entertaining project of reclamation and reparation, paying tribute to the wives who were often demonized and misrepresented, and revealing the price they paid for recognition and freedom.
Carmela Ciuraru is the author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms, and her anthologies include First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems That Captivated and Inspired Them and Solitude Poems. She is a member of PEN American and the National Book Critics Circle, and she has been interviewed on The Today Show and by newspapers and radio stations internationally. She lives in New York City.
“Ms. Ciararu is intensely interested in the vicissitudes of relationships over time...and driven by indignation over the subjugation of women's talent...A compulsively readable book.” — Wall Street Journal
“Eye-opening . . . . A rare window into five relationships providing a respectful yet unflinching look inside the daily, often complicated lives of the writers and their wives. . . .The reality is often harsh—but also fascinating. An illuminating, well-rendered literary biography.”
— Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"A tour de force...The stories Ciuraru tells are gripping, horrific and sometimes funny, but most of all they are important." — Washington Post
“Carmela Ciuraru offers scintillating, no-prisoners-taking portraits of five marriages in which at least one partner was a well-known writer.” — Shelf Awareness
“Entertaining. . . .witty, well-researched. . . .these vivid studies of famous personalities and their interaction do tell us in some cases more about them than we knew, and perhaps confirm that this struggling model of conventional marriage is a thing of the past.” — New York Journal of Books
"A notable book aboutt remarkale women." — Library Journal (Starred Review)
“An intriguing analysis of the relationship dynamics between creatives.” — Booklist
"The five marriages that Carmela Ciuraru explores in Lives of the Wives provide such delightfully gossipy pleasure that we have to remind ourselves that these were real people whose often stormy relationships must surely have been less fun to experience than they are for us to read about." — Francine Prose, author of The Vixen
"Witty and powerful." — People
"Delicious and infuriating...'Unputdownable.'" — Sadie Stein, New York Times
"Lively and absorbing." — New York Times Book Review
“Enthralling…incendiary reading…These five marriages are very different in the nature of their dysfunctionality and the manner in which a talented woman is subordinated to the talented man she chooses to marry.” — Daphne Merkin, Airmail
“Deliriously readable…you’ll want to read it in one go.” — Center for Fiction
“Ciuraru manages to reposition her wives, bringing them out from behind their great men and placing them center stage. Up close, we discern their resilience and determination and view most of them not as other halves but better halves.” — Malcolm Forbes, Washington Examiner
"LIVES OF THE WIVES explores five literary marriages full of tempest and tumult, offering rich biographical portraits and examining the role of ambition, narcissism, misogyny, infidelity and alcoholism in relationships where imbalance seems baked in from the start." — Dave Smith, The Guardian
“The literary relationships featured in Lives of the Wives may have been tumultuous, but in Carmela Ciuraru’s telling, they are never tawdry, and nobody is a victim. The women she focuses on are complex, accomplished, and witty; their relationships are fully realized and dimensional.” — Boston University Today, "Books to Read for Women's History Month"