Uncommon Arrangements, By Katie Roiphe

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The Independent Culture

Included in Katie Roiphe's elegantly written account of seven unorthodox literary marriages between 1910 and 1939 are H G and Jane Wells, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Katherine Mansfield and Middleton Murry, and Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge; infidelities, semi-detached marriages, ménages à trois, bisexuality and lesbian cohabitation. These experiments in living together, conducted by a small number of literary lions in revolt against Victorian repression, demanded much courage. But in avoiding the hypocrisy of the Victorians, they invented new hypocrisies of their own.

Roiphe has a sharp way with a phrase: "honesty had never been one of her higher values" (of Katherine Mansfield). But mostly she lets people reveal themselves through their own words. Her artful selection of quotes and events recalls her acknowledged model Lytton Strachey (who pops up in many of these accounts).

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