‘I believe that marriage, whether we see it as a psychological relationship or a political one, has determined the story of all our lives more than we have generally acknowledged.’
In every relationship there are two narratives; more often than not these narratives do not converge.
This is the basis for academic and writer Phyllis Rose’s cult classic Parallel Lives, a book that examines five literary Victorian partnerships, from Charles Dickens’s 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 were forced to find inventive and surprising ways to coexist. As she tracks the shifting tides of power within these parallel lives in fascinating detail, Rose shows how desire, fantasy and control play out in our most intimate relationships.
Parallel Lives is an engrossing group biography and an essential work of feminist non-fiction that continues to resonate, compelling us to reflect on how we live now.
‘As fascinating and incisive as when I first read it. And more cogent, if that’s possible – perhaps because I have been married longer. It is enterprising and wise to bring it to a new generation… This time I will not be parted from my copy.’ — Hilary Mantel, author of The Mirror and the Light
‘Parallel Lives isn’t like history. It’s hardly like reading at all. Reading Rose is like being called up by an old friend with the latest gossip on the couple next door. You can almost feel her winding the telephone cord around one finger as she talks.’ — The Times
‘Parallel Lives remains a remarkably contemporary study that places the matrimonial institution itself at the heart of its scrutiny.’ — Guardian
‘Done with great stylishness and brio… an armoury of glittering quotation, a spotlit gallery of portraits of Victorian life.’ — London Review of Books
‘A cult classic for its feminist perspective on marriage, love and intimacy.’— Idler
‘An essential read… Replete with insight and wit, like Nora Ephron, you will return to this rollicking read with habitual avarice.’ — Irish Times
‘These biographical portraits absorb and fascinate.’ — Herald
‘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