(Read main post on this topic.) Books about and by the wives, ex-wives, and lovers of famous men have become almost a literary genre. But why have they become so popular? These books often show the hidden contributions of women, and they help us understand our lives and our world. We want to read about the women who attracted those famous men, and we want to know what they experienced, and how it worked, and where it went wrong. And we want to know that we will be seen, recognized, and loved, even if we remain in the background and out of the spotlight. This theme is also found in recent movies such as The Wife and Colette. Here are some reading suggestions:
- Vera Nabokov, whose story was told by biographer Stacy Schiff, gets much credit for her husband’s work and her name has become shorthand for the perfect literary spouse. In fact, an Atlantic article entitled ‘The Legend of Vera Nabokov: Why Writers Pine for a Do-It-All Spouse’ explores this phenomenon (http://bit.ly/2SmysUw).
- Many fictional accounts have sought to fill in gaps of knowledge about the roles women played in their powerful husband’s lives, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, St. Martin’s; Call Me Zelda, New American Library; Beautiful Fools, Overlook), Ernest Hemingway (The Paris Wife, Virago), Charles Lindbergh (The Aviator’s Wife, Bantam), and James Joyce. Nora Joyce, an uneducated Irishwoman, has been the subject of a huge biography by Brenda Maddox and a recent musical, Himself and Nora.
- There is also Loving Frank, the bestselling novel by Nancy Horan about Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her ill-fated relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright (close friend and sometime enemy of Lewis Mumford).
- The T. S. Eliot story, incidentally, echoes that of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath because Eliot and then Valerie Eliot, his second wife, controlled access to the papers of his first wife Vivien, about whom there has been a play and a movie (Tom and Viv), and a biography (Painted Shadow, Anchor Books, 2003).