Imagining the Lives of Famous Better Halves
We all know the saying “behind every great man there’s a great woman.” Lately, a number of fiction titles have taken their inspiration from that feminist adage, reimagining the lives of the women behind famous men: Zelda Fitzgerald and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, among others. And it’s fascinating stuff. I’ve read a number of these books, and each time, I’ve found myself wanting to learn more about the real circumstances surrounding these couples. Seeing the lives of these acclaimed men through their spouses’ eyes offers such an intriguing perspective on the men themselves. More often than not, it seems that the men's accomplishments came at the expense of their wives and families. Here are some titles in this mini-genre that I’d recommend, along with photos of the famous couples. To check on a book's availability in our catalog, click on the book title.
Many of you have probably already read this one in your book clubs, so you know that the book chronicles the life of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, living in Paris in the 1920’s and hobnobbing with the likes of the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. However, you might not have seen Random House’s excellent web site about the book, which includes photographs of the Hemingways and the spots where they lived in Paris. It also delves more into the history of their marriage. Check out http://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/features/paula_mclain/index.php.
This book is next on my list. Here is the starred Kirkus review of this recently-released book. “Fowler’s Zelda is all we would expect and more…once she meets the handsome Scott, her life takes off on an arc of indulgence and decadence that still causes us to shake our heads in wonder… Scott’s friendship with Hemingway verges on a love affair—at least it’s close enough to one to make Zelda jealous. Ultimately, both of these tragic, pathetic and grand characters are torn apart by their inability to love or leave each other. Fowler has given us a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book.”
I love Everest stories (Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is a favorite), so I was initially drawn to this novel because I wanted to read about George Mallory’s ill-fated final attempt to summit the mountain in 1924. However, once I began reading the book, what kept my interest was the story of Mallory’s wife, Ruth. The author moves back and forth between Mallory’s long and excruciating trek up the mountain and Ruth’s equally excruciating wait for news of her husband. Although we know what the final result of the expedition will be, Rideout manages to create a suspenseful adventure story, as well as a deeply emotional one.
Ms. Benjamin paid a visit to our library as part of our Authors Out Loud program and did a wonderful presentation on the lives of Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the subject of this book. Of all the women chronicled in these novels, perhaps most has been published about Mrs. Lindbergh – her own writings, as well as those of her daughter, Reeve. A cold, driven man who dedicated his life to exploration and flight, Charles Lindbergh was not an easy man to live with. Anne’s struggle to come out from under his shadow as an aviator and author in her own right is beautifully chronicled in this book.
Chicagoans always love stories about local hero Frank Lloyd Wright, and this book isn’t about his relationship with his wife, but with his longtime lover, Mamah Cheney. It offers a nuanced, thoughtful portrayal of Cheney, whose feminist ideals were well ahead of her time, and of the difficult choices she had to make in following her passion and choosing to be with Wright. This is also a wonderful book club book, and part of our book club collection at Cook.