Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles, 1910-1939

Written by Katie Roiphe
Review by Colleen Quinn

Uncommon Arrangements describes the marriages of several famous writers as works in progress. These husbands and wives struggled valiantly with their dissatisfactions with traditional marriage, each working in his or her own way to transcend the ordinary expectations of the times, often with surprising results.

The couples featured in this book are all associated with the Bloomsbury Group, writers who flourished between the World Wars. Not far removed from the Victorian era, these men and women were among the first to question the conformity of marriage, the first to try to find other ways to live. H.G. Wells was quite candid with his wife concerning his succession of mistresses, whereas Radclyffe Hall, best known for The Well of Loneliness, the first openly lesbian novel, managed to duplicate the same sad ménage of demanding mistress and disappointed wife in her lesbian affairs.

A lot of these artists manage to have a pretty good time for themselves. Vanessa Bell often had her husband, her former lover, her current lover, and his male lover over for dinner. Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murray lived like happy children, untroubled by notions of fidelity or practical concerns. Unfortunately, reality often intruded, in the shape of poverty, disease, or children.