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Good Wives: Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001 Paperback – 3 Oct 2002


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Good Wives: Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001 + Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir + Precious Lives
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (3 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099283778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099283775
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

The question mark in the title of Margaret Forster's triple biography and memoir, Good Wives?, betrays something of her ambivalence on the subject of matrimony. To deconstruct what a "good" wife might be, she explores the lives of a "wife-of" trio who were all married to prominent men (as is Forster, to writer and journalist Hunter Davies), making them good subjects, if hardly representative. Mary Livingstone proved a determinedly submissive wife to her missionary explorer husband, constantly uprooting and following him over Africa on an ox wagon. For Forster there are only cursory overlaps with her own experience; she dismisses Mary quite harshly, while pitying the grimness of her existence. Fanny, married to Robert Louis Stevenson, was a more determined soul. Together they sailed to the South Seas in the search for hospitable climates for his frail constitution, where she nursed him, kept house, and wrote a little herself. When he finally died in 1894, though, so did much of Fanny. Forster has more time and sympathy for a woman who had seen something of the world on her own terms, even if the vow "in sickness and in health" was to hold undue pertinence. Lastly, the purposeful, militant Jennie Lee, who eventually married politician Nye Bevan, provokes only admiring connection in Forster. Lee, an MP herself, saw marriage as a practical contract, though she loved and protected Bevan dearly. Children were out of the question: not only did she refuse to play mother, she disdained playing housekeeper or moll, and refused to sacrifice her own career.

The "Reflections" from Forster that follow each wifely portrait are easily the most interesting sections of this bracing, unindulgent book. In comparing her own marriage to those of her subjects, she reflects insightfully on universal themes of marital union, such as in-laws, (in)dependence, entertaining, careers, money, home and children, and concludes that if she were considering it today as a young woman, she would marry for children, but not for a husband. Perhaps Hunter Davies might consider writing Good Husbands?, as a companion partner to this relentlessly thoughtful, stimulating work of scholarship and experience. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

‘...a fascinating and eminently readable account of these women’s lives and their marriages...' -- Spectator

‘The star…emerges as Forster herself’ -- Times Literary Supplement

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Feb 2003
Format: Paperback
A really interesting read - and once again from Margaret Forster - in the most beautiful style. Not only can M Forster make anyone interesting, she continues to pick exciting, relevant and intriguing people to write about.
The biography of Mary Livingstone was particularly thrilling for me, but all three biographies are stunningly told - just enough detail. The "reflections" following are astute, and capture beautiful insights into the author's own marriage and views on wives. Really good - I shall give it to my mother-in-law!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Feb 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed both aspects of this book. The biographical sections regarding the 3 historical characters: Mary, wife of the explorer David Livingstone; Fanny, the American wife of R L Stevenson; and Jennie Lee, wife of Aneurin Bevan were obviously meticulously researched and worthy of a book in themselves. The other aspect of 'Good Wives?' - the details of Margaret Forster's marriage to Hunter Davies and the comparisons she makes with these earlier marriages was also fascinating. I have read most of the author's ficion and have also enjoyed her two family memoirs, 'Hidden Lives' and 'Precious Lives' so I was intrigued to find out more about her personal life. Thank you Margaret for sharing this with your readers and for making me aware of parts of my own marriage which I have never analysed.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 Feb 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book describes the lives of three wives of famous men: Mary Livingstone, the wife of David Livingstone, Fanny Stevenson, married to Robert Louis Stevenson, and Jennie Lee and Anuerin Bevan. The author makes excellent use of archive material and personal letters, and the descriptions of the lives of these three women are absolutely mesmerising. There is no doubt that Margaret Forster has great skill in bringing characters to life. The feminist perspective of being a wife of a famous man, and what being a wife actually meant, and means today, is explored in detail.
However it seems to me that the passages where the author describes and contrasts her own marriage (to the writer Hunter Davies) weakens the book. I found myself alternately squirming and yawning at these descriptions, and wished very much that they had been left out. Decide for yourself!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By readaholic on 24 Sep 2011
Format: Paperback
Who would be a wife? And why now in the 21st Century? Margaret Forster compares her 20th Century marriage and expectations with those of Mary Livingstone, Fanny Stevenson and Jennie Lee. She compares the changing views of society - friends - in-laws - and of course, husbands - and in the case of Mary and Fanny - the degree of hardship for these pioneering women of the 19th Century. Those two women had to make terrible choices between duty and love - between their husbands and their children.
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By patricia warner on 18 Aug 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Choose this particular book for my book club but so far I am enjoying it I would recommend kit to my friends to read
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