This Atlantic article on Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Vera, who devoted her life to his writing, is making the rounds. Executive summary: Most writers “pine” for a “do-it-all spouse” like Vera, but it’s harder for women writers to find one.
It is a beautiful thing when couples sacrifice themselves for each other–that is what marriage is all about–but why single out the sacrifices of non-writerly spouses for writerly ones as somehow special, as if writing–more so than other vocations–requires and is more deserving of such sacrifice? It’s not.
Were he alive today, Robert Frost–that great megalomanic misogynist–would have scoffed at such horseradish. When Amy Lowell made Frost’s wife, Elinor, out to be “the conventional helpmeet of genius” in an essay on the poet, Frost wrote Louis Untermeyer to complain:
Catch her getting any satisfaction out of what her housekeeping may have done to feed a poet! Rats! She hates housekeeping. She has worked because the work has piled on top of her. Be she hasn’t pretended to like housework even for my sake. If she has liked anything it has been what I may call living it on the high. She’s especially wary of honors that derogate from the poetic life she fancies us living. What a cheap common unindividualized picture Amy makes of her.
Update: Marly Youmans–who is a novelist and a poet–put it this way earlier this week: “What is a spouse for? Not to be your personal servant, certainly! I’m glad to have married a man who likes to cook and does so. But I didn’t and don’t expect my husband to read or critique manuscripts, act as my secretary, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry for five people (or however many are in residence at the moment), vacuum, etc. Do I wish he would do all those things? It’s a bit tempting . . . but no, not really, thanks.”