Catherine Peters

Desperate Housewife

Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World: A Story of Love, Work, Friendship, and Marriage


Duckworth Overlook 400pp £25 order from our bookshop

It was not easy to be the wife of Thomas Carlyle. A woman with a less original mind than Jane Welsh might have been crushed into insignificance by a man who, while probably never consummating their marriage, announced at its inception, ‘I must not and I cannot live in a house of which I am not head.’ In time, their voluminous correspondence suggests, the relationship became alternately affectionate and bitterly accusatory. It lasted, however, and not only because of the difficulty and scandal of divorce in 19th-century Britain. It was a bond that neither could break; as Jane wrote in a poignant letter: ‘it is sad and wrong to be so dependent for the life of my life on any human being as I am on you; but I cannot by any force of logic cure myself at this date, when it has become second nature.’ Kathy Chamberlain’s welcome biography, in which the Sage of Chelsea becomes a secondary character, amply demonstrates that she did manage to maintain a life of her own, her ‘i-ity’, as she called it. Jane’s premature death left Thomas as bereft as any connubial paragon.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It would be nice to think that women will achieve equal pay in my lifetime, rather than to watch gloomily as stati… ,
    • In 1660, two of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant fled across the Atlantic to New England. But were… ,
    • Howard Jacobson's sixteenth novel is 'a love story of sorts, one characterised not by physical desire or even conta… ,
    • 'The sudden immersion in the new and unfamiliar can lead people to write with a rare lack of self-consciousness' P… ,
    • 'Pools bend the rules. Clothes slip off, skin glistens, consciousness heightens. A dreamlike scenario unfolds' Jam… ,
    • 'Although he surely didn’t know W H Auden’s theory that every high C proclaims human freedom and our capacity to tr… ,
    • RT : With beginning tomorrow, we've uncovered a 1997 article from the archive reviewing 'Golf Dream… ,