Jesse Baron at Bookforum:
By contrast, the most compelling books about monogamy are written after the fact by a surviving partner once the story has sorted itself out. If we want to learn about marriage, we turn here. Donald Hall’s accounts of life with Jane Kenyon before her illness, for example, provide a glimpse of the pleasures of the quotidian, walking around New Hampshire in the summer reading each other’s poems. They continued reading each other even as she was dying, when he recited a draft of his elegy for her. (She said, “You’ve got it.”)
Hall’s marriage offers a cautionary tale about believing you know your story before it concludes. Kenyon had spent the early part of their life together as the lesser poet, as “Donald Hall’s wife.” Then the story adjusted, as she became a known quantity with poetry in the New Yorker. Finally, one did not speak of Hall without speaking of Kenyon. That should have been the story, but the Aristotelian revelation was yet to come. Kenyon died at age forty-seven. Hall, twenty years older, should by rights have gone first.
Phyllis Rose, in her underrated study Parallel Lives, recounts a similar reversal. For years, Jane Carlyle played the role of “heroic housewife in the service of exasperating genius,” as Thomas produced his biography of Frederick the Great and bitched about the neighbors’ roosters.