Between the Sheets explores the messy intersection of art, lust, fame, and power.
McDowell mines letters and diaries to grant us rare insight into the POV of the female halves of some very celebrated literary couples, from the uberfamous (Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) to the less well known (Hilda Doolittle and Ezra Pound), and a few in between. McDowell seems genuinely fascinated and impassioned by her subject matter, especially by the sticky places where romantic relationships and careers collide. She focuses a great deal on how the members of each couple used one another for literary advancement, but she also highlights the ways that love helped these creative couples blossom and grow. Of Anas Nin and Henry Miller, McDowell writes, controversially, "It is unlikely, as narcissistic as she was, as aspirational as she was, that she would have become the kind of writer she did without her relationship with Miller. He was necessary, after all."
McDowell excerpts the women's letters and diary entries, which provide an extra dose of emotion. Suddenly, these feminist-lit figures seem more real and grand. We feel the love and the heartache that drove them to write. And like many great romances, especially of the artistic variety, whats really inside them isnt pretty (or its a blurry mishmash of pretty and heinous). As acclaimed author/war reporter Martha Gellhorn wrote to a friend about her long relationship with Ernest Hemingway: "I weep for the eight years I spent, almost eight (light dawned a little earlier) worshipping his image with him." Sad, yes. But also a prescient reminder not to lose yourself in a relationship, no matter how much fame--or fame potential--the guy's got.