Book Review: Outlaw Marriages
The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples
Even when much has already been written about some of the same-sex couples covered in this exhaustively researched and cogently compact collection of joint histories – Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, for example – cultural historian Streitmatter brings fresh insights to his mini-biographies. His thesis: that the often lesser-known partner provided artistic stimulus or emotional support to his or her companion: 21-year-old Doyle became the muse for Whitman, 45; Merlo “single-handedly stabilized” Williams’ life and thus his career. The same can be said of almost all of the 15 outlaw marriages the author selected: over the 43-year relationship of Mary Rozet Smith and Jane Addams, it was Smith’s wealth that provided the financial backing for Addams’ activism; over the 38 years that James Baldwin was coupled with Lucien Happersberger, the latter’s emotional stability provided Baldwin with the security he needed to write. Many of these unsanctioned marriages endured until a partner’s death; one lasted less than a decade; some included jealousy and betrayal. But as America’s acceptance of marriage equality expands, Streitmatter’s study stands as proof that there have always been queer pairings.