Living Together Without the Romance

When one thinks of adults residing in the same household, the first people that come to mind are couples who are married or living together.

But there are other grown-up groupings: parents with adult children at home, parents with their parents in spare rooms, siblings sharing an abode, people taking care of ill relatives, unrelated adults renting an apartment together, servants or nannies residing on the premises, refugees clumped together during a war, and so on. Those kinds of household arrangements in literature are the subject of this blog post.

Why those arrangements? They’re done for reasons such as economics, love, neurosis, or tradition (for instance, in “the olden days” adult women often stayed home until they married). In real life, the situations of adults non-romantically living together can often be mundane; in the heightened world of literature, those arrangements are frequently depicted in more dramatic fashion.

Take Washington Square. In Henry James’ novel, things get rather interesting as rich, unkind Dr. Austin Sloper opposes his at-home daughter Catherine’s relationship with the not-very-solvent Morris Townsend because he suspects the charismatic Morris wants to marry the uncharismatic Catherine for her inheritance. (There’s a reason why the movie version of the book is called The Heiress.) Meanwhile, Dr. Sloper’s also-at-home sister Lavinia Penniman supports the possible marriage in her meddlesome, irritating way because she finds the whole scenario vicariously exciting.

James’ pal Edith Wharton offers another niece-aunt dynamic in The House of Mirth, which features the not-wealthy Lily Bart uneasily living with her wealthy but ungenerous Aunt Julia. When the aunt dies, Lily’s financial problems are seemingly over — until she learns that Julia mostly wrote her out of her will because of an alleged “scandal” for which Lily is not really to blame.

Adult daughters living with widowed fathers are memorably depicted in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Emma. Anne Elliot is a together person from the start of Persuasion, with an unlikable dad. Emma Woodhouse grows as a person in Emma, with a likable but hypochondriacal dad.

Also in 19th-century Brit lit, George Eliot’s dramatic Daniel Deronda features various non-romantic living arrangements. After Daniel saves her, Mirah Lapidoth lives with the family of Daniel’s friend from school days. Meanwhile, Mirah’s brother Mordecai lives with a different family. Later, after Mirah and Mordecai find each other following years of separation, they share a household as siblings.

The Bronte sisters are part of this discussion, too. The title character in Charlotte’s Jane Eyre becomes the governess to Edward Rochester’s “ward” Adele at Thornfield Hall. (Though that situation eventually turns into a romance.) In Emily’s Wuthering Heights, servant Nelly Dean is the crucial narrator who lives with a number of the novel’s tempestuous and/or sickly adult characters.

Moving to 20th-century fiction, we have siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert sharing a residence when they seek to adopt a boy to help on their farm. Instead, they end up with the delightful Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has the mysterious Radley family, including mentally challenged adult son Boo, in the same house. Then there’s the impoverished Ewell family dwelling — where the adult Mayella lives with her siblings and drunk, abusive father Bob. Boo and Bob “meet” during the novel’s famous conclusion.

In Elsa Morante’s History, Ida and her lovable son Giuseppe have to live in a shelter with many other adults and kids because of the ravages of war in 1940s Rome.

Cost-conscious college students and young adults sharing the same room or apartment appear in numerous fictional works, including Margaret Atwood’s debut novel The Edible Woman. Protagonist Marian shares a Toronto apartment with Ainsley — and the depiction of their interesting, at-times funny friendship is an early example of Atwood’s novel-writing skill.

What are your favorite literary works featuring adults (other than spouses/romantic partners) living together?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area β€” unless you’re replying to someone else. Also, please feel free to read through comments and reply to anyone you want; I love not only being in conversations, but also reading conversations in which I’m not involved!)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

163 thoughts on “Living Together Without the Romance

  1. Hello dear Dave,

    Sorry for not being here for a long time. I hope you are doing well. πŸ˜‰

    I read this new article, and you did a fantastic job as always, I really admire your work and your excellent articles. I need to read this article one more time because it is very interesting.

    If you see my good friend Bebe, please give her my love and best wishes.

    Enjoy the rest of this beautiful Sunday, and have a marvelous new week. Until next time …. goodbye.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well, there are many novel-types that might be included in this large category– war stories where soldiers are forced to endure battles, etc., while living together in holes; stories aboard ship; prison stories, etc.

    But here are three pairs of master-servant novel characters, who live together for purposes and circumstances disincluding romance, at least between the pairs:

    Robinson Crusoe and Friday

    Oblomov and Zakhov

    Bertie and Jeeves

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent, jhNY! Daniel Defoe’s novel is VERY iconic, and P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Bertie Wooster novels and stories are SO comedic. I haven’t yet had the experience of “meeting” the second master-servant pair you named.

      Yes, a very large category, and you named several important subcategories. One prison pairing that immediately comes to mind is Edmond Dantes and Abbe Faria in “The Count of Monte Cristo.”


    • Just wanted to thank you again for recommending Foolish Wives and those other great silent films. I watched Foolish Wives in one sitting; it was fantastic. I ordered every Erich Von Stroheim movie that was in stock on the TCM website. Can’t wait to watch those. Thanks again.

      @Dave, I found out a couple of interesting facts about Oscar Micheaux:

      (1) He has a little history in Montclair NJ. His second wife lived there for a few years, and Micheaux visited her often during their initial courtship. Her name at that time was Alice Russell. She lived on 55 Greenwood Avenue.

      (2) He also has a little history here in Washington state. A black theatre and radio legend from Spokane was featured in 2 Oscar Micheaux films. Oscar Micheaux’s brother Swain was a film maker as well, and he specifically requested this actor because of his acting abilities and his connection to the Pacific Northwest (Oscar Micheaux supposedly had a preference for western blacks due to his agriculturalist hobby in South Dakota and beliefs that the west provided better opportunities for blacks).

      I think it’s time to take a trip to South Dakota. The Nat Love House/Museum is located there as well as Oscar Micheaux points-of-interest (like filming locations for some of his movies). I feel an adventure through the Great Plains coming on in 2016….

      Have a good evening:)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, Ana! I didn’t know about Oscar Michaeux’s Montclair connection! I’ve been down Greenwood Avenue many times (it’s about a mile and a half from my apartment), and will look at 55 the next time I’m there. Montclair has had a large African-American population since the 1800s — now about 33% of the town.

        Glad Michaeux also has a Northwest connection!

        South Dakota WOULD be a great place to visit; I’ve never been there.

        I’m about halfway through “The Light Between Oceans.” Excellent novel — and kind of melancholy, of course. I’m nervous about what’s going to happen with the parent situation of that little girl Grace/Lucy…

        Have a good evening, too!


        • Montclair’s not so hot. Just because one of my fav silent film makers has history in your city/area and not mine does not make you guys cooler than the Puget Sound (yes I’m expressing major jealousy. LOL). I went to the bookstore Saturday, and they gave me some neat bookmarks (the staff is always giving me little things like that) that I think you might like. They are from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. When I get a chance, I’ll take some pictures and post them on my Twitter page.

          We’ve never been to the Plains either, so this trip will be a first for us. I can’t wait though….Ana in South Dakota….I like it!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ha! Thanks for the engaging comment, Ana.

            Well, Montclair has its ups and downs. It’s getting too expensive, with too many “un-cool” rich people moving in. But I guess its history can’t be changed.

            Those bookmarks sound great! You must be a VERY popular/liked customer by the staff.

            “Ana in South Dakota” — sounds like a novel. πŸ™‚


              • Seriously, it would be a fascinating book, Ana. Perhaps you could write your own memoir in the future. Fascinating family background, a wide variety of interests, your humor…

                Great subject for an “Antiques Roadshow”!


  3. Jhumpa Lahiri`s latest novel ” Low Land” is a perfect example of living together without romance.

    Udayan, then an idealistic student in Calcutta in the 1960s, was swept up in the Country’s Naxalite rebellion against poverty and inequality into Mao-inspired revolutionary politics.He was the younger of two brothers in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta (now Kolkata), Udayan was killed by Police early on and in the end of this epic novel all became clear.

    His older brother in USA for higher studies…Subhas later went back home and married his deceased brother`s then pregnant wife Gouri to escape from unkind treatment by his parents.

    Back in USA they lived like husband and wife in name only, there was no affection on Gouri`s part not even a shred of kindness toward Subhas..she left her newborn daughter sometimes unattended without Subhas`s knowledge to pursue her other interest in Universities sometime attended different classes even though she was not enrolled.

    The lapse of her times increased even more and then one fine day she left them without any forwarded address…and the story continues…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • bebe, thanks for that interesting example of adults living together without romance. Sadly, that can sometimes include spouses.

      As you know, I haven’t read “The Lowland” yet. (One of these days my local library will stock it.) But, as you also know, I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing — “The Namesake” novel and the “Interpreter of Maladies” short-story collection.

      Great summary of the plot of “The Lowland”!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Somehow I could not find any discounted book to purchase..I just don`t want to pay the full price. I think you would have no problem borrowing the book from the library.

        Also Sherlock / Watson was discussed before.

        Another from my favorite book ” Of Mice and men”..George Milton, an intelligent but uneducated man, and Lennie Small, a man of large stature, but were hobos but always
        together looking for small jobs and they needed each other.

        What an amazing heartfelt book by John Steinbeck !

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sorry you couldn’t find it on discount, bebe, but I imagine you will eventually. I also think my library will have it eventually. Just biding my time. πŸ™‚ Meanwhile, so many other novels to read…

          Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and “Of Mice and Men,” definitely fit in with this discussion. I wonder what the result would have been if Steinbeck ever wrote a detective story? (For all I know, he might have, but I’m not aware of one.)

          Liked by 1 person

          • Dave I know both were discussed before in here but thought to mention again.

            On Low Land I am sure you will be reading the book in future just as you read The Millinium Trilogy ..and then talk about it. πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

              • Dave, here’s an idea for something you can look into. Most libraries have interlibrary loan services allowing you to put in a request for a book from another library system. Huntsville-Madison County Public Library has had that system in place for the last several years, although it’s in a state of chaos at the moment. Our interlibrary loan person left at the end of the year and we haven’t found a replacement yet. The library director in her ‘wisdom’ felt a few months ago that ILL and Serials were both part-time functions (never mind the fact that for the last several years we have had a full-time Interlibrary Loan Librarian AND a full-time Serials Librarian) and dumped the Serials job on our ILL person. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed and couldn’t do justice to either Interlibrary Loan (at which she had several years’ experience) and Serials (at which she had zero experience) and they both suffered. This also hastened her plans for departure and so we’re trying to find a superperson that can handle two full-time functions–no wonder we haven’t found someone. But that’s getting away from my point that, ideally, Interlibrary Loan is a great service for obtaining books that your local library doesn’t carry. HMCPL’s Interlibrary Loan fee is $3.00 per book, $1.00 per microfilm or copy of magazine article. Staff never had to pay the fee so I was able to get a few books, such as two I read last year–‘Paths of Glory’ and ‘Myths to Live By’–from another library for free–also for a very generous loan period in most cases (up to a month?). But $3.00 is a nominal fee compared to the price of a new book. It’s worth looking into, even if your library has the service but charges a different amount from mine.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Perhaps you had told me before, bobess48, but I didn’t realize you did library work! That can be a wonderful job; I hope yours is, despite some drawbacks — such as the unfortunate staffing issues you mentioned.

                  I probably should use interlibrary loan! Thanks for that information! The reason I haven’t to date is that I have so many novels on my to-read list that when my local library doesn’t have some of them on a given day, I use that as “fate” telling me I can’t read certain books at that time. Makes the to-read list a little more manageable. πŸ™‚


          • I read with interest your discussion with Bebe. It seems that you, Dave, get most of the books you read from the Public Library, and your library seems to have a much deeper and eclectic selection than my local library. Bebe seems to look for books to purchase at bargain prices, and chooses to build her own library. Partly due to the deficiency of my local library, and partly due to the fact that I take pride in building my own library, I tend to follow Bebe’s model. One of the very, very best sources for building my library is to take advantage of non-profit/charitable β€œused book sales”. My favorite one is sponsored by a charitable organization called β€œAAUW” or American Association of University Women, an organization that promotes women’s rights and provides higher learning scholarships to women. Every year, they coordinate a HUGE used book sale at the local mall, where different areas of the mall are devoted to different categories. Each volume is priced between 50 cents and $3.00. I stock up on high quality hardback books in the fiction and classics genres, and through this have built an impressive (I think) library in my home. This annual sale is coming up at the end of February, and I look forward to it with the fervor of a much anticipated holiday.

            Dave – I mention this primarily because this same group sponsors a used book sale in Montclair, NJ in April. I can only assume it is as extensive as the one here in Wilmington, DE. You may be surprised to find some of the books β€œon your list” that are not in your local library.

            Bebe – I don’t know where you live, but I am attaching a website that lists upcoming used book sales of all sorts by region. I visit this site regularly to search for local book sales.


            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for your comment, drb19810! Terrific and very informative — including the link at the end.

              Considering that I live in a suburb rather than a city, I’m lucky to have such a great local library. The majority of novels I want to read (many suggested by commenters, such as when you recommended “World’s Fair”) tend to be there. It certainly saves me money on purchasing books (which I still do on occasion), and I also can’t fit many more books into where I live now that I’ve downsized from a house to an apartment.

              Sorry your local library isn’t better. Given that situation, you and bebe’s model makes a lot of sense. Used book sales are wonderful, and I will watch out for the April one you mentioned. I can always squeeze a FEW more books into my apartment, and of course books make great gifts. And it IS nice to have great books at home that one can keep forever rather than for a month. πŸ™‚

              Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks drb19810 for the info and i am going to look into it. I am in OH and Public Library is really very good and periodically they sell donated books. The book I was looking for was ” Low Land” which I have read and liked it a lot, the book is a fiction but has a lot of history from late 60`s. I am in no rush..I will check into the link. At the same time I donate some books which I have purchased before and have no intention of reading again, are not necessarily classics.
              So ya..I am planning to reorganize my home collections.

              I actually have a bigger CD collection , unfortunately when we moved from Nashville to OH..the movers lost hundreds of my classical CD`s which are irreplaceable…that still haunts me.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. (1) Native Son – Bigger Thomas grew up and lived in a dilapidated one room shack with his mother and two younger siblings. One of his reasons for looking for a live-in servant/chauffeur-type job was to finally move out of his cramped and unhealthy living conditions

    (2) Cannery Row – Mack and the boys lived in the Palace Flophouse; Dora and her girls also lived together at the Bear Flag

    (3) Nice mention of Anne of Green Gables. There were other non-romantic living situations from that series:

    -Rachel Lynde moved into Green Gables after her husband died

    -Marilla adopted a pair of twins (Davy and Dora) who were the children of Marilla’s deceased cousin

    -Anne moved in with three classmates at a cottage nicknamed Patty’s Place during their time at Redmond College. They lived there until their graduation.

    -Anne and Gilbert hired live-in help (a nanny named Susan, I think) after Gilbert’s medical practice grew and Anne gave birth to their son

    Sorry I have to post and run. Have a good day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terrific list, Ana — including all those living arrangements from “Anne of Green Gables” and its sequels. Also, nice thumbnail descriptions of the situations in the L.M. Montgomery, John Steinbeck, and Richard Wright novels. Thanks!

      By the way, this week I finished “Where Eagles Dare” after you had recommended Alistair MacLean’s work. Wow! That is one exciting book. I’m now a few dozen pages into M.L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans” — which you and Kat Lib had suggested — and it’s very absorbing so far. Thanks for that, too!


  5. I thought of another example of an unusual family living under one roof. In Marilynne Robinson’s great first novel, ‘Housekeeping’. Takes place in a little town called Fingerbone in upstate Washington circa late 40’s-early 50’s. Two girls, Ruthie and Lucie, are abandoned by their mother when she drives a car off the cliff, intentionally. They live with their elderly great aunts until in their teens, when their mother’s drifter sister Sylvie comes to live with them. Sylvie is very unique, a ‘character’ as they used to say. The aunts clear out in the pre-dawn morning shortly after Sylvie moves in as Sylvie begins her unique approach to ‘housekeeping’. She is apt to take a nap with a newspaper on her face on a park bench downtown or ‘borrow’ a sailboat and go downriver and climb up the supports of a railroad bridge and feel the breeze as the train rattles by just over head. Sometimes she just hops a train and goes up to another town to look around. She doesn’t bother to send the girls to school, collects tin cans and newspapers and sits in the dark sometimes just because she likes the darkness. Lucille feels the social pressure to conform, to have other female friends, to join the crowd. Ruthie is drawn to Sylvie’s distinct lifestyle, thus driving a wedge between the sisters. It’s a beautifully written novel and almost put Robinson in a Harper Lee category until she started publishing novels again about 10 years ago (Gilead, Home, Lila). It was also made into an outstanding film in the late 80’s with Christine Lahti as Sylvie. I saw the film first and was so impressed I went in search of the novel. Unique ‘family’ situation and a novel I highly recommend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must add that the girls’ father is either dead or simply abandoned them, leaving the mother with the children. Their aunts come to live with them in the family home and then Sylvie arrives and the aunts leave. Through all of this it is a very female-centric home. No males live on the premises. This arrangement might have been more rare in the early 50’s and liable to attract the notice of most people than it would now, I’m not sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Brian! I agree that the “Housekeeping” film was outstanding, as was Christine Lahti’s performance (which I think got her an Oscar nomination). I’ve never read the novel, but I just put it on my list. I did read Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead” a couple of years ago, and frankly found it kind of boring — and wondered how it won the Pulitzer Prize. But I’m sure “Housekeeping” is MUCH better. Wonderful summary of it!

        Speaking of female-centric homes, that was also the case with the March household in “Little Women” while the father was away during the Civil War. (But I’m not sure if any of the four daughters had reached adulthood by the end of Louisa May Alcott’s novel; it has been many years since I read the book.) There were also two adult women living together for a while (I think platonically) in A.S. Byatt’s “Possession” — one of the best novels I’ve read during the past couple of years.

        As for the Harper Lee category of one-novel authors, I guess Harper Lee is not in the Harper Lee category anymore. πŸ™‚


        • I didn’t say that as of yesterday, Harper leaves the Harper Lee category. Emily Bronte and Margaret Mitchell, however, will always share that Bronte/Mitchell category. Actually, Christine was not nominated for ‘Housekeeping’ although she should have been. A few years earlier she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for ‘Swing Shift’. Sorry to hear that about ‘Gilead’. I own a copy but lent it out to a friend. I’ve not read it or the two subsequent novels, which share some connection with ‘Gilead’ as sequels/prequels/tangential character narratives, something like that although hope to at some point. I have read ‘Housekeeping’ twice, though, and, based on what you’re saying, might be better off reading it a third time before I read them. It’s one of those novels where there’s not one word out of place, almost like lines of poetry. It possesses a magical quality. The movie, while obviously not capturing all the nuance, did about as good a job as one could expect and was a beautiful visualization of that world.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It’s so hard to suddenly think of Harper Lee as not a one-novel author! πŸ™‚ And, yup, not much that can change Emily Bronte’s and Margaret Mitchell’s just-one-book status unless a previously unknown novel is unearthed somewhere.

            Thanks for the correction on Christine Lahti re “Housekeeping.” As you say, she deserved to be nominated.

            “Gilead” is earnest and deals with important issues (religion, dying, etc.) — which is what may have made it Pulitzer bait. And, thankfully, it’s fairly short. But I had to force myself to finish — perhaps I kept intoning “This won a Pulitzer, this won a Pulitzer…” to stay awake. πŸ™‚


  6. Interesting if depressing topic Dave, I can’t think of a specific novel where two characters have chosen to live together by mutual consent post romantic spark which is what I think you are getting at. Quite a few wonderful William Trevor stories come to mind but there it is less an informed choice than an acceptance of Irish cultural and religious mores that prevent open separation .A poignant example from a great song did occur to me Angel of Montgomery – John Prine ,a story told by two aging ,bitter narrators a line in particular really sticks out ” How the hell can a person ,go to work in the morning ,come in the evening and have nothing to say” when sung by Bonnie Raitt in a duet with Mr. Prine it goes right to the bone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Donny, that’s an interesting category within a category — people who were once romantically involved still living together after the romance is gone. I’ve never read William Trevor, but I hear you about how cultural and religious mores can sometimes force that arrangement.

      That situation can also involve abused women who haven’t been able to leave their husbands (yet) — as in Lee Child’s “Worth Dying For” and Stephen King’s “Rose Madder.” But that’s not mutual consent.

      Another example would be soon-to-be-divorced couples who temporarily keep living together — perhaps with the guy in the basement.

      “Angel From Montgomery” IS a memorable, melancholy song. I have a version of it that Bonnie Raitt sang on the “No Nukes” album from the 1979 concert of the same name.


    • Thanks, bebe! Glad you like the column!

      That news about Harper Lee’s book IS astonishing. So exciting! Even if the new novel is only half as good as the wonderful “To Kill a Mockingbird,” it will still be great. I know how much a fan you are of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and your enthusiasm for the novel helped me decide to reread it a couple of months ago.

      I look forward to seeing what you have to say later!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi I see it is all over the news, it is very interesting information , is the book going to exceed our expectation or will be disappointing ?
        We have to wait and see..

        Boo the mockingbird was all about what is decent and innocent in the world was abused by his family and never stepped out of the house until he befriend Scout and her brother. Yes there was no love in the family he lived with.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the great follow-up thoughts, bebe!

          As bobess48 said elsewhere in this comments area, readers this summer should remind themselves that “Go Set a Watchman” will be a debut novel and thus perhaps not as good as “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Turns out that “TKAM,” which was magnificent for what everyone thought was a debut novel, was a second novel which undoubtedly benefited from Harper Lee having written a then-unknown previous novel. (I’m not saying anything you don’t know. πŸ™‚ )

          Boo Radley was indeed a VERY decent man despite his living situation and mental challenges.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Interesting discussions I just read some below…I agree completely . I have read on going stories of Lee and Trueman Capote’s friendship and different speculations of writing TKMB . Anyways can’t wait to see the review of the new book.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, bebe!

              Harper Lee and Truman Capote did seem to have a complicated relationship. From what I’ve heard and read, they were childhood friends, he helped her a bit with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he claimed he had a bigger role in writing that book, she based the character of Dill on him, she helped him research “In Cold Blood,” he did not give her much of a credit for that, etc.

              I also can’t wait to see the reviews of the new book!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Exactly…I just didn’t want to say it because I head his claim a while ago that he almost wrote the book, that was too funny. What I have read various times Capote was himself a complex man…there is a film on him but I did not see that.

                Liked by 1 person

                • I also heard about Truman Capote’s claim that he almost wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and that claim IS ridiculous. I’ve read some of Capote, and his style doesn’t match Harper Lee’s style — in terms of the writing itself and the content.

                  Liked by 1 person

        • Ha..there it is again…

          “While her first novel is firmly established in the canon, it is not universally supported. It has been under attack for years by some serious critics for being simplistic and problematic in a privileged-white-lady-solves-the-race-issue kind of way. Then there is the annoyingly enduring rumor that the book was really written by Ms. Lee’s friend Truman Capote. “

          Liked by 1 person

                • I think the rumor that Truman Capote wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ originated in Truman’s mind. I doubt if anyone ever really took his claim seriously or for that matter many other things he said. He kept boasting for years that his long gestating novel, ‘Answered Prayers’ would be a massive opus along the lines of Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ and that he had written a few thousand pages. After he died, this ‘massive opus’ turned out to be a little fragment less that 200 pages or so. Truman was a troubled fellow and it irked him that his friend Harper, whom he probably condescended to as a writer, was now having this phenomenal success. He just had to rain on her parade. ‘TKAM’ never resembled Capote to me, even though it was years before I finally read anything by him and when I did, nothing he wrote ever bore any resemblance to it, other than having a southern Alabama setting in a few of the stories.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Well said, bobess48! Truman Capote seemed to have ego problems, jealousy problems, and delusion problems. While he never wrote anything as ultra-successful as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he wrote some famous stuff/quality stuff and had a quantity of celebrity that should have been at least somewhat satisfying.

                    Thanks for mentioning Capote’s alleged “Proust-like” work. I had forgotten about that until seeing your comment. Such an inaccurate boast!


                    • In all fairness, it should be noted that Mr. Capote’s prodigious appetite for intake of alcohol and pharmaceuticals might have caused him to see triple, if not quintuple, which would go a long way toward explaining how he might mistake his two hundred odd pages of scraps and notes for a thousand.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • In all fairness, it should be noted, I think by leaving jhNY out of its appointed rectangle, I became Anonymous– I did remember to write in my hidden e-mail address in the top thingy….

                      Liked by 1 person

        • Good morning, bebe! Interesting piece. Thanks for posting it!

          There is certainly a chance “To Set a Watchman” will be disappointing, but I don’t think that will ruin the luster of the marvelous “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And I still want to read “Watchman.”

          What worries me more is the possibility that it wasn’t Harper Lee’s decision (or completely her decision) to publish “Watchman.” According to some reports, she has major health issues and possibly some dementia.

          What do you think?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I agree but as you and I both know… “Basic Training” by Kurt Vonnegut his two Novellas was published by his daughter posthumously. Same would happen to Lee. Someone else will dig the book out and publish it. Now as you say she is suffering from possible dementia someone else is twisting her arms now .

            And the first book ” Basic Training” ended up being excellent Dave..but I am going to wait read all the reviews particularly yours then decide if I want to read it.

            Liked by 1 person

            • VERY good point, bebe! Whether or not Harper Lee truly approved the publication of “To Set a Watchman,” it would come out after she died if it wasn’t published this summer.

              And you’re right — early stuff by an author CAN be excellent — like Vonnegut’s “Basic Training” novella you recommended to me a while ago.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. As you know, I am a big fan of the works of E.L. Doctorow. His recent book, titled β€œHomer and Langley” nicely fits in with your topic. This book is loosely (very loosely) based on real life brothers Homer and Langley Collyer, who lived together in a Manhattan townhouse until their death in the 1940’s. The real life Collyer bothers caused quite a sensation at their death due to vast amount of junk they hoarded in their house (it actually took police several weeks to locate Langley’s body amidst the junk – which included a Model T in their dining room). Doctorow’s book treats the brothers a little more compassionately than the news stories of the time. In his book, Homer is blind, and eventually becomes deaf, while Langley suffers from severe mental illness, and they develop a co-dependent, but touching, relationship that spans most of the 20th Century (WWI through Watergate). Doctorow actually creates much sympathy for these compulsive oddities – I think he is trying to draw a parallel between the brothers’ decent into deeper and deeper insanity with the decent of the world around them. A good book and a quick read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doctorow IS an excellent author, drb19810, and thank you again for recommending his absorbing “World’s Fair” a few months ago.

      “Homer and Langley” is a great (and dysfunctional!) addition to this topic. I remember reading about the case that book was somewhat based on. Sounds like Doctorow did a superb job with it. Sometimes people, because of physical or mental disabilities, can’t really help doing the things they do. And the U.S. is a place where (if one is not wealthy) it isn’t always easy to get help, or be treated compassionately when one does seek help.

      Thank you for the terrific, very descriptive comment — including its thought-provoking second-to-last line.


  8. Most interesting topic, Dave! The other day I was thinking about how society has reversed itself: how elderly parents used to move in with their kids, and now the kids move in with them. Fodder for sociology books and thrillers! And, of course, in real estate I see this from a front row seat. Maybe I could write a book… Another marvelous, thought-provoking column, my friend!

    Liked by 2 people

    • And you did write a book — the new “Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success.” πŸ™‚ So funny and educational! (Just finished it yesterday.)

      Thanks, Cathy, for the kind words and the insights. Very true that living arrangements change with the times. As you alluded to, many adult children are moving back with their parents after college because of America’s still-crummy economy. Meanwhile, with many older people being healthier these days, they continue to live independently. And if they do get sick, they often end up in assisted-living housing rather than in the homes of their adult children.

      Yes, adults living non-romantically with adults can spell “thriller potential”!


  9. Dave, I really think of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in s non-romantic living situation. Watson’s “two” marriages not withstanding he spends most of the stories living with Sherlock in Baker St.

    We can’t forget the immense number of people who live with relatives in “Middlemarch.” I couldn’t begin to list them but its everything from mother and aunt living with a working adult to adult children still at home.

    I did finish “To Kill a Mocking Bird” in December and I really enjoyed the book. The situation with Boo is a rare one in literature, I haven’t seen other adults with mental issues living at home in my readings.

    We shouldn’t forget the authors who lived in a non-romantic situations. The Bronte sisters all published while in such situations. Poe marries his cousin but there might not have been any romance in that relationship. There are also poets, Anne Bronte included. Emily Dickinson never married and did all her writing at her father’s house.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a great point about some writers who, as adults, lived with other adults! The Brontes and Emily Dickinson are terrific examples. I believe Jane Austen lived with her sister, and Nathaniel Hawthorne spent a short period living communally (not sure if there was separate housing) on a “utopian” farm — an experience that inspired his novel “A Blithedale Romance.”

      Sherlock Holmes and Watson — excellent, GL! And you’re right about the adult groupings in George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.” If I’m remembering correctly, I think the Bede brothers lived with their mother in Eliot’s “Adam Bede” (one brother later married).

      Harper Lee’s novel is indeed great. I seem to remember a mix of living situations for mentally challenged adults in literature — some at home, some residing elsewhere. Several works that come to mind for each situation include “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Flowers for Algernon,” “Of Mice and Men” (mentioned by a couple of commenters), Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time,” and the play “The Light in the Piazza.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • GL, I agree completely about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and I’d have mentioned it eventually, if you hadn’t got there first. For a couple of unmarried guys, they sure did spend a lot of time together, especially since one was married. I’m not casting aspersions on them; I actually like that they were together so often. How else would Watson have written all those stories and novels?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Oh, my gosh! Some of my favorites are listed here, including “Flowers for Algernon,” “Of Mice and Men,” and the beautiful “The Light in the Piazza.” I know it’s not fiction, but how about “Eat, Pray, Love” By Elizabeth Gilbert? She lived in a lot of different situations while on her soul-searching sojourn, some romantic and some not so much.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Those ARE some great literary works, lulabelleharris. πŸ™‚ I had the pleasure of seeing “The Light in the Piazza” on Broadway eight or nine (?) years ago, with Kelli O’Hara and Victoria Clark in the starring roles. Wonderful play, performances, and songs.

          I’ve unfortunately never read “Eat, Pray, Love” — mostly because I read so few nonfiction books these days. But it sounds like it’s very relevant to this discussion!

          Liked by 1 person

      • News Flash! I just read on HP (remember them?) that Harper Lee will be publishing a novel this summer. I believe it was written even before ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”. If this turns out to be a hoax, I apologize.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Perhaps the strangest “live-in” arrangement comes in Christopher Moore’s comic novel, “You Suck: A Love Story”.

    A teen Goth named Abbey Normal is hired by a vampire couple to mind their household during the day. The genius of the relationship comes in Moore asking the thorny questions: how do you manage the details of everyday vampire life in the modern world? How exactly do you vet and hire help?

    Christopher Moore’s novels are clever and beautifully written. Though he mostly works in comedy, his novels are top-notch.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Dave … I hope you’re having a great weekend. What an interesting column (I knew it would be :-)). I love the way you summed up the characters in “Washington Square” — if I had never read the book, that description would encourage me to do so. Thank you for mentioning “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and the unforgettable Radley and Ewell families. As I read your post, two — and, at the moment, only two — examples come to mind: George and Lennie from John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” (already mentioned by bobess48), and the Joad family in Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. I’m looking forward to reading this week’s comments; maybe they’ll jog my memory a bit (they often do).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hope you’re having a good weekend, too, Pat — and thanks for the very kind words and engaging comment!

      “Washington Square” is not a long novel, and the story line is pretty straightforward, but I found it VERY absorbing. As you know, Henry James rarely disappoints.

      Thanks for mentioning those two John Steinbeck books — both quite relevant to this discussion. I guess “The Grapes of Wrath” harkens back to a time when three generations often lived under one roof, which makes even sadder the splintering of the Joad family due to (among other things) brutal economic forces beyond their control.


  12. Hi David, you reminded me of the wonderful books I have read. What about Little Dorrit? I’m not sure if that’s the name of the book. The dad has a few daughters that live with him. And Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, one of my favorites, where the two siblings live on and off with each other if I can remember correctly. I forget plots, titles, everything for some reason. Anyway, thank you for bringing some of my books back to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Claire! I know what you mean about forgetting the details of novels — I’ve read “Little Dorrit” (that’s indeed the name of that Dickens book) and “The Blind Assassin,” and I also don’t remember a lot of details.

      I do recall that the relationship between the two sisters (one of whom died young) in Margaret Atwood’s novel was fascinating — as was the book’s conclusion (involving which sister did what).


    • Claire, I haven’t read the book “Little Dorrit,” but there is an absolutely wonderful adaptation of this book by the BBC on DVD. It still astounds me that there was actually a time when people were thrown into “debtors” prisons. I sometimes wonder if we are going back to those days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hear you, Kat Lib. It does seem like many of the conservative “powers that be” wouldn’t mind if today’s vast majority of citizens suffered from some of the worst aspects of the 19th century. 😦


  13. Gee, Dave, did you have to mention most of those that I would have? Especially some of my favorite heroines, Lily Bart, Anne Elliot and Emma Woodhouse? πŸ™‚ Only kidding, but I thought about Jane Austen; one of the first to come to mind is Fanny Price, uprooted from her impoverished home to live with the landed gentry in “Mansfield Park.” Even though she’s a relation, she’s treated mostly as a servant throughout the novel, especially by the dreaded Mrs. Norris. When Catherine Morland in “Northanger Abbey” goes to Bath with her neighbors, she is thought to be their heiress, which isn’t true, but causes many misunderstandings. And in Henry James’ book, “The Golden Bowl,” the plot revolves around a woman who is more attuned to her father than the man she married to, which leads the husband into an adulterous affair with the woman’s friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mea culpa, Kat Lib. πŸ™‚ But you worked around that nicely by mentioning other Jane Austen novels!

      “Mansfield Park” (which you recommended to me a while back, and I’m glad you did!) is certainly an underrated Austen novel with some indelible characters: Fanny (kind of passive, but very sympathetic) and Mrs. Norris (“dreaded” indeed. Austen’s unlikable characters are something to see; they’re so skillfully drawn).

      I definitely want to get to a later Henry James novel one of these days, and “The Golden Bowl” is a possibility along with “The Wings of the Dove.”

      Thanks for the great comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The mention of ‘Mansfield Park’ (was that a poor relation?) reminds me of the duplicitous title character of ‘Cousin Bette,’ who is the beloved spinster cousin in the eyes of the relations, none of whom is aware that she is the engine of the succession of disasters that befall various members. I was also reminded of the book I just finished the other day, Michel Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’, set in 1870’s London, in which the prostitute Sugar captivates her ‘john’ perfume manufacturer William Rackham who sets her up in quarters of her own and then moves her into the family home as his daughter’s governess. An ‘unusual’ cohabitation ensues. Sorry to put in a plug for myself, but for anyone that’s interested in more background so this comment makes a bit more sense, here’s my Goodreads review:

        And speaking of Henry James, Dave, I would highly recommend the ‘middle’ novel of that great trio of final novels, ‘The Ambassadors’. It’s a later in life (and more convoluted in style) variation of of the theme explored in the novel of his youth, ‘The American’.

        Liked by 1 person

        • bobess48, thanks for mentioning a novel (“Cousin Bette”) by Balzac. Such a great author. If I’m remembering right, Balzac’s “Eugenie Grandet” also has non-romantic adults in the same household (Eugenie and her father).

          I read your review of “The Crimson Petal and the White,” and it’s superb — as are all your reviews (I’ve seen a number of them πŸ™‚ ). That Michel Faber book sounds very interesting.

          I liked Henry James’ “The American” a lot, so reading a more complex variation on that novel sounds appealing. Eventually, I hope to read all three of that late-career trio of books.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It’s been several years since I read either ‘Eugenie Grandet’ or ‘Washington Square’ but I seem to recall that ‘Washington Square’ is similar thematically to ‘Eugenie…’ as if he was doing his own variation on a theme. I know that Balzac was one of his early literary heroes so I believe the influence is there.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Sorry, time to self-critique. Just noticed that I said ‘seem’ twice in the same sentence. There must have been a much less clumsy way to say that. Probably just ‘I seem to recall that ‘WS’ was similar thematically…’ Wish we could edit our comments here.

              Liked by 1 person

            • bobess48, you’re absolutely right that Henry James admired Balzac (along with other authors such as George Eliot). Also, great insight that there are some similarities between “Eugenie Grandet” and “Washington Square” — the (sort of) dutiful daughters psychologically harmed by problematic fathers, and so on.


        • Dave, I just noticed a missing word in this post. The sentence “in which the prostitute Sugar captivates her β€˜john’ perfume manufacturer William Rackham sets her up in quarters of her own and then moves her into the family home as his daughter’s governess” Could you insert the word ‘who’ after ‘Rackham’? Thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

      • “The Wings of the Dove” would also qualify for inclusion in these comments. The orphaned American heiress, Milly, must of course have a friend and traveling companion, Mrs. Stringham. Also, Kate Croy is estranged from her awful father and lives with her aunt, which perhaps gives some possible motives for her machinations.

        We’ve talked before about “Silas Marner,” and how his whole life changes for the better when he takes in the abandoned child Eppie. Even after she learns she’s the daughter of the leading landowner in town, she chooses to stay with Silas (her “true” father), and when she marries someone of the same class she was raised in, the couple moves in with Silas.

        On a more modern note, I just finished the thriller, “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins. There are three different female narrators, but the main one is Rachel, who is divorced, an alcoholic who suffers severe blackouts, lost her job, and lives in a flat with a girlfriend. She spends her lonely days on the commuter train between the small town where she now lives and London. One of the stops is right beside the row of homes where she lived with her ex-husband, but she becomes obsessed with the couple in a home a few doors down from her former home, names them and imagines what their magical lives are like. Then she sees something from the train that happens in that home, which changes all their lives. It was a very interesting page-turner, being touted as the next “Gone Girl” (a book that I had some problems with, such as a total lack of empathy with the main characters!).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the wide-ranging comment, Kat Lib!

          Henry James is very well-represented in this topic. πŸ™‚ I’m now also remembering the housekeeper in James’ “The American” living with a French family and then moving to the Paris apartment of the American protagonist. And I believe there are multiple adult generations in the U.S. household visited by the Europeans in…”The Europeans.”

          Great mention/description of the living arrangements in “Silas Marner”! I found that George Eliot novel so touching.

          Thanks, also, for the excellent summary of “The Girl on the Train. It sounds VERY compelling.

          I haven’t read “Gone Girl,” but I agree that not being able to empathize with the main characters — while not necessarily a deal-breaker — can be problematic for readers.


          • My sister bought the book “Gone Girl” when it first came out. After she read more about it she gave it to me — she is definitely one that needs to like at least one of the main characters. I’m not as hardline about that as she, but I do find it preferable to read about perhaps very flawed characters that are still at least relatable in some way.

            Another recent book is “Life After Life,” by Kate Atkinson, which I think I may have mentioned before. It’s about a woman, Ursula Todd, who dies in 1910 at birth, she is born again and lives a bit longer, but then dies again, then is born again. The whole book weaves back and forth between parallel lives. The prologue takes place in 1930, when she attempts to assassinate Adolph Hitler. The book spans the years from 1910 to 1967; so she obviously has many different living arrangements in many different lives, although the years before and during WWII are most prevalent. In one she lives with a German family and comes within the circle around Eva Braun. In another life, she is living in London during the Blitz, and if I remember correctly in one she dies when she and her neighbors in an apartment building when it’s hit by the Germans, and in a similar life, is a warden who helps or tries to save those who were in that same building. Note to self: Please reread this fascinating book!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well said, Kat Lib!

              It definitely helps if an unlikable character has at least a shred of likability, or some charisma, or some brains, or is funny, or has an excuse for being unlikable (bad upbringing, hit by tragedy, etc.). For example, “A Confederacy of Dunces” has an eccentric protagonist (Ignatius J. Reilly) who’s VERY annoying, but at least he’s smart and makes a reader laugh.

              Wow — “Life After Life” sounds complex and intriguing!


  14. I’ll have to think about this one a while. Right offhand, the first one that comes to mind is the pair of Joe Buck and Ricco ‘Ratso’ Rizzo in James Leo Herlihy’s ‘Midnight Cowboy’. It’s been almost 40 years since I read this novel so the movie (which I’ve seen a few times in more recent years) is obviously fresher although it’s generally pretty faithful to the novel. Joe Buck, the hapless and clueless gigolo wannabe is having almost no success jump starting his career. Most of the women he meets that seem interested on the streets of New York are prostitutes themselves and think that HE should be paying THEM. Crippled little thief Ratso helps him out by letting him stay at his place–which turns out to be an abandoned, condemned house in the slums with no heat, little power and intermittently running water. It’s a bitter winter so the pipes are frozen. Joe and Ratso are a distinctly ‘odd couple’ (which of course puts me in mind of Neil Simon’s pair, another example throw on the pile). There is an odd interdependence to these guys but Ratso in his cynical street smart way cares about Joe and feels he has to show him the ropes of survival. They remind me of George and Lennie from Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, another odd couple to add to these examples. It’s interesting how one example can spawn a recollection of another, which in turn sparks another one. Your mention of Henry James reminded me of the fact that he shared a villa with writer Constance Fennimore Woolson (a niece of James Fennimore Cooper). From HJ’s point of view it was purely platonic although there has been speculation that Constance felt differently and there has also been speculation that her accidental death was not an accident. This Wikipedia entry about her cites works that speculated about their relationship, including Colm Toibin’s ‘The Master,’ which I read and liked quite a bit as well as a biography that I’d like to read sometime: A Private Life of Henry James.

    I have looked through that book at the library over the years but haven’t checked it out yet. I read enough to ascertain that the author feels that HJ felt extreme guilt over Constance’s death, which brought to mind his profoundly moving story, ‘The Beast in the Jungle’ which deals with an ‘almost’ romance that never happens.

    If I think of more examples I’ll get back with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somehow I’ve never read or seen “Midnight Cowboy,” but I of course know of it. Thanks for the excellent, detailed, elegantly written description, bobess48!

      “The Odd Couple” — great addition! Though it’s better known as a movie and then a TV series, it of course started as a Neil Simon play.

      Your very apt mention of “Of Mice and Men” reminded me that John Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flat” also has some guys living together. (Some dogs, too. πŸ™‚ ) And the extended Joad family lives together at the start of “The Grapes of Wrath,” and Lee the housekeeper lives with the Trask family in “East of Eden.”

      I did not know about that living arrangement of Henry James and Constance Fenimore Woolson. Fascinating! James certainly seemed to be either gay or asexual.

      As for James Fenimore Cooper, I think Natty Bumppo and his close Native American friend Chingachgook lived in the same modest abode at some point in the “Leatherstocking” novels, but I’m not totally sure. (I should be sure because I read — and enjoyed — all five of those books last year!)


      • Forgot to mention that when I first glanced at the title of the topic in my e-mail I thought it said ‘Living Together Without Remorse’. That is a rare trick to pull off.

        Yes, I believe James was a bit of both although when he was young he did fall in love with his cousin Minnie Temple supposedly.

        Serendipitously, I just internet-surfed on this entry that includes a bit on Minnie:

        This seems to have set up a thematic pattern in his life as well as his fiction. He could mourn and love simultaneously a woman who was safely dead. Actually, I suspect that he could form very intense platonic relationships with men and women. I just don’t think actual physical sex was expressed in any of them.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just a serendipitous side note: Last week after I mentioned the novel of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ I thought, I really should read that novel again. Perhaps I could find a copy of it at our Friends of the Library Used Book Store or at our best used book store in town, The Booklegger. Well, yesterday I went to The Booklegger, didn’t find ‘Midnight Cowboy’ in paperback but went to the hardback section and there it was, for $4.00 so I snatched it up. A few aisles over I was browsing the biographies and noticed ‘Peter the Great’ by Robert K. Massie, a book I thought I had and hope to read sometime this year. This was the same edition I had. I opened it up and, sure enough, there’s my name on the inside cover. So I bought back my own book from them for $4.00 as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow — finding a hardcover “Midnight Cowboy” for $4, and buying back your own book! Quite a visit to that store. πŸ™‚

        Also, great that you have a used bookstore in town! I have a very good one in my town, too.


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