The Literary Marriage


August 19th, 1978

Howard Nicholas Brinton marries Elizabeth Irene Smythe


Very early in our relationship my husband professed his intent to see me achieve my writing dreams. He told me that it would happen. There have been many times when I have asked him if he wasn’t perhaps deluded, or just plain wrong. These are joking comments from me because his steadfast belief has sustained me from start to finish.

Many writers have described unions where both parties are committed to the literary life. Female writers joke about needing a wife, one who types each draft, brings lunch in on a tray and does not say a word while the genius is at work. If early success yielded substantial financial success, that just might work, but for most of us, it is not that cut and dried.

 The ups and downs are all imaginary.

He asks, “How was your day?”

“A new character arrived!”

“That’s great!”

Or, “How was your day?”

“My novel is falling apart. I just wasted the last decade, no the last four decades, no my entire life. I should have gone to law school.”

“How was your day?”

“My agent called. The book is going to auction. There’s talk of a movie deal too. They think it will be perfect for Johnny Depp.”

I never stop thanking God for the gift of my imagination.

If you read copious volumes of writer’s diaries, you learn a great deal about their marriages.  Lucy Maud Montgomery had a terrible time of it, and I could all but cry for her as she listed her trials and tribulations. I wanted to whack her husband over the head with a hockey stick and said so aloud to my beloved as I waded through the volumes. She created a fine fictional husband for herself in the person of Gilbert Blythe. Ted Hughes, married to Sylvia Plath, is not held in very high esteem either. Leonard Wolf, married to Virginia, tried very hard, but as it was she who wrote the diaries, he did not fare very well either. What of Zelda Fitzgerald and the Hemingway wives? If you read The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, you know what I mean.

I will state here and now that I owe everything to my husband. In changing times, I was afforded the choice to be home with my children, a decision I will never regret. In fact, I miss those days sorely. My husband has helped me with computer issues, printer foibles, discouraging setbacks and several lapses in confidence. Being a creative person himself he knows that the power of the imagination can leave artistic types rather unhinged from time to time.

Tolstoy had the secretarial sort of wife, and by all accounts, she did not exactly have the life of Riley. What would the marriage of two writers look like? I shudder to think.

“How was your day?”

“Chapter five is falling apart again. What about you?”

“Our accountant called. He said we should just pay off the mortgage with the last royalty check.”

Constant support and eternal optimism. That is what marriage has given me. Last night we watched back to back episodes of Downton Abbey.

“Should we really be watching last week’s show when we’ve seen it already?”

“Yes,” I answered. “We can discuss each developing storyline and then watch the new episode in silence.”


Do we know of any really admirable literary marriages? Stephen King writes only for his wife. She does not read each developing page, but is given the privilege of being his first and most important reader. She is very independent according to him and has no trouble filling the hours where he is unavailable. He is not to be interrupted for any reason. She once slid a note under his study door to inform him of a plumbing emergency. He considers himself lucky, as do I.