HAL David wrote the words to the 1963 Burt Bacharach tune Wives And Lovers and it’s fair to say the song strikes all the wrong notes in the 21st century.

The lyric tells wives they should “run to his arms the moment he comes home”: the implication is it’s only he who works. Then there’s that grim finger wag: “I’m warning you.”

Most of the husbands in Carmela Ciuraru’s new book on five literary marriages are of a similar mind set to the song’s narrator. Most are demanding individuals, petulant prima donnas craving complete control.

Single people are unlikely to be rushing to the altar after digesting Ciuraru’s pocket biographies. Only one of the five relationships ends happily and that’s the one she begins her book with.

The National:

Oddly, contrarily, this is the lesbian relationship between Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge.

Troubridge took on the wifely role. She gave up on art to support Hall, the writer, sometimes known as “John”.

They met in 1912 and their attitudes, whilst ahead and daring in sexuality, were otherwise deeply reactionary, snobbish and cruel. They were a pair of wasters who didn’t even support Emily Pankhurst. Both were into eugenics and seances. We learn too much about their haemorrhoids. Next!

Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante were two of Italy’s best writers. Elsa had the stronger character; Moravia was a seemingly apathetic individual.

He got the blame from Elsa if a restaurant was shut or a waiter was bad. Somehow the pair of them whacked out masterpieces despite their endless bickering.

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Elsa had to put up with a sexist press that publicised Alberto’s work over her own. Time has healed this neglect and today her reputation is, if anything, greater than Moravia’s.

Then we get the frightful British contingent of husbands beginning with theatre critic Ken Tynan.

His wife, Elaine Dundy, wrote The Dud Avocado, a brilliant debut novel that got rave reviews from Groucho Marx and Gore Vidal. Tynan – a whip-smart charmer with a stutter – was emerald with jealousy.

DUNDY was a survivor of serious parental abuse and the last thing she needed was a partner into S&M, caning and the like. Following on from this there was booze and rage.

Holidays with Ernest Hemingway in Spain were interspersed with spats and flying crockery. Dundy suffered endless humiliation despite performing “the role of the happy couple”.

There’s more alcoholic excess with Ciuraru’s next pair – Elizabeth Jane Howard and Kingsley Amis. Amis was funny but scared of the dark; he was something of a panicker. Howard was posh, a beauty who’d modelled for Vogue, and who’d had a previous affair with the aforementioned Tynan.

Some found her “imperious and mannered”. She too was a writer who was relatively neglected in comparison to Kingsley but like Dundy, her work has been reappraised positively in this century.

Amis’s dipsomania fuelled his increasingly toxic take on women. Impaired libido and erectile dysfunction as a result of his excessive intake didn’t help matters. Chalk up another divorce… Lastly, there’s the spectacularly eventful lives of Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl.

Neal was from Kentucky and trained as an actress. In time she’d earn an Oscar for her performance in the 1963 movie Hud.

Dahl met her after his heroics as a RAF pilot in the Second World War and his spying escapades in Washington DC.

The couple married and had horrendous experiences with their children, one dying from measles encephalitis, another the victim of serious head trauma after a road accident. Despite her success Dahl made Neal’s life difficult.

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Ciuraru says that after Neal survived a devastating cerebral bleed, Dahl became her “bully, tormentor, and protector”. He would slap her… Lives of the Wives is something of a dispiriting read; gossip, even of a higher form, usually is.

There’s fleeting mention of some uxorious success stories, other literary marriages – but anyone actively considering marriage could be forgiven for being put off by the list of infidelities and poisonous relationships outlined here.

Ciuraru’s tone is weary, misandrist and angrily pessimistic.

Howard sums up the message in an interview she gave aged 90: “I wasted a lot of my life on men, but I think a lot of women novelists have.”