There have been studies of the New York intellectuals by Daniel Aaron, Alexander Bloom, Alan Wald, and others. There have also been provocative memoirs published by Lionel Abel, William Barrett, Alfred Kazin, William Phillips, and Norman Podhoretz. David Laskin offers an intricate biographical narrative and analysis of the marriages and affairs that resulted in important books and articles about American and European culture from the 1930’s to the 1960’s in Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals.
Laskin concentrates on Lionel and Diana Trilling, Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy, Robert Lowell and Jean Stafford, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick, Philip Rahv and Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Blucher, Allan Tate and Caroline Gordon. Laskin is especially interested in how the women viewed themselves as wives, lovers, and intellectuals. Were they able to integrate the different demands on their lives?
Laskin is curious about whether these women saw themselves as feminists and with how they handled themselves in a male-dominated world. He finds that most of these women ignored or even condemned feminism. Hardwick, for example, argued that the issue did not exist for women writers, since they had careers and were liberated to begin with. Yet Hardwick, above all, did not act like a liberated woman and almost confined herself to a twenty-year sentence of catering to Lowell's cycles of madness.
Only Stafford and Trilling admitted that their husbands came first. To Stafford, being “womanly” meant everything—including keeping a nice house and taking care of her husband. Trilling refused to write under her maiden name—consciously identifying everything she wrote with her marriage.
Laskin has a strong point of view that not every reader will accept, but he writes with sympathy and perception.