Chronicle of Higher Education

JUNE 27, 1997

‘THREE IN LOVE’  The History of the Menage a Trois

By Christopher Shea

“The chains of marriage are so heavy it takes two to bear them, sometimes three.”  -Alexandre Dumas

Henry and June Miller and Anais Nin might take the prize for most famous literary menage a trois, but they were together for only one charged moment in Paris before flaming out. And while the menage may have fueled the creativity of Nin and Henry Miller, the two writers in the group, when it came time to pen the story of their affair they sat down at their desks alone.

Now New York has produced another high-profile, literary menage a trois: a trio, including a librarian at Hunter College, a novelist and historian, and an alternative health expert. Barbara Foster, a librarian who specializes in women’s studies at Hunter; Michael Foster, her husband of 28 years; and Letha Hadady–at first a fling of his, now a comfortable member of the “family”-come roaring out of the closet with Three in Love: Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times (HarperSanFrancisco/iUniverse).  The three co-authors call it a “triography.” It’s a 400 page romp through the racy side of history, featuring famous figures who spent their nights three-a-bed, and marriages in which a mistress became, essentially, a part of the household. They offer only a few details of their own relationship, but their work follows the logic of “identity scholarship” perfectly: Who better to write about menages a trois than a menage?

The expression means “household of three,” so technically it applies only to people who live together. Some might quibble that the Foster-Hadady nexus doesn’t meet that standard; Mr. Foster shuttles between the Fosters’ Greenwich Village apartment and Ms. Hadady’s place in Chelsea, although they all summer together in Vermont.

Traditional marriages tend to emphasize ownership and antagonism, the authors argue. They believe that moving up to three-a symbolic number in many cultures-does more than sexually liberate. “This three-way energy does amazing things,” Ms. Foster says. “Every member of a menage is pushed to another level by it.” She has been pushed to write poetry, while Ms. Hadady, an acupuncturist, has ridden the wave to produce Asian Health Secrets (Crown Publishers/Three Rivers), which reached bestseller lists.

The Foster’s marriage “opened up” in the ’70s, but they stuck close enough together to produce a book, Forbidden Journey: The Life of Alexandra David-Neel (HarperCollins), about a French adventurer in Tibet. While in France doing research for that biography in the late 1970s, Mr. Foster’s eye alighted on pretty blonde Ms. Hadady, who was reading a book written by David-Neel in a cafe. Hadady was married at the time, but soon after all of them had returned to the States, “a recombination occurred,” as the authors put it delicately in the new book. They became “a working menage.” Hadady, sometimes referred to by the press as their “trophy wife” eventually traveled to Tibet bringing back slides the Fosters have used in a slide show to promote their biography of David-Neel.

HARMONY IS NOT PERFECT

The three credit their spirituality for the rare balance they have achieved. Hadady has studied with HH the Dalai Lama, who wrote a foreword to her Asian Health Secrets. Nonetheless, it becomes apparent during an interview that this Zen-like harmony is not a perfect one. Asked how three authors produced a book with one strong voice, Ms. Hadady answers quickly: “It’s him,” she says, touching Mr. Foster’s hand. “He’s the writer of the three of us. ”

Ms. Foster bristles. “I don’t think that’s really right,” she says sharply. After all, she points out, she did much of the research and wrote a rough draft. Under the table, she kicks Ms. Hadady in the shins. They didn’t know what to expect when they moved from nuzzling in coffeehouses to a media coming-out.

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