In Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, author Phyllis Rose uses primary and secondary source documents to reconstruct the domestic relationships of five Victorian couples. The book is intended for a general audience with a modern feminist perspective that views marriage as restrictive and forcing difficult choices on both partners. The book focuses on the following:
- Parallel lives establishes patterns in the relationships that highlight the customs and beliefs of the Victorian era in England.
- Parallel lives' emphasis on the patriarchal nature of the relationships in this era.
- The book reveals the social difficulties faced by intelligent women in an environment in which female scholarship and achievement was discouraged.
- The book is biographical in nature, but contains strong elements of social history through its investigation of domestic relationships and the general position of women in the period.
The general implicit thesis of the author is that the Victorian period was a time of transition for marriage as the marital relationship moved away from arrangements that involved property and towards the more modern form that focuses heavily on romantic satisfaction and sexual intimacy. This premise is articulated in the prologue in which the author speculates that it is impossible to know if "the Victorians suffered more from their lack of easy recourse to divorce or from the disappearance of the brisk assumptions of arranged marriages." The author also explicitly suggests that there exists an internalized myth regarding the expectations of marriage that are shaped by society and influence the choices that people make in the relationship. Nonetheless, the author indicates that she had no thesis in mind writing the book, but eventually came to recognize that her presentation reinforced the concept of the sterility of the patriarchal form of marriage. As the work develops, the author focuses on the expectations that each party to the marriage brought to the relationship, the consequences of these expectations, and the way in which the parties dealt with the frustration of their expectations.