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Ménage à trois

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Postcard, c. 1910

A ménage à trois (French: [menaʒ a tʁwɑ]) is a domestic arrangement or committed relationship consisting of three people in polyamorous romantic or sexual relations with each other, and often dwelling together.[1][2] The phrase is a loan from French meaning "household of three". Contemporary arrangements are sometimes identified as a throuple,[3] thruple,[4] or triad.[5]


This relationship type has elements of bisexuality involved, but occasionally at least one of the participants is heterosexual, homosexual or asexual.[6] Because this term is sometimes interchangeably used for a threesome, which solely refers to a sexual experience involving three people, it can sometimes be misrepresented as some type of casual encounter.[7] However, the ménage à trois is a specific type of committed relationship, in which vows are often made. It does not apply to all polyamorous relationships with three individuals, since polyamory can have many different forms.

The topic sometimes overlaps seemingly opposing concepts such as Christian feminism and lesbian feminism.[8][9] These ideas were explored by film maker Angela Robinson in her film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women through the love story of historical couple William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston with their research assistant Olive Byrne.[10][11][12]

Both the term and way of life have become a topic of discussion in areas associated with Christendom and Romance languages.[13]


Ancient history[edit]

Traditional ideas of the Abrahamic faiths and Christian views on marriage are prevalent in literature and media discussing this topic.[14] Patriarchs Abraham and Sarah had an arrangement with Sarah's handmaiden Hagar.[15] Interpretations of this vary, for example Judaism and Islam treat it much more like a polygamous situation, whereas Christian sources sometimes discuss the love triangle aspect of it, which are not directly analogous with a ménage à trois. Similarly when Jacob married Leah and Rachel, the polygamy and love triangle perspectives are well researched compared to the ménage à trois.[16]

Sappho's writings influenced the early Christian church, and the topic of lesbianism within the ménage à trois framework of Christian couples began to be explored in post-Renaissance literature within Christian media.[17][18][19][20][13]

Post-Renaissance history[edit]

Grand Duchess Anna Leopoldovna, regent of Russia from 1740 to 1741, was involved simultaneously in affairs with the Saxon ambassador Count Moritz zu Lynar and her lady-in-waiting Mengden.[21][22] The regent's relationship with Mengden caused much disgust in Russia, and many believed her preoccupation with her relationships with Lynar and Mengden at the expense of governing made her a danger to the state. She was later overthrown in a coup.[23]

In his youth, thirteen years her junior, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was a protégé of the French noblewoman Françoise-Louise de Warens, who would become his first lover. He lived with her at her estate on and off since his teenage years, and in 1732, after he reached the age of 20, she initiated a sexual relationship with him while also being open about her sexual involvement with the steward of her house.[24]

The German intellectual Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer (1770–1825), her husband Mattheus Rodde and the French philosopher Charles de Villers also had a ménage à trois from 1794 until her husband's death in 1810.[25]

The British Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758–1805) was in a ménage à trois with his lover Emma, Lady Hamilton, and her husband William Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples, from 1799 until Nelson's death in 1805.[26]

At the age of 16, in 1813, the future author of Frankenstein, Mary Godwin (1797–1851), eloped with her to-be husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and engaged in a ménage with Claire Clairmont, future lover of Lord Byron, with whom the Shelleys would later have an extensive relationship.[27]

The Italian composer Luigi Ricci (1805–1859) married Ludmila Stolz, while still maintaining a relationship with her identical twin sister Francesca. He had a child with each.

The political philosopher Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) lived in a ménage à trois with his mistress Mary Burns and her sister Lizzie.[28]

The Belgian artist/illustrator Félicien Rops (1833–1898) maintained a remarkable ménage à trois with two sisters, Aurélie and Léontine Dulac, who ran a successful fashion house in Paris, "Maison Dulac". They each bore a child with him (one died at an early age) and they lived together for over 25 years until his death.[29][30][31]

The author E. Nesbit (1858–1924) lived with her husband Hubert Bland and his mistress Alice Hoatson, and raised their children as her own.[32]

In 1913, psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875–1961) began a relationship with a young patient, Toni Wolff, which lasted for some decades. Deirdre Bair, in her biography of Carl Jung,[33] describes his wife Emma Jung as bearing up nobly as her husband insisted that Toni Wolff become part of their household, saying that Wolff was "his other wife".

The Russian and Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930) lived with Lilya Brik, who was considered his muse, and her husband Osip Brik, an avant garde writer and critic.[34][35]

The English poet, novelist and critic Robert Graves (1895–1985) and his wife Nancy Nicholson for some years attempted a triadic relationship called "The Trinity" with Laura Riding, a woman that Graves met and fell in love with in 1926. This triangle became the "Holy Circle" with the addition of Irish poet Geoffrey Phibbs, who himself was still married to Irish artist Norah McGuinness.[36]

As recounted by the author and journalist Arthur Koestler (1905–1983) in The Invisible Writing, a conspicuous fixture of the intellectual life of 1930s Budapest was a threesome—a husband, his wife and the wife's lover—who were writers and literary critics and had the habit of every day spending many hours, the three of them together, at one of the Hungarian capital's well known cafes. As noted by Koestler, their relationship was so open and lasted so many years that it became no longer the subject of gossip.

The Italian surrealist artist Leonor Fini (1907–1996) sustained a ménage à trois until her death with Italian Count Stanislao Lepri and Polish writer Konstanty Jelenski in Paris. The relationship is believed to have impacted Fini's work, as she depicts gender neutral individuals or figures where traditional gender roles are reversed with a passive male and dominant female, such as Woman Seated on Naked Man (1942). [37]

The writer Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) and his first wife Maria engaged in a ménage with Mary Hutchinson, a friend of Clive Bell.[38]

From 1939, the German physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961), his wife, Annemarie Bertel, and his mistress, Hilde March, had a ménage à trois.[39][40]

In 1963, the actress Hattie Jacques (1922–1980) lived with her husband John Le Mesurier and her lover John Schofield.[41]

Cultural influence[edit]

Folie à Deux winery has a popular set of wines labeled as Ménage à Trois.

Wonder Woman is based on two women that were in a real life ménage à trois, as featured in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the creator of the comic William Moulton Marston and his legal wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston had a polyamorous life partner, Olive Byrne.[42][43][44][45][46][47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daily, Katelyn Grganto The (8 March 2022). "The magic of ménage à trois". The Daily of the University of Washington. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  2. ^ Reed, Rex (23 October 2017). "'Professor Marston' Tells the True Story of a Kinky Threesome". Observer. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  3. ^ Throuple Relationships vs Threesomes Explained: What It's Like To Be In A Three-Person Romance, HuffPost, 2016 July 28.
  4. ^ "A thruple of a married male couple and their girlfriend want to have kids". PinkNews. 22 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Black and Poly Dictionary". BlackAndPoly. 13 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Ménage à Trois". Encyclopedia.com. 28 February 2022. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  7. ^ Publishing, B. (2009). Faux Pas?: A No-Nonsense Guide to Words and Phrases from Other Languages. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-4081-0348-7. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  8. ^ Roach, C.M. (2003). Mother / Nature: Popular Culture and Environmental Ethics. Indiana University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-253-10978-1. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  9. ^ Roffey, Monique (23 August 2019). "Reinventing the ménage à trois for the feminist age". Boundless. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  10. ^ Berlatsky, Noah (16 October 2017). "The crucial thing the new Wonder Woman movie gets right". The Verge. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  11. ^ "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women". The Comics Journal. 17 October 2017. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  12. ^ Ph.D., Travis Langley (9 October 2017). "The "True Story" of Wonder Woman's Marston Ménage à Trois". Psychology Today. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  13. ^ a b Gill, A.J.M.C. (2008). Vera Amicizia : Conjugal Friendship in the Italian Renaissance. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  14. ^ Williams, Holly (7 November 2018). "The art of the ménage à trois". BBC Culture. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  15. ^ "November – Infertility, Surrogacy and Adoption". Women's League for Conservative Judaism. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  16. ^ Frankel, J. (2001). Jews and Gender: The Challenge to Hierarchy. Studies in Contemporary Jewry. Oxford University Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-19-534977-1. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  17. ^ "A Neoplatonic, Christian Sappho: Reading Synesius' Ninth Hymn – Classics@ Journal". Classics@ Journal – Classical scholarship that engages issues of great significance to a wide range of cultural and scholarly concerns. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  18. ^ Freeman, P. (2016). Searching for Sappho: The Lost Songs and World of the First Woman Poet. W. W. Norton. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-393-24224-9. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  19. ^ "Menage A Trois". Probe Ministries. 16 November 2005. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  20. ^ Henking, Susan (12 May 2010). "Lesbian Panic Reaches Apogee With Kagan Rumors". Religion Dispatches. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  21. ^ Moss 2001, p. 254.
  22. ^ Troyat, Henri (2000). Terrible Tsarinas: Five Russian Women in Power. New York: Algora Publishing. p. 99. ISBN 978-1892941541.
  23. ^ Moss, Walter (2001). A History of Russia. Vol. I. Boston: MacGraw-Hill. p. 254. ISBN 978-1843310235.
  24. ^ Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1987). Confessions. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-31500-5.
  25. ^ Poulet, Anne L. (12 December 2003). "Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer (1770–1825)". Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment. University of Chicago Press. p. 319. ISBN 0-226-67647-1.
  26. ^ Constantine, David (8 March 2001). Fields of Fire: a life of Sir William Hamilton. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 242 et seq. ISBN 1-84212-581-8.
  27. ^ Treasure, Geoffrey Russell Richards (1 January 1998). Who's who in British History: A-H. Taylor & Francis. p. 1115. ISBN 9781884964909.
  28. ^ Hands, Gill (2015). Marx: A complete introduction. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. p. 35. ISBN 9781473608696.
  29. ^ Bade, Patrick (2003). Félicien Rops. New York: Parkstone Press Ltd. p. 95. ISBN 1-85995-890-7.
  30. ^ Revens, Lee (1975). The Graphic Work of Félicien Rops. New York, N. Y.: Léon Amiel Publisher. p. 286.
  31. ^ "Félicien Rops Biography". Musée Félicien Rops (in French). Province de Numar. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  32. ^ Perrin, Noel (1 September 2003). A Child's Delight. University Press of New England. p. 106. ISBN 1-58465-352-3.
  33. ^ Bair, Deirdre (13 November 2003). Jung: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-07665-1.
  34. ^ Gray, du Plessix Gray (6 June 2006), Them: A Memoir of Parents, New York: Penguin Press, pp. 51–52, ISBN 0-14-303719-6, In 1918, when Mayakovsky and the Briks became inseparable, he simply moved in with them. Throughout the rest of his life, he made his home at a succession of flats that the Briks occupied.
  35. ^ Elena Golovin (June 2000). Караван Историй [Caravan Stories] (in Russian). Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  36. ^ Seymour 2003, p. 163.
  37. ^ Rivera, Lissa. ""Leonor Fini: Theatre of Desire" with Lisa Rivera". YouTube. ArtStudentsLeagueNY. Retrieved 29 March 2022.
  38. ^ Mars-Jones, Adam (6 April 2002). Aldous and His Women. The Observer. Retrieved 6 September 2013. Aldous was shy and impractical, not the sort of man who could manage adultery without help from his wife. The correspondence with Mary Hutchinson makes clear that Maria was not merely complicit but actively 'omnifutuent', to borrow her husband's splendid word for bisexuality.
  39. ^ Moore, Walter J. (29 May 1992). Schrödinger: Life and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43767-9.
  40. ^ Daugherty, Brian. "Brief Chronology". Erwin Schrödinger. Archived from the original on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  41. ^ "Hattie". BBC Four.
  42. ^ Lamb, Marguerite. "Who Was Wonder Woman? Long-Ago LAW Alumna Elizabeth Marston Was the Muse Who Gave Us a Superheroine", Boston University Alumni Magazine, Fall 2001.
  43. ^ Marston, Christie (20 October 2017). "What 'Professor Marston' Misses About Wonder Woman's Origins (Guest Column)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  44. ^ "Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Holloway Marston (LAW '18)"
  45. ^ Malcolm, Andrew H. "OUR TOWNS; She's Behind the Match For That Man of Steel". The New York Times, 18 February 1992.
  46. ^ Moon, Michael (12 March 2012). Darger's Resources. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0822351566.
  47. ^ Daniels, Les (2000). Wonder Woman: The complete History. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-2913-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • Finocster, Birbara; Foster, Michael; Friehakd, Letha (October 2000). Three in Love: Ménages à trois from Ancient to Modern Times. iUniverse. ISBN 0-595-00807-0.
  • Vantoch, Vicki (31 August 2007). The Threesome Handbook: A Practical Guide to sleeping with three. Hachette Books. ISBN 9781568583334.

External links[edit]