Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dept. of the Unsung

Does anyone know of a study, or poetic project, that looks at some of the extraordinary modern(ist) women who set their lives, like parentheses, inside the sentence of their more public partners? I'm wondering about some of the parallels between them. I was thinking especially of:

Georgie Hyde-Lees ('George Yeats'): linguist, bohemian spiritualist, and inventor of the 'automatic script' that sparked Yeats's late poems.

Dorothea Richards: journalist and renowned climber of mountains, married to I.A..

Alice Toklas: best known of the bunch thanks to proxy autobiography and cookbook, and Stein's much more generous mentions of her.

Olga Rudge: internationally famous concert violinist who gradually disappeared herself into the Pound ménage. (Dorothy Shakespear would be a good candidate too.)

That's off the top of my head. Who else?

These were all (maybe Alice least so?) remarkably accomplished women who also had control of the literary estate for many years after their partners died (except for Dorothea, who didn’t outlive I.A. by all that much). So their parentheses don’t really close until long after their Modernist dies, which kind of screws up the metaphor but adds to the interest: Why not start right there, the lives of George, Dorothea, Alice, Olga and Dorothy just after Yeats, Richards, Stein, and Pound have died?

LATE ADD: Ada Russell, who gave up the Broadway footlights for Amy Lowell.


Nicholas Manning said...

Just some ideas:

Hilda Doolittle comes to mind (initial affair with Pound, then Pound's enlisting of her as an Imagist, but not the 'major' Imagist in comparison to P. himself and Aldington).

Plath, for quite a while perhaps? (Cf. Hughes' infamous "P. started writing her important work after we met.")

A more controversial one, which has of course been redeemed in the last twenty years : Notley ?

(But maybe being initially unsung in comparison to a male partner, and then later "sung", is a different cateogry.)

rodney k said...

Hi Nicholas,

Good adds, though you're right, I was thinking mostly here of the never-to-be-adequately-sung, sparked by the Roy Foster bio of Yeats, where George Yeats had all the best lines: very clear-eyed about Yeats's pretensions, and funny, but never really (as a writer) successful in stepping out from his cloud. These folks muddy the waters (in interesting ways) b/c they're all condsidered c. 2007 anyway as important if not more so as their partners. That's also a curious angle--writers who began (or were widely seen to be) 'under the wing' of someone whom they later equalled or surpassed in critical esteem.

kate colby said...

Jane Bowles. Only she died much earlier, her work was much better and he wasn't really modern. At least not till, like, the 80s. If then.

rodney k said...

Kate: Shades of Glen Park Station, warm afternoon (I love it here but it's rarely warm, no Tangier). Spotted Jane Bowles's collected at Powell's--have to pick it up.

I think I remember the Dillon biography saying that Cabaret's (via Isherwood) Sally Bowles was named for/inspired by Jane. To have Liza Minelli play you--there's your literary immortality. Take that, Paul.

Philip said...

Something a minor one: Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson's (publisher of The Little Review and Ulysses) partner.