May Sarton: Biography

May Sarton: Biography

by Margot Peters
     
 

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The first biography of May Sarton: a brilliant revelation of the life and work of a literary figure who influenced her thousands of readers not only by her novels and poetry, but by her life and her writings about it.

May Sarton's career stretched from 1930 (early sonnets published in Poetry magazine) to 1995 (her journal At Eighty-Two). She wrote more than… See more details below

Overview

The first biography of May Sarton: a brilliant revelation of the life and work of a literary figure who influenced her thousands of readers not only by her novels and poetry, but by her life and her writings about it.

May Sarton's career stretched from 1930 (early sonnets published in Poetry magazine) to 1995 (her journal At Eighty-Two). She wrote more than twenty novels, and twenty-five books of poems and journals.

The acclaimed biographer Margot Peters was given full access to Sarton's letters, journals, and notes, and during five years of research came to know Sarton herself--the complex woman and artist. She gives us a compelling portrait of Sarton the actress, the poet, the novelist, the feminist, the writer who struggled for literary acceptance. She shows us, beneath Sarton's exhilarating, irresistible spirit, the needy courtier and seducer, the woman whose creativity was propelled by the psychic drama she created in others.

We watch young May at age two as she is abruptly uprooted from her native Belgium by World War I, a child ignored both by her mother, who was intent on her own artistic vision and reluctant to cope with a child, and by her father, obsessed with his academic research.

We see Sarton as a young girl in America, and then later, at nineteen, choosing a life in the theatre, landing a job in Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory, and gathering what would become a tight-knit coterie of friends and lovers . . . Sarton beginning to write poetry and novels . . . Sarton making friends with Elizabeth Bowen and Julian Huxley, Erika and Klaus Mann, Virginia Woolf, the poet H.D.--charming and enlisting them with her work, her vitality, her hunger for  love, driven by her need to conquer (among her conquests: Bowen, Huxley, and later his wife, Juliette).

We see her intense friendships with literary pals, including Muriel Rukeyser (her lover), and Louise Bogan, Sarton's "literary sibling,  who at once encouraged her and excluded her from a world in which Bogan was a central figure.

We see Sarton begin to create in the spiritual journals that inspired the devotion of readers the image of a strong, independent woman who lived peacefully with solitude--an image that contradicted the reality of her neediness, loneliness, and isolation as she pushed away loved ones with her demands and betrayals.

A fascinating portrait of one of our major literary figures--a book that for the first time reveals the life that she herself kept hidden.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
In her last years, Sarton (1912-1995) worried to a friend, "I have been so depressed at the way I may be massacred by a biographer." In this authorized life of the poet and novelist, Sarton's wounds are self-inflicted. Peters (The House of Barrymore) concedes that Sarton "will never be considered a great writer" and that she "literally made her own reputation" through personal appearances, wowing fervid campus, feminist and lesbian audiences. The most devastating testimony against her, however, emerges from Sarton's own words and from the anger of her many betrayed lovers, some of them discarded muses whose inspirational services were no longer required. As one companion put it, Sarton was "the ardent initiator-a river of fire"-until their affair ruptured on the appearance of a new muse. The biography becomes a litany of book titles (19 novels, 15 poetry collections, 13 memoirs and journals) and descriptions, often striking, of the women sought after and usually subjugated by the "emotionally ravenous" Sarton, who was "incapable of spending more than a few consecutive days in her own company" yet was "impossible to live with." As fair to her subject as the facts permit, Peters, who interviewed Sarton at length in her last years, observes that her subject "never learned a code of honor or responsibility" and could seldom be self-critical. Nor could her publisher, Peters contends, accusing W. W. Norton of "promoting mediocrity" by rushing into print almost everything submitted by "their golden goose," even when written "on automatic pilot." The reader's interest fades as Sarton's "heavy psychic baggage" and overproduction prove too much for her biographer to overcome. Ninety-seven photos illustrate Sarton and the people in her tempestuous life.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her last years, Sarton (1912-1995) worried to a friend, "I have been so depressed at the way I may be massacred by a biographer." In this authorized life of the poet and novelist, Sarton's wounds are self-inflicted. Peters (The House of Barrymore) concedes that Sarton "will never be considered a great writer" and that she "literally made her own reputation" through personal appearances, wowing fervid campus, feminist and lesbian audiences. The most devastating testimony against her, however, emerges from Sarton's own words and from the anger of her many betrayed lovers, some of them discarded muses whose inspirational services were no longer required. As one companion put it, Sarton was "the ardent initiatorDa river of fire"Duntil their affair ruptured on the appearance of a new muse. The biography becomes a litany of book titles (19 novels, 15 poetry collections, 13 memoirs and journals) and descriptions, often striking, of the women sought after and usually subjugated by the "emotionally ravenous" Sarton, who was "incapable of spending more than a few consecutive days in her own company" yet was "impossible to live with." As fair to her subject as the facts permit, Peters, who interviewed Sarton at length in her last years, observes that her subject "never learned a code of honor or responsibility" and could seldom be self-critical. Nor could her publisher, Peters contends, accusing W. W. Norton of "promoting mediocrity" by rushing into print almost everything submitted by "their golden goose," even when written "on automatic pilot." The reader's interest fades as Sarton's "heavy psychic baggage" and overproduction prove too much for her biographer to overcome. Ninety-seven photos illustrate Sarton and the people in her tempestuous life. (Mar.)
Library Journal
With the blessings and cooperation of May Sarton (1912-95), literary biographer Peters, an English professor formerly at the University of Wisconsin, provides an in-depth look into the character, personality, and private life behind the inspirational and dynamic poet, novelist, essayist, journal writer, feminist, and lesbian. Peters chronicles a life full of turbulence, pain, loneliness, neediness, and passion. This biography dispels any myth that Sarton's writing was effortless, portraying the writer's never-ending need for a Muse and the numerous women who played this role. Peters offers a well-written, compelling literary biography to which readers will respond with emotions ranging from empathy, sympathy, awe, and admiration to disgust and disbelief that an artist who produced works that provided inspiration for so many lived with much misery and dissatisfaction. Highly recommended.-Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307788535
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/04/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
1,201,610
File size:
8 MB

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