One of the Lost Generation modernists who gathered in 1920s Paris, Kay Boyle published more than forty books, including fifteen novels, eleven collections of short fiction, eight volumes of poetry, three children's books, and various essays and translations. Yet her achievement can be even better appreciated through her letters to the literary and cultural titans of her time.
Kay Boyle shared the first issue of This Quarter with Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, expressed her struggles with poetry to William Carlos Williams and voiced warm admiration to Katherine Anne Porter, fled WWII France with Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim, socialized with the likes of James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett, and went to jail with Joan Baez. The letters in this first-of-its-kind collection, authorized by Boyle herself, bear witness to a transformative era illuminated by genius and darkened by Nazism and the Red Scare. Yet they also serve as milestones on the journey of a woman who possessed a gift for intense and enduring friendship, a passion for social justice, and an artistic brilliance that earned her inclusion among the celebrated figures in her ever-expanding orbit.
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About the Author
Kay Boyle(1902–1992) published over forty books, twice won the O'Henry award for best short story of the year, and worked as a foreign correspondent for The New Yorker. Her books include Process: A Novel and Fifty Stories. Sandra Spanier is a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University and general editor of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway. She is the author of Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist and editor of Boyle's Life Being the Best and Other Stories and Process: A Novel.
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A Twentieth-Century Life in Letters
By Kay Boyle, Sandra Spanier
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESSCopyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
APPRENTICESHIP OF A YOUNG MODERN
Cincinnati, New York, Brittany, Normandy, 1919–1925
To Joan Boyle, 29 June 1919
June 29, 1919
Dearest old Jo, —
While you are downstairs — probably, nay, undoubtedly in the arms of G.B.M. — I, little, cold and pink-pajamed, sit and write you a train missive, incidently, upon your own paper.
Well Joe, never having written a train letter since the days of my infancy when Walter Cole awakened love within my childish heart, I scarcely know whence to commence. My trusty pen hems and haws and pulls its hoary chin and oh — by the way, speaking of such like at the movies today: Abe Martin says "That when some folkes go on a vacation you don' know thar gone until they come back." Now, you and me being good pals — you're my buddy, you know — and all that sort of stuff, you understand that that quotation was done purely in a spirit of joviality — jovial, that's me all over! And on the strength of it, I gained a llb. today. (I'm not quite certain whether llb. means barrel or pound or hogshead, but anyway, you know what I gained or, as Gordon Renner would say, 'which?')
At the movies I pondered consistently over some nutty bits of jokery (good word, which?) or scandal to save for your werstward journey (or some prefer "westward" but as the original spelling came most easily I hesitate to change it.) There comes to my mind immediately that rather over-worked story of mine about the young man who discovered two days before the wedding that his to-be had a wooden leg and wanted to know if he should break it off. You are probably groaning instead of being overcome with mirth as you should be, but I shall endeavor more recent anecdotes hereafter. Doris told me of a rather rough bit of flyness which Violet the fair pulled off on Helen and herself the other night. Violet felt ill all evening and they were trying various means of causing her to erupt. Every thing was unsuccessful so they finally all went to bed on the sleeping porch and sought Morpheus. As luck would have it, a few minutes later Violet rushed from bed, howling for a basin and searching unsuccesfully for her slippers. Then the eruption came with much accompaniment (much as Puss conducts such affairs, I imagine) in various parts of the room. Doris said the horrible noise made her positively ill herself and she hid under the covers. In awhile Violet quieted down and fell prostrate into bed, leaving the room in a rather mess. Pleasant sleeping, which? In the morning, Violet (fly little thing!) hilariously confided in the two sickened souls the fact that she had felt not at all ill and that a full hot-water bottle and a little imagination were sufficient to create a pleasant atmosphere in any dark room. So, remember the uses of a hot-water bottle and at some little "lights-out" party of Betty's take advantage of this snappy idea and cause a little flurry of excitement amidst the assembled guests. Diversion, at any rate, which?
Whenever I think of your departing I feel akin to those two beloved characters of international reputation and idolization — Patricia Peters and Fritz Brunhoff from the famous novel of the hour "The Shattered Lamp." You undoubtedly recollect the beginning of chapter four, if I'm not mistaken, where the two lovers are parting (which is decidedly apropo at the present second with you two bits of musilige downstairs on the sofa.) You surely remember with infinite tenderness and wistfullness the desperate mental struggle upon the darkening hill with the gold-edged clouds strong against the duller gold of heavens and the long, winding valley of mist stretching below them. In that chapter are their hearts, for the second time so far in the story, tore and rent in infitismally small shreds and wave like ribbons in the cold winds of the terrors of life. Just so I think of you, dear one, and in the same impassioned words of Fritz — I cry out to you "Ah, my darling, how can I let you go?" (I know two little childish hearts which are prattling that in their high trebels now just below me and the lion roars from the zoo and the dogs bark and Kay writes on, indifferent to time or expense.)
As for Kay (now that we are on the subject of animals) she intends to be very, very, especially good while big sister is breaking into the movies and flirting with fate — not to mention men — and having a hell-of-a-good-time. She will try optomistically to content herself with Gordons R. and M. and Jerry and the French army (what's left of it, that is) (My God, Pussy's on the rampage and leaning half over the banisters and probably hearing all the nice, juicy smacks and I'm trying so hard to invent conversation and make a noise that I don't know what to do. Oh my God, I'm scared blue! I know he's going to howl in about two minutes and I'm petrified! You see how I've smeared this trying to make noise.) Oh, I'll be good, don't worry.
You've come up now and the storm is blown. Bed for me, old sock, meanwhile I love you a little bit — not much, of course, but just a little bit better than anyone else in the world and I'm going to miss you like
All my love, Kay
ALS, 7 pp., SIU
To Joan Boyle, 16 June 1921
June 16, 1921
My dearest girl —
Your letter came in the last mail and I am now taking my noon hour — three o'clock — to answer it. I am quite weary and very hot but I dont seem to find time to write in the evenings. Tonight, you know, Duane speaks at Mrs. Twitchalls. That is we hope he does. Evidently he has not returned from St. Louis as he has not called me and Mrs. Brite hasn't heard from him. Mother phoned Dr. Higgins and he and his brother are going to the meeting too. I am looking forward to meeting them both. Dr. Higgins, you remember, married one of the French girls here. They have a little baby now. She — the mother, I mean — is not at all interested in his interests and so he goes to all these meetings without her. He was on the platform at Roger Baldwin's talk. His brother is the head of the A.A.R.I.R.4 here and I am very anxious to talk to him about Major Kelly etc. Dick [Richard Brault] and mother and I are going over together.
I am glad you and Francis Hopkins are getting together. Give her my love. I just cried over the idea of missing William Hand's talk. I hate to be stuck off in the refuse heap this way where I can't see or hear a decent thing. Lordy, how I miss you!
Tuesday night mother, Dick and I went out to Mt. Storm Park after dinner and walked around with the little girls and then sat and talked. Richard looks adorable in his new suit. He is an angel. I adore him. And he told me that Friday night when you and I were sitting in the machine that Gordon asked him if he was desperately in love with me. Dick answered, "I do not believe in showing a half-built house to fools. Kay and I are just laying the foundations." And Gordon said, "Well, she's a peach and a darling. I think she's lots more of a French woman than an American" and Dick said he didn't think nationality affected personalities. But don't write any of this to Gordon as it was supposed to be confidential and he will think Dick was a fool to come blab it all to me. Gordon paid his bill yesterday. I was alone in the office and we sat and figured it out together while Puss stood in his doorway peering out and simply furious, I know, altho he didn't dare say a word. Gordon told me all about the projected trip and I tried to sound enthusiastic. But I kept thinking of you all the time and I feel I didn't get my enthuses over very successfully. He told me I looked just like you — I was behind the bars — and that I laughed like you and — oh gee, we had more fun! Unfortunately I couldn't find any resemblance to Dick in him and consequently I couldn't procure the same kick out of his society as he evidently got out of mine.
Now I must tell you about last night. Richard met me after school (by the way I have been promoted in my typewriting class) and we saw Norma Talmadge and Eugene O'Brien in "Ghosts of Yesterday." Some affection! Then we decided to come home and as we came near 2023 we thought we recognized Miss House's Ford in front so we went on up to Avondale and thence to the Boulevard where we stopped to have a cigaret. We sat talking and smoking and Dick was looking at my typewriting au clair de la lune — which latter, incidentally, was so excuisite that I turned off the lights so as not to ruin the silver effect — when a large car came slowly down the road. We continued with our conversation and the car slowly drew up beside us and an enormous cop got out! "If ever I said in grief or pride, I loved a cop I surely lied!" I simply froze all over. He strutted over to the Ford with three huge men following him and leaned on my window. My lily white hand rested on the sill holding the cigaret. "Well," said he. "This is a nice mess! Your lights out and — (the crowning evil) — cigaret and everything!
If it had cost me my life I couldn't move a muscle. Richard put his arm around me. It seemed like an eternity that we sat there and then the policeman took out his little book and said — "What's your name, young feller?" Richard told him. "What's yours!" he snarled at me. I turned to ice. "This is my wife" said Richard in a manly voice. "Yes," said I hysterically. "Mrs. Brault." You're lying," said the cop "and it won't do you no good. I'm going to investigate this and you'll have to call up your folks from the police station so you better tell the truth." I realized the futility of it so I gave my own name and address. "What did you lie to me for?" he said. Richard jumped out of the car and gently removed the policeman from the window and stood between us. "You can do what is necessary," instructed Richard. "But it isn't necessary to insult or speak to the young lady like that." I never loved him so much. He looked about two years old in comparision with this burly creature. "Who's doing this, you or me?" says our friend. "You are," says Richard. "But do it like a gentleman. If there is any money to pay I am to do the paying. Her father isn't to hear of this. I am the one to settle with." "Well," says he to me. "What were you smoking for?" "It soothes my nerves," said I. "I have recently lost a very dear sister, and I find I am very nervous." "You oughtn't to smoke," growls one of the burlys. "Why not?" said I. "What's wrong in that?" "Oh, it ain't wrong," he conceded. "It's just new. Something unusual." "Well, I have lived in the east," I said. "Where everyone smokes." I went into minute detail as to how society women smoke in their limousines etc. Everyone was greatly interested. "Right on Fifth Ave?" "Oh, my yes. Why I've come home from the theatre sometimes etc. etc." We chatted aimiably. Richard talked to the other men while the cop and I got clubby. "How long you known this fella?" he asked me. "Almost three years. He's a good friend of the family. If you want to know anything about him ask H.P. Boyle of the Boyle Engineering — my father." "Your father? Well, well, well, I know him. He bought some tickets last week for the Policeman's Outing." "How interesting! Did you have a good time?" And thus it went! In time he whispered in my ear — "Sorry to have bothered you. Turn up your lights and go ahead. Love him up all you want." "Ah, they weren't loving each other," says the other fat one. "He was sitting way over on the other side." "That's none of our business," said the cop. "Let 'em do what they please. Young, ain't they?"
Had I not been so relieved I would have been disgusted. "You're a nice young couple," says one of the followers with his arm around Richard's shoulders. "A fine young couple. Pity they're aren't not more like you." "My friends," said I, "May I offer you some of my cigarets?" Much jollification! Our names were scratched from their list. "Anytime you want to park," said the cop confidentially. "Just go ahead and park. Keep your lights on so we can see your number and we'll know who you are and it'll be O.K. with us." But, my dear, if ever I park anywhere again it will not be in this world. We were petrified. After they left we just shrieked with laughter and even now I have to roar at the remembrance. Isn't it rich?
Well, dear, I must sleep a little now. This, of course, is all confidential. Mother knows but no one else. Oh, yes, and to cap the whole thing. This morning I went out to get breakfast and there was a huge police patrol standing outside the door. My heart went down to my boots. I fell into mother's arms. It was only to buy some brushes, however, but oh, what a horrible coincidence!
All my sisterly affection, dear, / Kay
Jo — it is five thirty. I am simply insane. What do you suppose? The telephone rang about fifteen minutes ago and this suave voice said, "I want to speak to Kay Boyle." I knew who it was immediately! The cop! I almost fainted. "This is Kay Boyle," I said. "How are you?" says he. "Who are you?" I asked. "Why, remember last night? I'm the fella in uniform. I want to tell you I'm sorry if we scared you." "Thank you," I trembled. "I was scared." "Well, you didn't think I'd lock you up, did you?" he asked. "I didn't know," said I. "Oh no, not a nice little girl like you! You see, I had to be strict because them plain clothes men were there. I woudna hurt you." "Oh, I see," I quavered. "I want to thank you for the smoke. The best I ever had. Sure was fine. Perhaps I can get some more offa you sometime?" I was boiling. But what could I do? One false step and he would have run me right in. He chatted on aimiably and then he asked if Dick was my "city feller." I said I was engaged to him and he said, "No chance for any one else then?" My dear, I was rabid. So he chatted on for awhile and then he said, "Well, I'll call you up again." Isn't that horrible? Hounded by the police! My Gawd! Nell says she can just see the posters "Wanted by the police: Kay Boyle." Oh, Joey come back and protect me!
ALS, 13 pp., SIU
To Harriet Monroe, [November 1921]
It has occurred to me many times, and with even greater force since reading your Comment in October's POETRY, that the present unalliance in America between modern poetry and modern music is primarily due to the complacency of the reactionaries of the musical world. By this I mean not only the reactionaries among the composers and critics, but those in the audiences themselves, who insist, consciously or unconsciously, that our operatic, song and orchestral compositions should remain more than a little antiquated, scented with lavender, while the contemporary arts are keeping pace with the complexities of civilization.
I am aware that the thought which must be uppermost in the convictions of the conservative-minded person is that a torrent has swept into modern art, literature, poetry, sculpture, and even into the drama; something a little ribald, lacking in dignity and beauty as he has known it. And it is perfectly proper, doubtless, for those who are so inclined to hold back a bit before plunging into the swirl of this new movement. There is, of course, always the possibility that each apparent step forward is in reality merely a mood which has taken possession of the reasoning faculties among the free spirits of the generation, and which will prove in time to be just a slight stumble, possibly in the right direction, occurring before the next legitimate step of progress is finally achieved.
On the other hand, it is quite as true that unless there is a tendency in the arts to reflect the spirit of the age — unless they are vividly interpretive, it is evident that they are without constructive value.
From this hypothesis let X equal progress plus logical development, and behold we have those who would solve the problem! Sherwood Anderson is the forerunner of one group, Amy Lowell of another; then there are the followers of Picasso and Brancusi, of Maurice Browne, and countless others. Whether or not they gain a foothold is as much our concern as theirs, for they are ourselves, our explanation, the story which the future generations shall read of us. And meanwhile music stands like a Boston bas-bleu, her skirt a little shortened because of the influence of Korsakov and Dvorak, but still wearing her New England rubbers.
Excerpted from Kay Boyle by Kay Boyle, Sandra Spanier. Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Editorial Note and Abbreviations xliii
Prologue: From St. Paul to Paris 1
1 Apprenticeship of a Young Modern: Cincinnati, New York, Brittany, Normandy, 1919-1925 19
2 The Revolution of the Word: Provence, England, Paris, 1926-1929 93
3 Artist en Famille: Villefranche, Vienna, Kitzbühel, Devonshire, Mégève, 1930-1939 171
4 In Love and War: Mégève and Vichy France, 1940-1941 271
5 The Home Front: New York and the American West, 1941-1945 355
6 In the Wake of War: Paris and Occupied Germany, 1946-1952 425
7 Cold War Exile: Connecticut, Tehran, San Francisco, 1953-1963 501
8 419 Frederick Street: San Francisco, 1964-1979 581
9 Speaking Out in Act and in Art: Oregon, Oakland, Mill Valley, 1980-1992 673
Roster of Correspondents 733
Selected Kay Boyle Bibliography 751