The Single Hound

The Single Hound

by May Sarton

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In May Sarton’s debut novel, a mysterious and beloved Belgian poet finds new life when a young Englishman ventures to meet her 

Published under the pseudonym Jeanne Latour, Doro’s poetry inspired a generation. Her teaching of great literature and philosophy also fired up the imaginations of her young pupils. Throughout her adult life, Doro’s most important relationships have been those with Claire and Annette, fellow teachers who have nicknamed themselves the Little Owls and with whom she shares a close-knit friendship. Despite her full life, Doro can’t help but feel that her first sixty-three years have been but a prelude to something yet to come.

The heartbreak of young poet Mark Taylor has stifled his art and well-being. In love with an older, unavailable married woman, Mark goes in search of Jean Latour, whose poetry, he believes, could be his salvation. But Mark knows nothing of the enigmatic writer’s true identity, and it is in their unexpected meeting that both poets begin to find a renewed and transformative sense of self.

This ebook features an extended biography of May Sarton.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497646308
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 07/22/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 244
Sales rank: 1,193,344
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

May Sarton (1912–1995) was born on May 3 in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. Her novels A Shower of Summer DaysThe Birth of a Grandfather, and Faithful Are the Wounds, as well as her poetry collection In Time Like Air, all received nominations for the National Book Award.

An accomplished memoirist, Sarton came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) was an account of her experiences as a female artist. Sarton spent her later years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. In her last memoir, Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992), she shares her own personal thoughts on getting older. Her final poetry collection, Coming into Eighty, was published in 1994. Sarton died on July 16, 1995, in York, Maine.

May Sarton (1912–1995) was born on May 3 in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. Her novels A Shower of Summer Days, The Birth of a Grandfather, and Faithful Are the Wounds, as well as her poetry collection In Time Like Air, all received nominations for the National Book Award.

An accomplished memoirist, Sarton came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) was an account of her experiences as a female artist. Sarton spent her later years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. In her last memoir, Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992), she shares her own personal thoughts on getting older. Her final poetry collection, Coming into Eighty, was published in 1994. Sarton died on July 16, 1995, in York, Maine.

Read an Excerpt

The Single Hound

A Novel

By May Sarton


Copyright © 1938 May Sarton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-4630-8


EARLY in the morning between winter and spring, when the grass is frosty, when there is no scent and no sound but a heavy white stillness, and yet you know the blackbird may speak at any moment, a sharp sweet waterfall of sound fall down, and the earth wake — on such a morning the milkman whistles 'Auprès de ma blonde' as he drives down the little alley behind the houses on the Boulevard Léopold. Most of the gardens are secret and forbidding with high walls you cannot see over, but there is one so different from the others that he always slows down when he sees the green hedge in the distance, for perhaps she is there. By five o'clock she is almost always there, sniffing the morning, walking delicately about her domain down the path past the cherry tree, past the three little rosebushes the cards in Alice might have painted, down to the gooseberry bushes. There the path turns beside the strawberries to allow them ten feet of wilderness. The milkman has decided that she is a Russian princess, since it is she who has charmed the swans to cross the park and come to the gate every morning for their crumbs. The milkman has never seen her except at dawn, walking in the garden with her chin lifted, as if she were a little dizzy and it were safer to look up than down.

Sometimes she has a short conversation with a cat. 'Pascal, what have you been doing all night that you look so very sceptical this morning?' Pascal lifts his tiger face to be scratched under the chin. He jerks his thin nervous tail and bounds off into the hedge while she slips into the house through the dining-room door. Both their actions have been accomplished so silently and so secretly that they might be conspirators or ghosts. There is no trace of their passing, not even a footprint in the frost.

If the milkman were ten minutes late and looked up at the house now he would hesitate to whistle, it is so still, with the stillness of a house full of sleeping children. But Doro — for that is her name — is creeping up the stairs; at the long window on the landing she turns and looks down at the garden for a minute, at the cherry tree and the pear tree with their white lime-protected trunks, at the squares of the rose beds. Here she can pause once before the day, the long adventurous day, begins. Here is still the absolute peace and lucidity of the morning, the moment when there is still time for the word that may come (It was on a morning like this that she had written 'In County Cork, Ireland').

At the top of the stairs she takes off the old green burberry and hangs it on a hook in the hall. She never does this without the precise image of Ireland coming to her mind, a particular image, tiny and brilliant like a landscape through the wrong end of opera glasses: she and Annette and Clairette sitting in the impossibly green grass on a raincoat, reading the Comtesse de Noailles and eating bread and butter and apples. She goes along the hall and slips into her room. There are a bundle of blue notebooks to be untied and spread out, the lessons to be prepared. Soon she will be celebrating the death of Patroclus (for the little ones are studying Homer) — a great flaming pyre on the sand by the sea, Achilles cutting off his beautiful hair for his friend. She can never rehearse this lesson without being moved and exalted by the gesture, and as she sits at her desk half-murmuring the words, she might indeed be a Russian princess — for one cannot see that she is only five feet high.

An hour later peals of laughter come from the dining-room. Marthe in the kitchen can hear them, Mamzelle Anne's voice pitched high, towering over the others, giving an occasional shriek. Marthe almost spills the hot milk in her haste to get there before it is over. She adores her demoiselles in their maddest moods. But when she pushes open the door Mamzelle Dorothée is wiping the tears from her eyes; laughter has passed over them like a hurricane and they are exhausted.

'Coffee, Kinder, coffee — I am dying of thirst!' But wicked Mamzelle Anne murmurs as she pours out her cup: 'My dears, he looked exactly like the Père Duval. You'd think I had seduced his son.' The picture of Annette seducing that incredibly fat slow child set them off again.

'Don't! Don't, Annie,' says Doro. 'I am weak with laughing'; and gradually they subside with little sighs, until for a moment there is no sound except the tinkling of the spoons.

Is it time? I'm afraid it is time to say that these are three old ladies. They are called the Little Owls, why nobody knows, but for thirty years they have been called the Little Owls, though nothing could be less like an owl than any one of them, as they are always in bed by nine o'clock. Doro is tiny and delicate, with enormous gray eyes behind dark glasses, which she slips on and off as if she were hiding behind them (and she is), thin fair hair like a boy's, a small strange face that can look very severe when her eyes are hidden. She is a poet.

Claire is the beauty — pigeon-white curly hair, brilliant blue eyes, now always ringed in shadow, delicate hands with a wedding ring on. She is all charm. People say of her, 'She must have been a great flirt.' She loves bonbons, but is not allowed them any more; and silks that rustle, and bows, and flowers on her dresses, but she cannot afford them.

Anne has a lean eager face, bright eyes like a bird's, fuzzy gray hair in a fringe drawn to a knot on top. She is the fun-maker of the family, spirited, intense, quicktempered — she mothers and cares for the other two with all the swiftness and precaution of a mother bird. She is completely unable to stay still for more than a minute at a time, so now she leaps out of her chair with sudden violence and says, 'Sapristi, what time is it? Those darlings will be tearing up the schoolroom — listen to them!' For the house is not full of sleeping children but all day is full of active, jumping-up-and-down, learning children. She is off! Her entrance into the schoolroom sounds like a revolution, a crescendo of shouts and laughter (for the children adore her), finally subsiding to a steady drone. The battle is on.

Claire and Doro exchange a smile as Claire gets up to let Pascal in. She opens the window with a flourish. 'Mon cher, come and have your milk.' The square of oilcloth is carefully spread for him at his place. He stands between them on his hindlegs, lapping it precisely, one velvet hand on each side of the saucer, while Doro and Claire watch in respectful silence.

'I think his appetite has come back,' says Claire, wiping his chin, and her eyes are just the color of larkspur. This is one of the delicious moments of the day: Doro is thinking to herself: 'Taste it, taste it!' At such moments her heart swells like a bird inside her and she feels quite dizzy with joy. She picks up the big cup of coffee and looks over it at Claire.

'Clairette, what shall we have for supper?' For it is never in a word that the tapestry of their three lives weaves itself closely and delicately, but inch by inch out of the stuff of these moments when nothing is said, when over a cup of coffee in the morning they have looked at each other and felt a little dizzy with joy, so that now after forty years the design is beginning to be apparent, and it is surely a spring scene. Like one of the Flemish tapestries, it is full of unexpected flowers, of rabbits behind bushes, of deer springing out behind thin trees.

It began long ago when Doro was twenty, her first year of teaching. She was just out of school herself. She looked like a frail boy with eyes too big for him. It was whispered in the school that she taught chiefly by reading poetry to her classes. They didn't guess that each of these lessons was a battle against fear (they were many of them older than she) and against the terrible headaches which seized her. They didn't know that at home her mother was dying and that when she left the school at five o'clock it was to go and nurse. They were aware only of the intensity of those unnaturally large eyes (in those days she didn't wear glasses) — of the fire inside that seemed to burn away her voice so that it came out as soft as ashes and they could listen forever. Most of the students were Flemish, girls hoping to get their degree and go out to teach in the villages around Ghent. Of course she was bound sooner or later, amongst them, to discover Clairette.

Clairette was not in any of Doro's classes. But one evening a pupil pointed her out, a tall fair girl in a blue cloak: 'There's Claire. You know, she has had a story published in the Belgian Review.' Doro looked at her quietly and then went home without a word. Ever since she was a little girl she had always run away and hidden whenever anything of importance happened to her, so that she could explore it in the secret brilliant light of her mind.

But when someone told Claire that Mademoiselle Latour wrote poetry, she didn't wait an instant. She ran up the stairs, burst in without knocking, and said: 'May I walk home with you? They say you write poetry.' For if Doro withdrew and shut the door upon her joy Claire threw it to whomever would catch, like a rose, and her arms seemed always to be full of roses. No one would ever say no, thought Doro, looking at her violent warm beauty as she stood there that day.

'Where do you live?'

'Rue des Princes. And you?'

'Quai des Moines,' said Doro gravely, as if this were a calamity. 'But I have some errands to do. I'll go in your direction.' She put on her astrakhan cap and worn woollen gloves. Of course it was Doro who went miles out of her way. They had so much to talk about and she didn't feel tired at all. She felt as if someone had bent down and put wings on her little square-toed slippers.

That was the beginning of the long winter. Every evening Claire waited for Doro and then one walked home with the other. Sometimes they went to the park and sat on a bench until their toes were numb. They said very little. But often they wrote each other letters when they got home. It was then that Doro silently, far into the night, brought out word after word and laid them side by side in a pattern. It was then that she suddenly said to herself, 'I am a poet,' as if she had been born again.

Clairette was almost frightened, a little bewildered. When she held Doro's head against hers, the blood in the temples beat so furiously that her fingers tingled afterwards as if they were covered with feathers and blood. She marvelled at their youth and innocence making these abysses, this thunder in the silence. She was almost afraid.

Whereas Doro, as she would do over and over again during her life, was simply swept out as if she had been a boat on an irresistible tide, not looking forward beyond the next day, beyond the next word she would say, beyond the next silence. She was consumed, she who as a child had gone almost blind and spent two months sitting in a dark corner with a little piece of velvet to comfort her hands, who had never breathed to anyone the terrors, the vastness, the glories that lived inside her. Now suddenly here was someone who understood everything, who had read the same books, felt the same things, and who was, as well, everything that she was not, beautiful, a person to whom life would bring gifts one after another and lay them at her feet. No wonder that she simply poured out her heart without thinking.

They were very solemn in those days, the days when pre-Raphaelites were sweeping knickknacks out of Victorian rooms. They were passionately serious like two nuns who had taken vows to love; ridiculously serious, Claire would say now, forty years later. And if she did, Doro would smile her strange secret smile behind her dark glasses and look out of the window at the cherry tree, smiling perhaps at the thought that the blackbird invariably ate all their cherries every year, but it was dear of him to do it because he sang so well in the early morning. Or perhaps she smiled at something else. She smiled perhaps at the absolute violent purity of those two months. For a little while then she had lived, had been able to live in an imaginary world like Fra Angelico's 'Paradise.' She and Clairette shared every feeling, every lightness, every shadow: the world seemed altogether fresh, created for them to walk through hand in hand. They were able to open their hearts to each other, but not for long. It was a world of the imagination and of the heart alone, the heart lifted up to a plane of constant intensity. Looking back she was surprised at her power in those days to do the impossible, to teach all day, to nurse her mother, to walk miles in cold and wet and then after midnight to be writing, writing, writing those pure sharp cries into the silence, those first poems that were so much of dream and so little of earth, that seemed like clouds, like mists and not like words at all.

Meanwhile Clairette was working on her first volume of short stories. She was always, it seemed to Doro, running up the stairs to the classroom three at a time, to bring a letter from Francis Jammes, who had seen in her at once as if the luminous presence of one of his own heroines — Clara d'Ellébeuse or Almaïde d'Etremont. The Belgian Review published a story; there was finally the great day when the first volume appeared. Claire moved in an atmosphere of spring, of festival — and of course she fell in love.

Doro was left alone to get through the dark Belgian winter. She began to learn again the silence that her childhood had lived in. Objects took on a curious life of their own at that time. At the moments when she felt afraid of slipping over the edge of sensation, she focussed her attention on the paper-weight on her desk, on the dark red pencil bitten at the end, on the squares of light the curtains made on the ceiling of her room when the lamp was turned out. But there was always the tyranny of her eyes that made the room start turning, turning round her if she looked too long at anything, the beginning of the dizzy spells that were to get worse and worse until ten years later she had to go to bed for a year. Photographs at this time show a very young, worn face, strained like a person suddenly blinded.

She was nineteen. Her father had been dead for ten years, and now after a long gentle illness her mother was dying. Her mother always said, 'My mother was a princess,' and Doro never knew if it was true, but she thought anyone who saw her mother sweeping a room would recognize royalty. Now she was dying, like the daughter of a princess, very gently and gravely. Death could be in no way terrible when it was approached with such graciousness. Her mother seemed small and childlike now, and in the month of March when the blackbird started singing again, she died.

Doro had lived alone in a world of her own since she was a little girl. But this actual physical loneliness was something new. It was something new to come back to the empty room, to know that if one called there would be no answer, and that there was no one in the world whom she had the right to call. She used to lie down when she was frightened and bury her face in her mother's pillow. There, half-suffocated in the warm pillow, she could somehow grasp anguish and by holding it close, make it hers. To possess pain completely seemed one way of conquering it.

The days were so full of teaching and learning to teach that she hardly had time to think. She was beginning to discover her own way of teaching. The atmosphere of her classes was strangely still and intent. She read more than she spoke, reading them all the things she loved best: it was a course in the history of literature. It was an extremely personal affair. These people — Villon, Ronsard, de Musset, Joubert — had been her intimate friends for years. They had comforted and nourished her far better than anyone alive. She was full of prejudices. She was full of passionate opinions. Her classes were rapt. If they were not, if she noticed the restlessness of inattention, instead of remarking on it she simply withdrew, looked out of the window, and went on for herself until they felt piqued and wanted her back. She was never at any time in her life primarily interested in knowledge. She was interested in revelation, in touching their hearts, these Belgian girls with their wide-apart eyes and flamboyant imaginations waiting to be tapped. How dangerous this autocratic method of her own was she had no idea. She was delighted with the results. She was not surprised or sorry when half of them failed to pass their rigid examinations.


Excerpted from The Single Hound by May Sarton. Copyright © 1938 May Sarton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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