Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vignettes of a Life


Right now, I'm caught up on marking 'til the onslaught of final papers this week, and prep is all done, so I've been finding some time to read for pleasure. I'm captivated by this biography of Edna St Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford.
A few gems:
Having found that her friend, Elinor Wylie, had been rejected as a guest of honour by the League of American Penwomen because she had left her husband and child to live with a married man, Millay wrote to the League modifying her regrets at not being able to attend and her appreciation of the honour. In her second note, she wrote that "It is not in the power of an organization which has insulted Elinor Wylie, to honour me" (296). She further notes that the honour they dole out appears to be "tendered not so much for the excellence of one's literary accomplishment as for the cirumspection of one's personal life," and goes on, scorchingly, to argue that "if the eminent object of your pusillanimous attack has not directed her movements in conformitiy with your timid philosophies, no more have I mine. I too am eligible for your disesteem. Strike me too from your lists, and permit me, I beg you, to share with Elinor Wylie a brilliant exile from your fusty province" (297). The power of the pen, indeed!
A minor delight: Having only just read Linda Grant's post on Paul Poiret, I was pleased to recognize the name as the designer of the "silver Poiret gown" Elinor Wylie wore in her coffin (307). An example of that common phenomenon by which, once having heard and/or learned of a term, we tend to hear or see it regularly. Generally, what is probably happening is that the term may well have been part of the landscape before but without knowing its significance, we tend to disregard it.
And what about this line from a letter to her young lover, George Dillon: "If people would only just let me kiss you for as long as I want to just once, it might be different; but after two or three days somebody always comes in and interrupts" (314).
And one last snippet: Edna and her husband, Eugen, decided to buy an 80-acre island of the coast of Maine, and when the purchase went through, their friend, Tess Root Adams who lived on a nearby island, sent them a telegram that said WELL BABY WE BOUGHT IT. In Milford's words, "When the message was spoken over the telephone to Steepletop, it became WHERE IS BABY WE BOARDED. Mary Kennedy, who was visiting them, remembered that Edna and Eugen, puzzled, kept asking the operator to repeat it. Finally the exasperated operator said, 'It's perfectly clear, Madam, that the other party wants to know where is the child they left with you!'" (369).

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