Monday, December 21, 2015

Savage Beauty - Nancy Milford

subtitle: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay

"My candle burns at both ends;
     It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes and oh, my friends--
     It gives a lovely light."

Do you remember this rhyme?  It was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who went mostly by her middle name, Vincent, and was a torch bearer for the young women of the 1920's.  She was the most famous poet of the Jazz Age and flaunted convention - she smoked in public, had many lovers and was a prolific poet, receiving the Pulitzer Prize in 1923.  Millay was known for her sonnets and also wrote plays.

Her poem "Renascence" [deliberate spelling] won her attention at 20 years old and the controversy over it not being awarded the top prize in the Literary Year magazine brought her to the attention of a patron who paid for her education at Vassar.  She moved to Paris in 1921 and married a man 11 years her senior who took care of her and their domestic needs the rest of their lives.

The author of this biography previously wrote the biography of Zelda Fitzgerald.  She had access to the letters and drafts of Millay's and worked extensively with her sister, Norma, in the writing of the biography.  The author uses the letters and documents to show the effort Millay expended in writing her poetry and to illuminate her experiences that led to the poems.

I think it was a thorough, accurate, and detailed record of Millay's life that got bogged down at the end in presenting her letters instead of interpreting or commenting on them.  

Published:  2001  Read: December 2015  Genre: Biography

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