Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Letters of Edna St. Vincent MillayLetters of Edna St. Vincent Millay 
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Millay is one of my favorite poets and I enjoyed reading about her life in Nancy Milford's Savage Beauty. Reading Millay's letters gave me a different picture of her. I suspect the letters may provide a skewed perspective of the person who wrote them. In many of them she says that she never writes letters (despite nearly 400 pages worth having been collected here) and she often writes about being sick and being broke. I knew money had often been an issue for Millay (poetry has never been as lucrative as it should), but the impression of an invalid had not come through to me elsewhere. 

Millay's correspondence is often quite direct and frequently funny. Here is an excerpt from a letter which I really liked:
"I am sure that no one in New York has time to write letters. This is quite an effusion for me now. I hope you didn't ask me any questions. I am quite settled down. I run in my rut now like a well-directed wheel. Sometimes, it is true, I feel that I am exceeding the speed-limit. But I seldom skid, and when I do there is very little splash. Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it." [3/6/1913 to Arthur Davison Ficke]
I was struck by the letters to Witter Bynner. On some level I knew he was a real person whom someone might be fond of and write to, but I always think of "Witter Bynner" as a poetry prize rather than a person. 

The only letters I didn't care for were some of the ones to her family. The use of nicknames and the tone of the letters tends to be a bit sickeningly sweet toward her mother and sisters.When she is taking her sisters to task for something (usually not writing to her) she can be quite funny. Her advice to her mother about her sister's book was wonderful:
"Kathleen is about to publish a book. If it's a good book, nothing can harm her. If it's a bad book, nothing can help her. And all your stewing and fretting will accomplish just one end: it will make you very sick, and a nuisance to yourself, and a care to everybody,--so will you please forget it and relax and interest yourself in something else?" [5/25/1927 to Mrs. Cora B. Millay]
If you are interested in the world of poetry (or farming) in NY in the early 20th century this collection is worth reading. This title counts toward the Postal Reading Challenge and meets one of my Spring into A Good Book goals. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh, that does sound interesting -- I like Millay's poetry but only know vague things about her personal life. I can see that this would be a new perspective after reading Savage Beauty (which is, of course, on the long long TBR)


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