Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Milford, Nancy (Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay)

I expect my book club is going to hate this book.

There are several reasons for this, but chief among them is its length. I understand that it's difficult to write a biography of a celebrity without including everything about their life - and especially if it's an author so you want to include samples of their writing - but this book just drags on forever. It's a fascinating life at a fascinating time in US history, but Milford makes odd choices at times on what she includes and what she doesn't include.

She doesn't explain a lot about Millay's life. Meaning, she details and describes it, but doesn't provide context and milieu except when absolutely necessary. At times, that leaves us adrift (such as when Millay struggles with an illness, we're expected to understand the context with very few clues as to what it was).

However, it is fair to say that what Milford is trying to do here is to write a biography that Millay herself would appreciate - in her style and with her panache. Millay was an outstandingly excellent writer and this shows in every poem and every letter showcased in this book. She was also damn snarky, pushed the feminist and anti-war agendas hard, and lived a pretty wild life. I understand why Milford is trying to match that, but it doesn't always work - it leaves us adrift again.

I admit that I was a bit depressed to read about her struggles in the 1920s-1940s to get her work appreciated as a poet, not as a woman poetess. She struggles with some of the same things we still struggle with today, and it's utterly frustrating that the needle is still moving imperceptibly.

On a happier note, I will definitely be using Scramoodle and Skiddlepins in my conversations with my hubby from now on!

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