Books by May Sarton

MAY SARTON by May Sarton
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 1, 1997

Charged with energy and with a cast of characters that includes major 20th-century literati, this is the first volume of what will likely be a massive compendium of Sarton's letters. Sarton was a copious letter writer; according to Sherman (who edited a miscellany of Sarton's writings, Among the Usual Days) she set aside Sunday mornings for her correspondence, ``a religious service devoted to friendship.'' This book begins with some childish notes to her father that foreshadow the direct and revealing style of her later missives. At 15, she was writing to Eva Le Gallienne, declaring her dream of being an actress and pleading for Le Gallienne's advice and help. The direct approach worked; Sarton went on to be associated with Le Gallienne's acting company for many years. Many of the letters collected here are to her parents, from whom she was frequently separated, even as a child. They often discuss money problems but also celebrate such events as the first publication of her poems. Other correspondents include Elizabeth Bowen, Julian Huxley (her lover before Sarton fell in love with his wife, Juliette), Virginia Woolf, Louise Bogan, Diana Trilling, Marianne Moore, and Muriel Rukeyser, some of whom were her lovers. The letters to them and to less well-known friends, brimming with enthusiasm, are full of news of acquaintances, of books and poems, of critics and reviews, of dinners and teas, of Atlantic crossings, and of love and longing for friends from whom she is separated. She shares delight at accomplishments, disappointment at setbacks, and eloquent descriptions of place. Included is a rather startling (in context) letter to Bogan discussing women's homosexual relationships. In the letters of the 1950s, the resentments that colored some of Sarton's journals begin to surface. Also included in this volume is an appendix of unpublished poems, and some letters in the original French. Certainly a must for Sarton scholars, but also a pleasure for Sarton's loyal readers. (50 photos, not seen) Read full book review >
AT EIGHTY TWO by May Sarton
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Dec. 1, 1995

Sarton died in July at the age of 83, less than a year after the last entry in this journal where she both anticipated death and celebrated life with the keen and unflinching perception that is Sarton at her best. A poet, novelist, and chronicler of her own life—the last via a series of journals that began with the early Journal of a Solitude and continued with Endgame (1992) and Encore (1993)- -Sarton had a devoted and growing readership but, to her sorrow, was not included in the literary canon that welcomed such peers as Elizabeth Bowen and Eudora Welty. That regret surfaces often in the pages of this journal, partly because the year includes foraging through her past on behalf of several biographers as well as publishers in the US, England, and Japan who are reissuing or publishing new collections of her poems. But though Sarton's earlier journals have been criticized for being ``querulous'' and ``cranky,'' At Eighty-Two avoids these pitfalls by adopting a more objective stance than Sarton had previously taken. The subject matter is much the same—``wonderful'' friends, flowers, her cat, the weather, the books she is reading, details of her physical and mental state, what she once called the ``sacramentalization of the ordinary.'' But as with her novels, Sarton now stands slightly outside herself, gaining the leverage to describe her days with compelling integrity. Ongoing depression is managed by a tough discipline that refuses to escape into sleep or sloppy habits, tenderized by the sweet smell of narcissus and the soft purr of her cat at naptime. ``Most of the time I am happy,'' she says. ``Each day I plan something I can look forward to.'' But, she adds later, ``the effort is staggering.'' A resonant reflection on being old and an appropriate legacy for Sarton's many devotees. (photos, not seen) Read full book review >
ENCORE by May Sarton
NON-FICTION
Released: Aug. 9, 1993

As Gloria Steinem might say, this is what 80 looks like: a pale paean to flowers, food, and friends. Sarton's novel As We Are Now (1973)—a brilliant and moving fictional journal of life (and death) in a nursing home—makes this memoir pallid by comparison, and the problems of inconsequential, lackluster writing that appeared in Sarton's earlier journals of infirmity and old age (Endgame, 1992, etc.) crop up here as well. The life cycle of the flowers on the author's Maine estate are documented in detail; lunches, dinners, and flower arrangements provided by friends and ``fans'' are described exquisitely; pain (apparently caused by intestinal blockage), medication, and visits to the holistic doctor who monitors the author's diet are carefully depicted. Sarton's joy in her cat, her many visitors (especially friend Susan, who frequently comes bearing roses but who isn't otherwise identified), and her fan mail is matched by the burden she feels in answering letters, letting in her cat at 1:00 a.m. (and sometimes again at 4:00 a.m.), and checking the weather. But the last handful of entries here reminds us of Sarton the well- regarded novelist and poet. In them, apparently in response to improving health, she switches from dictating into a tape recorder to writing the day's events, and from simple sentences in which ``wonderful'' is the adjective du jour to a richer, more thoughtful prose style. This is her last journal, Sarton says; her next project will be a novella based on a recent trip to England. Sarton's energy and focus are inspiring—but readers looking for analysis or fresh literary gossip won't find them here. (Photographs—not seen) Read full book review >
ENDGAME by May Sarton
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 1, 1992

Sarton resumes the litany of woes she began in Recovering (1980) and continued in At Seventy (1984) and After the Stroke (1988). This new installment, like the earlier ones, is packed with tales of depression, dyspepsia, wearisome diets, and wobbly dentures, among other tribulations. In addition to these Job-like entries, Sarton includes in this yearlong journal comments on such familiar topics as her garden, the harshness of Maine winters, and her past lesbian love affairs; she settles some old literary scores as well (John Ciardi comes in for a bit of bashing here). Self-congratulation permeates the pages: References to Sarton's ``fans'' appear frequently, joined by such boasts as, ``I don't think there are many writers—serious writers—who make as much money as I do.'' If this journal was not so obviously intended for publication but was in fact merely a kind of personal diary, the inclusion of many of the details recorded would be far more explicable. As it is, even the most devoted of Sarton's admirers are unlikely to find the fact that the author ate ``mussels and delicious, chopped-up fresh spinach'' on March 11, 1991, of enormous interest. When she turns her gaze outward, though, Sarton is far more interesting. She draws a gracious if inconclusive portrait of Virginia Woolf, with whom she often had tea in the late 1930's, and she reminisces about Lord David Cecil in several anecdotes that celebrate his erudition and eccentricity. Overall, far too garrulous and far, far too querulous. (Fifty- one photos—not seen.) Read full book review >
THE EDUCATION OF HARRIET HATFIELD by May Sarton
Released: June 12, 1989

The latest novel from poet/essayist/fiction-writer Sarton deals with many of the themes in her 1984 journal, At Seventy: aging; death of a (woman) lover; the need to "build bridges" in society rather than create a segregated gay culture; the joys of friendship, gardens, and pets. Harriet Hatfield lived with publisher Victoria Chilton for 30 years in upper-class Boston, sheltered from society's homophobia by money, power, and discretion. When Vicky dies, 60-year-old Harriet inherits the estate and, newly independent, decides to open a women's bookstore. She locates in a blue-collar suburb and soon receives a threatening letter. Harassment escalates after a newspaper report identifies her as a lesbian—but she holds her ground, the store becomes a center for all sorts of admirable women, and, after a crazed grandmother shoots Harriet's beloved dog, local sentiment turns in her favor. There is some charm and humor in Harriet (with her naivetÇ and upper-class respectability) being labeled a socially dangerous monster. But, alas, the tone of uplift is pronounced, and many readers will be perplexed and disturbed by the book's seeming endorsement of questionable conventional values: it's necessary to inform a husband where the wife he has battered is hiding; a gay man gets AIDS because of his "casual encounters" while his long-term lover (because he's been virtuous and faithful?) has no apparent concern over his own HIV status. Graceful writing, but Sarton's messages are sometimes too pointed, sometimes problematic. Read full book review >