MARIANNE MOORE: A Literary Life by Charles Molesworth


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From Molesworth (English/Queens College), the first full-length biography of the American poet. The outline of Moore's life doesn't promise high drama. Born in St. Louis in 1887, she attended Bryn Mawr, later moving to N.Y.C., where she became a librarian and, after that, editor of the Dial. She may never have had an affair or lover. Her poetry--witty, precise, satirical--evolved through several collections, beginning with Poems (1921) and culminating in a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection in 1951. What emerges quite clearly from Molesworth's respectful study is the character of a sensible, dedicated, methodical writer leading a relatively quiet life. Molesworth covers Moore's family life, which--reminiscent of T.S. Eliot's St. Louis background--shaped a serious-minded literary childhood. Like Eliot, Moore grew up in a mix of religion, books, and high expectations. After a relatively uneventful childhood and graduation from Bryn Mawr, she became identified with the imagist movement in poetry. Molesworth points out that the designation had much to do with publication in a special 1915 ""imagist"" issue of The Egoist, edited by Richard Aldington. To this day, the tag has stuck; but Molesworth argues that Moore's poetry exceeds the usual imagist definition. The most interesting section of this life deals with Moore's editorship of the influential Dial during a period when it still received submissions from the likes of Joyce (rejected) and Hart Crane (accepted with changes). Drawing heavily on Moore's unpublished family correspondence, Molesworth was nevertheless denied permission to quote from this material--leading to a sporting but necessarily incomplete account. Still, of value as the only major biographical study of Moore available.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1990
Publisher: Atheneum