IN EXTREMIS by Deborah Baker


The Life of Laura Riding
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 In her long and eventful life, Laura Riding (1901-91) played, according to Baker (Making a Farm, 1981, etc.--not reviewed), the roles of goddess, witch, poet, editor, critic, mistress, collaborator, inspiration, demon, and recluse. Born to a mad mother and a reprobate father on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Riding became a poet and, after a brief stay in Greenwich Village, joined the household of Robert Graves, who became her lover/companion for 14 years. She traveled to Egypt, London (where she attempted suicide), and Mallorca (for a 13-year period covered extensively by Baker)--where she ran a press, published Gertrude Stein, and developed a following of young literati who shared her ideas of communal life. At the start of WW II, Riding and Graves became the guests of Schuylar Jackson, who grew walnut trees in New Hope, Pennsylvania. After Riding reputedly drove Mrs. Jackson insane, she married Schuylar, destroyed her own poetry, invested many years in compiling a dictionary, and, finally, retired for the last 50 years of her life to a tin-roofed hut, without electricity or plumbing, in Wabasso, Florida. In her lifetime, Riding published over a dozen influential collections of poems and collaborated with Graves on an essay in A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) that helped initiate the modern age of criticism. She was, Baker says in this first full-length biography, offended by the moral ambiguity of Graves's The White Goddess--which she herself inspired. (Eight page of b&w photographs)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8021-1364-8
Page count: 462pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993


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