MAY SARTON by Margot Peters


A Biography
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 The authorized but unquestionably ``warts and all'' biography of the late poet, novelist, and diarist. According to Peters (English/Univ. of Wisconsin; The House of Barrymore, 1990, etc.), May Sarton, who died in 1995, was vital and intense, courageous and talented, generous with both time and money to friends and acquaintances, of which she had hundreds on several continents. But she was also self-absorbed, ``an unashamed snob,'' short-tempered, unpredictable, and a sexual adventurer. Her lesbian love affairs were legion; early on they included designer Irene Sharaff, the poets Elizabeth Bowen and Muriel Rukeyser, and later a baroness and a college president. Both Julian Huxley and his wife, Juliette, were Sarton's lovers (with only a slight overlap) and Juliette became one of Sarton's ``Muses.'' Sarton fell in love often--``every day'' during one period--but only a few objects of her passion became the longed-for Muse, inspiring her to a flow of poetry. A prolific and versatile writer--at her peak, she was turning out a book a year plus essays, magazine articles, children's stories, and journals--she considered herself first a poet. Unfortunately, she was an undisciplined poet, unwilling to rewrite and refine, and never wholly accepted by the literary establishment, a source of pain and bitterness for her. As she grew older, she grew crankier and even more self-absorbed, but Sarton also developed a large and loyal following, having much to do with her insights into aging and the woman as artist. She was also ``a knockout speaker,'' teaching and lecturing at colleges and clubs across the country. Ultimately, Peters concludes, Sarton will be judged not a great writer, but a writer ``whose work has the power to change readers' lives.'' A thoughtful, even-handed, well-written story of the tumultuous life of a woman who might have left an even stronger literary legacy if she had lived life less ardently. (97 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 4th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-41521-1
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997