ELINOR WYLIE: A Life Apart by Stanley Owen


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Elinor Wylie's life was extraordinary by any standards, which gives any biography a built-in interest. Born to wealth, beauty, and Society in 1885, she pulled off the scandal of 1910 when she abandoned husband and child to disappear in Europe with idle, dapper Horace Wylie. Impoverished, disgraced, obscure, Elinor drifted for ten rather dreary years with Horace (whom she finally married after her husband's suicide and his divorce in 1916) before managing a second coup: wowing the New York literary world with her first volume of poems, Nets to Catch the Wind (1921). Edmund Wilson paid homage, Carl Van Doren, Carl Van Vechten, and Louis Untermeyer fell at her feet, Amy Lowell sniffed approval, Edna St. Vincent Millay was charmed, William Rose BenÉt proposed marriage (she accepted him after divorcing Horace in 1923). She produced two more volumes of verse and four novels. In 1928 she died. Stanley Owen gives us all the glamorous facts but, alas, little else. He dwells for pages on her obscure ancestors, charts every restless change of address and every headache suffered. Famous friends are relegated to footnotes or thumb-nail sketches (""Edmund Wilson was like an extraordinary mental automobile"") and the literary/cultural setting is vague. Each new scandal and new volume is dutifully recorded, yet Owen ignores the important questions: why the sudden literary blossoming at 35? why was five years about all she could stand of one man? Some choice morsels emerge almost by accident--Virginia Woolf after meeting Elinor: ""I expected a ravishing and diaphanous dragonfly. . . to find a solid hunk: a hatchetminded, cadaverous, acid voiced, bareboned, spavined, patriotic, nasal, thick-legged American."" Minor poet though she is, Elinor Wylie deserves better treatment than this.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1978
Publisher: Dial