A passionate defender of the poor and oppressed receives a full-length biography.
Poet, essayist, and editor Lola Ridge (1873-1941), born in Ireland, raised in New Zealand, and educated in Australia, made her mark in the United States beginning in 1907, when she became part of a burgeoning arts scene in San Francisco, and most significantly in New York, where she was a major literary figure. Svoboda (Tin God, 2013, etc.), a poet, fiction writer, translator, and Guggenheim Fellow, revives Ridge’s life in minute—sometimes fascinating, sometimes tedious—detail. Possibly because she was denied access to archival sources, Svoboda speculates about Ridge’s motivations, thinking, and assumptions: “perhaps,” “could have,” and “might have” recur so often that they become distracting. Although providing context is one of the author’s strengths, at times she overdoes it. For example, while recounting the time when Ridge deposited her 8-year-old son in an orphanage, where he remained for six years, Svoboda offers many examples of others who abandoned their children. Ridge’s admiration for Percy Bysshe Shelley generates a list of other admirers, including Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx, George Bernard Shaw, and Upton Sinclair. Ridge suffered from “an illness similar to T.B.,” leading Svoboda to note a handful of others in her circle who “spent enormous amounts of time in bed.” More relevant are capsule biographies of everyone Ridge knew: her friends Marianne Moore, novelists Evelyn Scott and Kay Boyle, activists Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman; Harold Loeb, who assigned Ridge as American editor of his literary magazine Broom; Jean Toomer, Robert McAlmon, Matthew Josephson, and scores more. Svoboda’s close reading of Ridge’s poetry supports Boyle’s assessment that Ridge “expressed a fiery awareness of social injustice” in “a woman’s savage voice.” Anorexic, living in self-imposed poverty, uncompromising, and strong-willed, Ridge merged the political and the literary as she helped to shape modernist aesthetics.
A revealing, though at times overly detailed, portrait.