Combining literary biography with astute reporting and moral insight, David Laskin shows how sex, politics, and art affected relationships among the Partisan Review writers: Mary McCarthy, Edmund Wilson, Philip Rahv, Robert Lowell, Jean Stafford, Elizabeth Hardwick, Hannah Arendt, Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, and Diana Trilling. It is the women who steal the show with their their groundbreaking work, their harrowing experiences of marriage, abuse, and betrayal, their passion for writing and disdain for feminism, their struggles and achievements.
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For the 25 years following its resurrection in 1937, Partisan Review reigned as New York's most influential intellectual journal, writes David Laskin in his group biography of its founders and core contributors. "The marriage of Marxism and modernism was not always a happy one ... but the magazine seemed to thrive on controversy, tension, upheaval, and dissent. High-toned, fiercely contentious, merciless, brilliant, rough, competitive and exclusive, PR was a world unto itself, both socially and intellectually." In Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals, Laskin focuses on an extraordinary quartet of women: Mary McCarthy, Jean Stafford, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Hannah Arendt. "They knew one another and they knew about one another; they read and reviewed one another; they measured with the exactness of peers and rivals one another's reputations, successes or failures in the marketplace, standing within the narrow yet tremendously significant world they shared." Drawing on their published works, letters, diaries, and recorded conversations to capture and convey the environment in which they lived and worked, the author presents a witty, racy, exhilarating world of passionate idealism, controversial politics, fiercely competitive writing, debate, art, and sex.
Key to understanding these tumultuous lives, Laskin believes, is recognizing that the women of the Partisan Review coterie were the last generation to come of age before the social and ideological revolution unleashed by feminism--and they never accepted the validity of "women's lib." Although they struggled desperately with their duty to protect the creative and thinking time of their Great Men husbands, and at the same time eke out time to work, it never occurred to them to question the justice or logic of the domestic arrangements they inhabited. And success often came at a terrible personal cost. Laskin quotes Delmore Schwartz: "All poets' wives have rotten lives." And, he adds, "when the poets' wives were themselves poets of some sort, their lives became 'rotten' in some truly strange and fascinating ways."
David Laskin writes about the New York intellectuals of the 1930s as if he'd known them--watched them found Partisan Review; drink themselves to blackout night after night; marry, support, divorce, criticize, and betray one another over three decades from a vantage point close enough for clarity but distant enough for fairness and thorough, well-disciplined research. He also definitively proves that gender need raise no barriers to insight and compassion for a writer with the requisite courage and imagination. His sympathy, respect, and admiration for his subjects shine through his book, and make the lives of these four women unforgettable. --Jan BultmannFrom the Inside Flap:
Combining literary biography with astute reporting and moral insight, David Laskin shows how sex, politics, and art affected relationships among the legendary group of New York intellectuals who were the Partisan Review writers. It is the women who steal the show with their groundbreaking work, their harrowing experiences of marriage, abuse, and betrayal, their passion for writing and disdain for feminism, and their struggles and achievements.
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