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Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals

Laskin, David

32 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0684815656 / ISBN 13: 9780684815657
Published by Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000
Condition: very good, good
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About this Item

320, illus., notes, bibliography, index, some wear and soiling to DJ. An illuminating portrait of the writers who dominated New York intellectual life from the 1930s through the 1960s--and of a complex tangle of literature, politics, and passion that drove this group of friends, rivals, and lovers. Among these influentials writers are Mary McCarthy, Edmund Wilson, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Hannah Arendt. Bookseller Inventory # 43498

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal ...

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York

Publication Date: 2000

Book Condition: very good, good

Edition: First Edition. First Printing.

About this title


From the Depression era of the 1930s through the Vietnam War of the 1960s, a generation of "public intellectuals" thrived in America. They were poets, novelists, critics, and commentators who were also friends, rivals, spouses, and lovers. Their personal relationships were as passionate as their writing. In their poems, novels, and essays they debated one another while producing work that was brilliant and often controversial. Among them are such influential writers as Mary McCarthy, Edmund Wilson, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Hannah Arendt. "We were not gentlemen -- or ladies," observed William Phillips, former editor of the Partisan Review, the house organ of the group. "We had strong egos." While the pages of Partisan Review were a forum for political and intellectual controversy, its offices were a hotbed of gossip, intrigue, back-stabbing, and sex. Possessed of enormous ambition, talent, and appetite, the PR circle was an intense, self-enclosed society where creative energy often gave way to self-destructive impulses, alcoholism, and adultery. For women of talent, beauty, and ambition, this literary circle offered unprecedented professional opportunity but also exacted a terrible emotional price. Mary McCarthy, proudly promiscuous, had an affair with Philip Rahv, then editor of PR, before moving on to a disastrous marriage to Edmund Wilson. Jean Stafford, whose early brilliant stories appeared in PR, succumbed to Robert Lowell's persistent courtship, a decision that would later nearly destroy her. Lowell became a celebrity during his next marriage, to PR insider Elizabeth Hardwick, though Hardwick saw her promising literary career founder under the burden of coping with Lowell's recurrent psychosis. Yet, notes David Laskin, several of these marriages and friendships managed to survive and even flourish, with a lifelong bond forming between McCarthy and Hannah Arendt, and with Hardwick and Lowell presiding over the founding of the vibrantly influential New York Review of Books in the early 1960s. Amidst all the turmoil -- or perhaps because of it -- this brilliant circle continued to produce important work, from McCarthy's scandalous novel The Group to Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, which caused a firestorm of controversy. It was perhaps no coincidence that the women in the group often shone brightest, even though in this prefeminist era they frequently found themselves caught between being writers and being wives or mistresses. They were the first generation of women intellectuals to forge an identity of their own while being attached to equally famous men. But when a new generation emerged to oppose the Vietnam War and then lead the feminist revolution in the late 1960s, they were left behind. Written with keen insight into both the literature and the personalities behind it, Partisans is an illuminating portrait of a time when politics and poetry were all-consuming passions. David Laskin's Partisans is an important contribution to the


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 Bultmann

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