Not at All What One Is Used To

Janssen, Marian

Published by Univ of Missouri Press, 2010
ISBN 10: 0826218989 / ISBN 13: 9780826218988
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 Born in 1915 to one of New England’s elite wealthy families, Isabella Gardner was expected to follow a certain path in life—one that would take her from marriageable debutante to proper society lady. But that plan was derailed when at age eighteen, Isabella caused a drunk-driving accident. Her family, to shield her from disgrace, sent her to Europe for acting studies, not foreseeing how life abroad would fan the romantic longings and artistic impulses that would define the rest of Isabella’s years. In Not at All What One Is Used To, author Marian Janssen tells the story of this passionate, troubled woman, whose career as a poet was in constant compromise with her wayward love life and her impulsive and reckless character.

Life took Gardner from the theater world of the 1930s and ’40s to the poetry scene of the ’50s and ’60s to the wild, bohemian art life of New York’s Hotel Chelsea in the ’70s. She often followed where romance, rather than career, led her. At nineteen, she had an affair with a future president of Ireland, then married and divorced three famous American husbands in succession. Turning from acting to poetry, Gardner became associate editor of Chicago’s Poetry magazine and earned success with her best-received collection, Birthdays from the Ocean, in 1955. Soon after, her life took a turn when she met the southern poet Allen Tate. He was married to Caroline Gordon but left her to wed Gardner, who moved to Minneapolis and gave up writing to please him, but after a few short years, Tate fell for a young nun and abandoned her.In the liveliest of places at the right times, Gardner associated with many of the most significant cultural figures of her age, including her cousin Robert Lowell, T.S. Eliot, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Virgil Thomson, Tennessee Williams, and Robert Penn Warren. But famous connections could never save Isabella from herself. Having abandoned her work, she suffered through alcoholism, endured more failed relationships, and watched the lives of her children unravel fatally. Toward the end of her life, though, she took her pen back up for the poems in her final volume. Redeemed by her writing, Gardner died alone in 1981, just after being named the first poet laureate of New York State.Through interviews with many Gardner intimates and extensive archival research, author Marian Janssen delves deep into the life of a woman whose poetry, according to one friend, “probably saved her sanity.” Much more than a biography, Not at All What One Is Used To is the story of a woman whose tumultuous life was emblematic of the cultural unrest at the height of the twentieth century.

From the Author: Although I have always devoured books, as a young Dutch girl even reading while riding my bike, after high school I was sure I was not cut out for university and found employment as an au-pair in London. There I became addicted to British novels and, back in Holland, decided to go to university after all and study Commonwealth literature.  However, when I found that the youngest of my four brothers, a budding mathematician, had read more United States authors than I had, I switched to American literature in order to silence this show-stopper. My thesis on American poet-critics John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate gained me my Master's degree (cum laude) at Radboud University in Nijmegen. My advisor, Ger Janssens, then asked me how I saw my future,  and when I said I wanted to travel, he suggested I do so in the United States in search of materials for a doctoral dissertation on the literary magazine The Kenyon Review. So, I travelled to America, starting out at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, with its seven hundred or so souls (somewhat of a culture shock for a Dutch woman whose images of the United States had been warped by American television) and branching out to other archives nationwide. The Kenyon Review (1939-1970): A Critical History was published by Louisiana State University Press in 1990. Doing original research while travelling seemed a better way to earn a living than most, so I was happy when I was offered a post-doc position for a biography on red-haired Isabella Gardner. While checking out John Crowe Ransom's editorial correspondence at Washington University in St. Louis, I had leafed through Gardner's correspondence there and had become fascinated with this poet who had been married to Allen Tate--and three others. Just before I went on a year-long trip to America in search of Isabella Gardner, including her love life with Tate, I complicated my own love life by falling in love with the teacher who had supervised my academic work. Reading the love-letters between elderly Tate in Europe and Gardner in America, while keeping up an exchange from America with my own lover in Europe gave my research a whole new dimension. The Gardner-Tate relationship ended in a disastrous divorce in less than ten years, but the Janssen-Janssens one is still going strong.  Writing the biography, however, took much longer than planned, because I, with my love of travelling, accepted the position of Head of the International Office at Radboud University, which meant Gardner landed on a backburner.  For almost a decade, she simmered there, but, accompanied by Janssens and our red-haired son, I added definitive fuel during two recent sabbaticals at the University of California at Berkeley. Now I am back in the Netherlands at the International Office, still travelling after all these years but also still writing on the side.  I think Gardner's life would make a wonderful film with Meryl Streep in the lead as Gardner looking back, while I myself would want to make a Hitchcockian cameo appearance.    

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Title: Not at All What One Is Used To
Publisher: Univ of Missouri Press
Publication Date: 2010
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: BRAND NEW

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Book Description University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, 2010. Cloth. Condition: Fine. Dust Jacket Condition: Fine. First Printing. "This is a great biography that will give Isabella Gardner's poetry the attention it has long deserved. Compellingly written, deeply research, learned, lucid, funny, and wise, this book is more than a mesmerizing page-turner. It allows us to understand Gardner and her millieu with new specificity and insight. This is one of the very best biographies of a mid-twenieth-century poet yet written." {Steven Gould Axelrod}. This book has 377 pages and is illustrated. Seller Inventory # 061228

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