Elizabeth Bishop (Magill's Literary Annual 1994)
Readers unfamiliar with Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry may find the first chapter of this biography slow going. Since Brett Millier is writing a literary biography and believes that discussion of a writer’s work is integral to understanding the life, she almost immediately begins by analyzing the autobiographical content of Bishop’s stories and poems. This works well for readers already familiar with Bishop’s oeuvre, but to the uninitiated it may prove frustrating that the analysis precedes the narrative. If the reverse were the case and the autobiographical content of the stories were rendered in the biographer’s narrative voice, the biography would stand a chance of winning many new readers for Bishop. Then the biographer would be free to introduce significant analysis of Bishop’s writing, showing how a master stylist developed the autobiographical elements already told, in story fashion, by the biographer.
Millier began her work on Bishop in graduate school, and occasionally her biography shows signs of a thesis mentality—not in the sense of emphasizing a single approach to the poet but in assuming, once again, more knowledge of the poet than can be expected from a general audience. Most readers may have read a few anthologized poems by Bishop but are unlikely to appreciate the way Millier links one title to another in her text before (in some cases) providing a narrative foundation for such linkage.
Once these criticisms...
(The entire section is 1953 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Elizabeth Bishop (Magill Book Reviews)
Readers unfamiliar with Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry may find the first chapter of this biography slow going. Brett Millier begins almost immediately by analyzing the autobiographical contents of Bishop’s stories and poems. This works well only for readers already familiar with Bishop’s oeuvre. Nevertheless, Millier presents a compelling narrative of her subject’s life. One of the pleasures of the biography is observing the biographer grow in confidence: as she gets to know her subject better, she provides a deeper sense of Bishop as a person.
It is significant that one of Bishop’s greatest poems is are telling of the Robinson Crusoe story, for she was obviously drawn to the solitary individual creating his own world. This is what she had done in her poetry without ever conceding to the fashions of her day or worrying about her place in the cutthroat literary world of her contemporaries. Yet she was not an escapist—at least not in terms of her writing. Poetry gave her what she knew as reality: “Tomorrow, we shall have to invent,/ once more,/ thereality of the world.” Creating poetry kept her sane—a vital belief for Bishop, who saw not only her mother succumb to mental illness but also three of her lovers: Robert Seaver, LotaSoares, and Suzanne Bowen.
Bishop made enormous demands on her friends, especially in her last years, when she was particularly needy (for affection and for money), but it is a tribute to her wonderful...
(The entire section is 381 words.)