Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Jean Wilson Stafford was born in Covina, California, on July 1, 1915, to Ethel McKillop Stafford and John Richard Stafford, a writer of Westerns who had three years before moved out from Missouri. In 1920, John sold his Covina ranch, moved to San Diego, and began to play the stock exchange. Within a year, he had lost his life savings as well as a substantial inheritance from his wealthy father. John next took his family to Colorado, first settling in Colorado Springs, then in Boulder, only to find that the frontier he had imagined, with its limitless opportunities, was gone forever. Although John did occasionally sell a story, he was never again able to support his family. As she saw her beloved father retreating further and further into bitterness and eccentricity, and her mother seemingly becoming indifferent to everything except her money-making ventures, Jean Stafford developed the sense of alienation that permeates her work.
Although the small university town of “Adams,” or Boulder, is shown in Stafford’s fiction as a dull, provincial, and intellectually stifling place, it did at least provide Ethel with the economic opportunity she had so desperately sought. She kept the family afloat by running a boardinghouse for students, and though the family was poor, the children could live at home, work, and get college educations.
After she entered the University of Colorado in 1932, the beautiful and brilliant Jean Stafford found friends both among the professors and the student “barbarians,” a group of intellectuals who, like Stafford, were too impoverished to join Greek-letter organizations. She also won her first recognition as a writer when her play about the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven won first place in a contest and was performed on campus. Nevertheless, Stafford’s college years were not untroubled. A medical student broke off his engagement to her, saying he needed a wife with better social credentials. More important, when her flamboyant friend Lucy McKee committed suicide, Stafford was suspected of being somehow responsible. The resulting scandal probably cost her a Phi Beta Kappa key and caused her parents to leave Boulder for Oregon.
In 1936, after she was awarded both her bachelor’s and her master’s degrees, Stafford spent a fellowship year at the University of Heidelberg. When she returned to the United States, she went to a writers’ conference in Boulder, where she met the young poet Robert Lowell, a member of the famous and wealthy Massachusetts family, who was obviously attracted to her. After...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In her fiction, Stafford shows how the world looks from the perspective of those who feel alienated from it. Although her works range in tone from rollicking comedy and social satire to profound tragedy, they all move toward a revelation, knowledge that may bring new hope to the protagonist, who is usually female, but that more often destroys her peace of mind or even her life.
The rediscovery of Stafford’s work is due in part to her insight into the inner lives of girls and young women. However, critics have also taken a new interest in her status as a woman writer from the American West, a section that has characteristically been thought of as a male domain, producing fiction in which women’s interpretations of life there were not especially important. The fact that Stafford’s fiction can sustain intense analysis from a number of different perspectives is an indication of her profound insight into the human condition.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Although born in California, where she spent part of her childhood, Jean Stafford grew up in Colorado, attended the University of Colorado (A.M., 1936), and did postgraduate work at the University of Heidelberg. Her father, at one time a reporter, had written a number of Western stories. After a year teaching at Stephens College in Missouri and then briefly at the Writer’s Workshop in Iowa, Stafford decided to focus on her own writing and moved to Boston. There she married poet Robert Lowell in 1940; they were divorced in 1948. After a short marriage to Oliver Jensen in 1950, Stafford married again in 1959—to A. J. Liebling, critic and columnist for The New Yorker. After Liebling’s death in 1963, Stafford withdrew from the New York literary world and made her home in Springs, Long Island. There she lived, becoming more and more reclusive, until her death in 1979.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Jean Stafford was a novelist and short-story writer of considerable distinction. Born to John and Mary McKillop Stafford on July 1, 1915, in Covina, California, Jean was the youngest of four children in a family beset by poverty. Her father, who held many jobs, also wrote stories and opinionated essays which he regularly read aloud to his children. The Stafford family moved from Covina to San Diego, then to a succession of small towns in Colorado, finally settling in Boulder in 1925. At age six, Jean began to write poems and stories, and she completed her first novel by age eleven. She also began to read the dictionary simply for pleasure and, even as a child, displayed an incredible command of language. From 1925 to 1932, Stafford attended University Hill School and State Preparatory School in Boulder. In 1932 she enrolled in the University of Colorado, Boulder, financing her education by scholarships and part-time work; she graduated with both B.A. and M.A. degrees in 1936. After graduation, she studied philology at the University of Heidelberg on a one-year fellowship.
Shy and intellectual, Stafford was a misfit in both high school and college. Returning from Germany, she attended a writing school in Boulder and was introduced to poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977), a man with a very different background from her own, whom she would later marry. She spent one unhappy year as an instructor at Stephens College and in 1938 taught briefly at the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa. There she decided to write, not teach, and left abruptly in midsemester for Boston, arriving with one-third of a manuscript under her arm. In Boston, Stafford renewed her acquaintance with Robert Lowell. One night, returning home from an evening of drinking at a Boston nightclub, Lowell lost control of the car in which they were driving and Stafford was seriously injured. Despite the accident and the lawsuit which followed, a courtship blossomed and the two were married on April 2, 1940, in New York City.
Stafford’s first novel, published in 1944, was a best-seller and was praised by reviewers for its traces of Marcel Proust (1871-1922) and Henry James (1843-1916). Boston Adventure deals with a young woman’s realization that discovery of self requires rejection of society’s limitations and introduces concerns that would reoccur in Stafford’s later work: human motivations, instincts, relationships, and the complexities and incongruities of being alive, especially of being alive as a woman. In 1945 Stafford received a Guggenheim Fellowship for fiction and a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant. In that year, she also bought her first home in the small village of Damariscotta Mills, Maine, and she was at work on her second novel, The Mountain Lion.
Stafford and Lowell’s marriage had always been stormy, even violent, and they were separated in 1946. The subsequent months were difficult for Stafford. She traveled, spent a few days in a mental hospital, then stayed in a run-down Greenwich Village hotel. In 1947 she committed herself to the Payne Whitney Clinic in New York and spent a year there under treatment for hysteria and deep depression. Also in 1947 Stafford’s...
(The entire section is 1305 words.)