Kay Boyle (Magill's Literary Annual 1995)
Kay Boyle, author of some forty books of prose and poetry, was an American who lived for more than twenty years in Europe, was on the cutting edge of poetry in the 1920’s, and in the 1930’s was hailed as “Hemingway’s successor” by critic Mary Colum. Joan Mellen’s book is the first complete biography published since Boyle’s death in 1992. Unlike Sandra Whipple Spanier’s earlier Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist (1986), which offers a literary assessment of her work, Mellen’s book focuses on Boyle’s life and relationships. She examines Boyle’s writing, which she finds strongly autobiographical, only as it reflects and illuminates her life. Mellen draws upon extensive personal and phone interviews with Boyle and her family and friends; letters and private papers; contemporary accounts; and Boyle’s own poetry and prose.
Boyle’s life was not a quiet one. Married at twenty, she sailed with husband Richard Brault to France, became involved in the literary life of Paris, and then met and fell in love with poet-editor Ernest Walsh, father of her first child. After Walsh’s death, she married Laurence Vail, whose spontaneous nature first enchanted and later alienated her, and by whom she had three more daughters.
When the Nazis invaded France, the Vails fled to America, where Boyle soon married Joseph von Franckenstein, an Austrian who had tutored her children in France and who became an American espionage agent during...
(The entire section is 1899 words.)
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Kay Boyle (Magill Book Reviews)
American author Kay Boyle lived for some twenty years in Europe, was on the cutting edge of poetry in the 1920’s, and in the 1930’s was hailed as “Hemingway’s successor” by critic Mary Colum. In later years, Boyle was known for her outspoken political activism. Joan Mellen’s book is the first complete biography published since Boyle’s death in 1992. Mellen focuses on Boyle’s life and relationships, referring to her work only as it reflects and illuminates her life—a life she shared with three husbands, six children, and numerous lovers.
Mellen shatters the image that Boyle carefully cultivated: the fascinating woman, successful author, devoted wife and mother. Instead, she is exposed as stubborn, self-centered, attractive to men, yet cold and indifferent to her children, whom she abandoned emotionally and often physically. Mellen notes the irony of a writer who records the deepest emotions of men and women in her work but does not see the lasting pain she brings to her family.
Mellen’s work is excellent when she is dealing with facts. The research and scholarship of this biography are impressive. Unfortunately, she sometimes treats Boyle’s fiction as if it were also fact and draws her inferences accordingly. She fails to offer adequate support for her theories on Boyle’s professional and personal antipathy toward other women, her lack of concern for her children, and her unconscious need to fabulate.
(The entire section is 329 words.)