Kay Boyle Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What facts of Kay Boyle’s early career contributed to her development as a novelist focused on political themes?

Boyle seems to have learned more from travel experiences than from early domestic routine and formal schooling. To what extent can the same be said of Merrill in the short story “Anschluss”?

Literary style is preeminently the effective use of language elements such as diction, phrasing, metaphors, and details generally. Examine carefully the style of a passage (a page or so) in Boyle’s writing that you think deserves praise for its style and cite particular instances.

Examine carefully a conversation in a Boyle short story that both reveals the speakers’ characters and illustrates a larger theme.

In what respects was Boyle herself, like Athena in the story of that name, an “underground woman”?

Kay Boyle Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)
ph_0111207063-Boyle.jpg Kay Boyle. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to her short stories, Kay Boyle published several novels, volumes of poetry, children’s books, essay collections, and a book of memoirs. Breaking the Silence: Why a Mother Tells Her Son About the Nazi Era (1962) is her personal account, written for adolescents, of Europe during the Nazi regime. Boyle also ghostwrote, translated, and edited many other books. Hundreds of her stories, poems, and articles have appeared in periodicals ranging from the “little magazines” published in Paris in the 1920’s to The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker, for which she was a correspondent from 1946 to 1953.

Kay Boyle Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Both prolific and versatile, Kay Boyle has been respected during her long career for her exquisite technical style and her ardent political activism. She was very much a part of the expatriate group of writers living in Paris in the 1920’s, and her work appeared in the avant-garde magazines alongside that of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and others. Her work is in many ways typical of the period, stylistically terse, carefully crafted, displaying keen psychological insight through the use of stream of consciousness and complex interior monologues. That her work was highly regarded is evidenced by her many awards: two John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships; O. Henry Awards in both 1935 and 1961; an honorary doctorate from Columbia College, Chicago; and membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She taught at San Francisco State University and Eastern Washington University.

Kay Boyle Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although she published many novels, Kay Boyle was recognized principally for her shorter works. First published in the small magazines of the 1920’s, her early stories were collected in Wedding Day, and Other Stories (1930) and The First Lover, and Other Stories (1933). Active as an editor and critic on small magazines such as Contempo and on progressive political journals, Boyle also translated the works of such European writers as Joseph Delteil, Raymond Radiguet, and Marie-Louise Soupault. Two volumes of her short stories, The Smoking Mountain: Stories of Postwar Germany (1951) and Nothing Ever Breaks Except the Heart (1966), reflect wartime and postwar Europe. Collected in Fifty Stories (1980), Boyle’s short fiction appeared in American periodicals for decades.

Boyle’s poetry, also first published in small magazines, was collected in A Glad Day (1938) and Collected Poems (1962). Her volume of poetry titled American Citizen Naturalized in Leadville, Colorado (1944), based on the experience of an Austrian refugee in the U.S. military, is dedicated to writer Carson McCullers, “whose husband is also overseas,” and Testament for My Students, and Other Poems (1970) concerns “that desperate year, 1968.” This Is Not a Letter, and Other Poems (1985) appeared fifteen years later.

As a European correspondent after World War II, Boyle wrote nonfiction prose of both journalistic and literary distinction, including her reportage of the war crimes trial of Heinrich Babb for The New Yorker and her essays on civil rights and the military establishment. Her edited volume The Autobiography of Emanuel Carnevali (1967) and her chapters in Robert McAlmon’s Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930 (1968) capture the literary underground of that period, and a subsequent collection, The Long Walk at San Francisco State, and Other Essays (1970), reflects the antiwar movement of the 1960’s. Boyle also published three illustrated children’s novels: The Youngest Camel (1939, 1959) and the Pinky novels (1966 and 1968).

Kay Boyle Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The 1930’s, declared her vintage period by critics, brought Kay Boyle an O. Henry Award for the title story of The White Horses of Vienna, and Other Stories (1936), followed in 1941 by another for “Defeat,” a story on the French collapse that also appeared in her novel Primer for Combat. Published widely in Harper’s, The New Yorker, Saturday Evening Post, and The Atlantic Monthly, and with her short works collected in Thirty Stories (1946), Boyle won the praise of contemporaries as the “economical housewife of the short story technique.”

Kay Boyle Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bell, Elizabeth S. Kay Boyle: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992. An excellent introduction to Boyle’s short stories. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Boyle, Kay. “Kay Boyle: An Eightieth Birthday Interview.” Interview by David R. Mesher. The Malahat Review 65 (July, 1983): 82-95. As the title suggests, this interview with Boyle was conducted on the occasion of her eightieth birthday. In it, she discusses her life and her work.

Carpenter, Richard C. “Kay Boyle.” English Journal 42 (November, 1953): 425-430. This volume provides a helpful and general look at Boyle’s early novels and short fiction.

Carpenter, Richard C. “Kay Boyle: The Figure in the Carpet.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 7 (Winter, 1964-1965): 65-78. Carpenter rejects the common complaint that Boyle is a mere “stylist,” discussing her thematic depth, particularly in “The Bridegroom’s Body” and “The Crazy Hunter.”

Elkins, Marilyn, ed. Critical Essays on Kay Boyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1997. Collection of reviews and critical essays on Boyle’s work includes contributions by William Carlos Williams, Katherine Anne Porter, and Malcolm Cowley. Among the topics addressed in the critical essays are Boyle’s novels My Next Bride, Death of a Man, and Monday Night.

Hollenberg, Donna. “Abortion, Identity Formation, and the Expatriate Woman Writer: H. D. and Kay Boyle in the Twenties.” Twentieth Century Literature 40 (Winter, 1994): 499-517. Discusses the theme of self-loss through the roles of marriage and motherhood in Boyle’s early works. Shows how expatriation...

(The entire section is 758 words.)