Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
In Miss Macintosh, My Darling, the first and only novel by Marguerite Young, a young woman embarks on a dreamlike voyage through time and memory in search of her darling childhood nursemaid, Miss Macintosh from What Cheer, Iowa, who has disappeared into the ocean, never to be seen again. Finding herself adrift on a sea of delusion and fantasy, the young woman fervently searches for reality only to discover herself drowning in illusion.
The narrator, Vera Cartwheel, has been reared in a baroque New England seaside house. Her mother, Catherine, an opium addict, is confined to her bed and a world of imaginary visitors when Vera is a small child. In her mother’s “horizontal” existence, every object, from chandeliers to medicine bottles, is endowed with life and becomes a welcomed guest along with such notables as Alexander Pope, Lady Mary Montagu, and Lord Byron. Catherine’s only real visitor is Joaquin Spitzer, her lawyer, who is also the twin brother of Peron, her dead lover who committed suicide years before. Having known Catherine in earlier years, Mr. Spitzer silently endures unrequited love, patiently sitting in the shadows of her room waiting for Catherine’s rare moments of coherence.
Miss Macintosh, hired by Mr. Spitzer as a nursemaid when Vera is seven, is a no-nonsense governess and appears to be the only rational person in Vera’s life. She is sensible and common, forthright and normal, and for seven years, she is both nursemaid and teacher. On the night of her fourteenth birthday, Vera enters her nursemaid’s room only to discover that Miss Macintosh’s reality is far stranger than her mother’s opium-induced dream; she is in fact bald, hairless since birth. A surreal scene ensues in which the nursemaid’s true...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Edelstein, J. M. “Miss MacIntosh, Her Darling.” The New Republic 153, no. 14: 28-29. Edelstein’s critical assessment of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling asserts what is real versus what is a dream to be the central question and theme in a novel rooted in a grand assembly of words, characters, and situations. He asserts the obscure patterns of the narrative act as an impediment to the overall artistic expression.
Goyen, William. “A Fable of Illusion and Reality.” The New York Times Book Review, September 12, 1965, p.5. Goyen views Young’s abundance of descriptive passages and method of relentlessly examining her complex characters as literary devices intended to drive the theme of the novel. He sees the obsessive probing as a technique to turn the interiors of her characters outward so that their terrible natures can be exposed.
Hicks, Granville. “Adrift on a Sea of Dreams.” Literary Horizons, September 11, 1965, 35-36. According to Hicks, Young’s elaborate use of recurring symbols demonstrates her imaginative power and conscientious craftsmanship. He lauds her poetic style and hypnotic use of language to relate the hallucinatory episodes. However, he finds fault in the novel’s lack of fixed points of reference to draw distinctions between the characters and thus eliminate confusion as to whose dream belongs to whom.
Shaviro, Steven. “Lost Chords and Interrupted Births: Marguerite Young’s Exhorbitant Vision” Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XXXI, No. 3 (Spring, 1990): 213-222. In this thorough essay, Shaviro discusses the thematic and complex style of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, suggesting that one sign of the novel’s uniqueness and strength is the refusal of the text to conform to the usual paradigms of either modernism or postmodernism.
Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. “Marguerite Young, 87, Author and Icon, Dies.” The New York Times, November 20, 1995, p. B11. This obituary provides a concise profile of the author’s life along with commentary on the reception Miss MacIntosh, My Darling received from the literary community. In addition, it relates several of her formative experiences, eccentric behaviors, and relationships with other notable literary figures such as Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, which later provided grist for her work.