Miss Macintosh, My Darling Essay - Critical Essays

Marguerite Young

Critical Context

Miss MacIntosh, My Darling took seventeen years to write and, despite its length of 1,198 pages, was initially published in a single volume. Although it sank into relative obscurity with critics of postmodern fiction and has had little literary influence, some critics tout it to be one of the most ambitious literary achievements of the twentieth century, if only for its supreme amassment and the complexity of its characters. One observer summed up the reaction with the comment that “surely one of the most widely unread books ever acclaimed, it has actually been read by comparatively few, by fewer still all the way through.” At its core it is a picaresque journey into the spirit of humankind, a search for lost utopias, and a study of human experience. While her writing is open to interpretation, Young abandons all established rules of strict allegory as she relates Vera’s struggles against the many obstacles that hinder her path to a sure and lasting understanding of the purpose and meaning of life. In this regard, her novel is considered a valid example of experimental fiction. Her evocative style is replete with metaphors, symbolizations, proliferating images, and enumerations of facts that call to mind James Joyce, Herman Melville, or William Faulkner. They also reflect her deep interest in Elizabethean and Jacobean symbols, a subject in which she received her master’s degree from the University of Chicago. Among the writers who influenced Young were the philosophers Saint Augustine, David Hume, and William James.

Marguerite Young was born in Indianapolis, and she attended Indiana University. She began writing poetry at the age of six and became a member of the Authors League at eleven; at twenty, she won first prize in a literary contest conducted by Butler University. Her first collection of poems, Prismatic Ground, was published in 1937, when she was twenty-eight. In 1945, she won a Best Poetry Award for “Moderate Fable” from the National Academy of Arts and Letters, the same year “Angel in the Forest,” her critically acclaimed account of utopian societies in New Harmony, Indiana, was published. She was awarded an American Association of University Women grant in 1943, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1948, a Newberry Library fellowship in 1951, and a Rockefeller fellowship in 1954. At the time of her death, Young’s Harp Song for a Radical, a massive biography of Eugene Debs, remained unpublished.