The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore Critical Essays

Marianne Moore


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Marianne Moore published no poetry from the beginning of 1925 to the middle of 1932, the years when she wrote numerous reviews and columns of commentary for The Dial (until it ceased publication in 1929) and other journals. As Charles Molesworth, the author of a long-awaited first biography (1990) of Moore observes, these essays “were very much like her poetry, in structure and theme, with their metonymic connections and weaving of quotations” and “served as her artistic exploration of values and culture,” the central concern of her life as a practicing writer. Moore was not hesitant to indicate how a writer had, in her estimation, failed in some area (William Carlos Williams’ “wisdom is not absolute and he is sometimes petulant,” she said in a review of Kora in Hell in 1921), but one of her fundamental principles was “never to review a book unless essentially in sympathy with it.” Her admiring comments about other artists often express the qualities she sought to embody in her own work; for example, she cites the “elegance . . . modesty . . . intellect . . . élan” in the work of the sculptor Malvina Hoffman or the “impassioned perceptiveness and governance of the emotions” of Wallace Stevens as aspects of an attitude toward artistic expression that combined an appreciation for passion with an inclination for propriety. As she put it in a poem: “Ecstasy/ affords the occasion and expediency determines the form.”

Moore did not follow any specific “school” of critical thinking. She believed that there was an appropriate form and approach for each individual subject she considered, but both her reviews and commentaries utilize certain fundamental techniques and strategies. The ideas develop through metonymy or association rather than from a single metaphoric conception. Often she will shift focus abruptly, slanting away at a detail to forge a connection that might otherwise appear remote. Quotation figures prominently, to the point that...

(The entire section is 816 words.)