Elinor Morton Hoyt Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A woman of mercurial temperament and a dedicated artist in both poetry and prose, Elinor Wylie (WI-lee) emerged as one of the “new traditionalists” of American literature in the 1920’s. In a space of eight years, she wrote four books of poems and four novels in which her tragic vision of life is portrayed in fantasy and satire. Dead at forty-three, she had achieved recognition as an eloquent and picturesque writer whose work revealed the frustrations of a woman oppressed by society’s dictates.

Born Elinor Morton Hoyt in Somerville, New Jersey, on September 7, 1885, she was the oldest child of Henry Martyn and Anne (McMichael) Hoyt, both descended from old Pennsylvania families distinguished in society and public affairs. Her education was as fashionably correct as her family background. She attended private schools in Bryn Mawr and Washington, where her father, appointed to the post of assistant attorney general of the United States in 1897, became solicitor general in 1903. During her schooldays her interests were divided between art and poetry, the latter chiefly through her discovery of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Following her social debut and a brief, unhappy love affair, she married Philip Hichborn in 1905. For the next five years she lived the life of a fashionable young matron according to the standards of Philadelphia and Washington society. In 1910, to the surprise of family and friends, she abandoned her husband and small son and eloped with a married man, Horace Wylie, a cultivated scholarly man fifteen years her senior. Two years later Hichborn committed suicide. The elopement created a scandal kept alive by gossip and the press for years; it was even noted in the headline of her obituary.

When Horace Wylie found it impossible to obtain a divorce, the couple went to England and lived there under an assumed name. Incidental Numbers, Wylie’s first book of poems, was privately printed in London in 1912. Published anonymously, for presentation only, it holds only occasional promise of her mature powers as a poet. Unable to remain in England under wartime conditions, she and Wylie returned to Boston in 1916. His divorce having been granted, they were married the next year. After several years of restless travel from Maine to Georgia, Horace Wylie secured a minor government post, and they returned to Washington in 1919. Cut off from most of her former friends, Elinor Wylie became one of a literary group that included William Rose Benét and Sinclair Lewis, and with their encouragement she continued to write poetry. In 1921 she left Washington to make her home in New York.

She came late to the literary scene but with the manner of one whom no disastrous circumstance could subdue. The disillusionment Wylie felt when reality never quite measured up to her ideals resulted in poignant and...

(The entire section is 1159 words.)


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Elinor Morton Hoyt Hichborn Wylie Benét was born Elinor Morton Hoyt into a socially and politically prominent eastern seacoast family on September 17, 1885. Her father, Henry Martyn Hoyt, was a lawyer and future solicitor general of the United States. Her mother, Anna Morton McMichael Hoyt, was the granddaughter of a governor of Pennsylvania and the great-granddaughter of a Philadelphia mayor. Elinor was groomed to be a debutante, marry into a well-established family, and become a society hostess. She went to fine schools and certainly looked the part of a socialite with her exceptional beauty, elegant frame, and delicate and charming manner.

On December 12, 1906, hoping to fulfill her parents’ expectations, she married Philip Hichborn, the son of an admiral. President Theodore Roosevelt was a guest at the ceremony. On September 22, 1907, son Philip III was born. By this time, the marriage was not going well, with Philip having frequent outbursts of temper and Elinor not taking to motherhood. She did not fit into this life of conspicuous elegance and proper manners. She felt smothered by convention. Indeed, her own family had hidden behind a facade of respectability: Her father had a long-term mistress, her mother was a chronic hypochondriac, her brother and sister committed suicide, and another brother was unsuccessful in his attempt to end his life. Even her husband proved mentally unstable, and Wylie felt restrained by the ugly world around her.

In 1910, she ran away with Horace Wylie, the father of four children, leaving her own son to be raised by Philip’s family. In 1912, with the rumor afloat that his wife might be carrying...

(The entire section is 681 words.)