In Extremis

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Laura Riding (1901-1991) was a deeply complex writer whose troubled years as the influential friend and associate of a group of writers which included Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein, Edmund Wilson, and Malcolm Cowley made her seem a figure of mythical proportions. Her famous affair with Robert Graves and bizarre suicide attempt in London in 1929 were the stuff of literary legend. The years she spent with Graves in Egypt and on the island of Mallorca are chronicled here as is her move away from poetry as she searched for a purer truth.

In renouncing poetry, as she eventually did, and moving to a small “cracker” town among the orange groves in central Florida, Riding sought a deeper, more literal meaning than she was able to find through the poetic imagination alone. Though she continued to write essays and commentary over the years, Riding remained an enigma to many who tried to penetrate her estrangement.

Deborah Baker writes in her introduction that the difficulties she encountered in trying to piece together a study of Laura Riding and her art were in part due to Riding’s reluctance to cooperate with anyone who attempted to examine her life. Since Baker could not count on support from Riding for her project, she turned to the large quantity of manuscripts, letters, memoirs, and other material collected in various public archives. This biography carefully examines the fourteen-year period Riding spent with Robert Graves and offers a revealing study of the conflicts between her imagination and intellect.