From early childhood, Marguerite Vivian Young believed she was destined to be a writer. She was right: Her long career was devoted to writing, as author, editor, and teacher. While she published few books during her lifetime, the sheer mass of two of them clearly illustrates her passion for writing. Although many now agree that Young’s books were received less enthusiastically than they deserved, they nonetheless earned for her a respected position within the body of twentieth century American writers.
Young’s parents divorced when she was three, an event both disruptive and momentous in her life. Marguerite and her younger sister were then raised by their maternal grandmother but remained in contact with their parents and stepparents. Their grandmother helped instill in young Marguerite a love of literature and the desire to express herself creatively. With her grandmother’s support and encouragement, Young read well and widely as a child and young adult, feasting on the works of William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, and other classic English and French writers. After a stroke altered her mental state, Young’s grandmother sometimes spoke delusively about angels and other such creatures, a recurrent theme throughout some of Young’s later works.
With an English and French major and a criminology minor, Young earned a B.A. from Butler University in Indianapolis in 1930. She helped edit the university’s poetry publication (The Cocoon) and literary magazine (The Tower). Shortly after graduation, she experienced her first published success with the inclusion of four poems in Chicago’s Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. After earning her M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1936 with a focus on epic, Elizabethan, and Jacobean literature, Young did some postgraduate work at the University of Iowa but never completed the degree. Returning to Indianapolis after a brief period of living in Kentucky, she accepted a position teaching high school English in her hometown.
The year 1937 saw the publication of Young’s first volume of poetry, Prismatic Ground; it was also the year she began her fascination with a topic that would fuel her third book. During a visit with her mother and stepfather to New Harmony, Indiana, Young developed an interest in the area’s utopian societies of the early 1800’s. Dividing her time between Indianapolis and New Harmony, Young spent the following seven years learning and writing about these societies, in particular those of the Rappites and Owenites. Originally composing a series of folk ballads on the subject, she later revised them as blank verse. After a final revision to prose form, this work eventually became her third published book, Angel in the Forest.
By 1942, Young was keeping busy as an English lecturer at the University of Iowa, a Ph.D. candidate, a high school teacher, and a teacher at the Indiana Writers’ Conference (Indiana University), all the while continuing her writing. When, in 1943, she submitted Moderate Fable, her second volume of poetry, and Angel in the Forest, both were accepted for publication. With those successes and with her increasing status in the American literary community, Young felt compelled to relocate from the Midwest to New York’s Greenwich Village. This move was partially funded by a fellowship from the American Association of University Women. Around this time, a noticeable shift occurred in Young’s writing, with a new focus on fiction rather than poetry. While writing and publishing several short stories, she also continued working on her novel. In 1945 Young submitted a draft of what would eventually become her epic 1,198-page Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, and she was extended a contract for that novel. However, the book’s completion took a long, agonizingly slow path before its publication in 1965.
New York life brought Young into proximity with other notable authors: In 1945, she and Henry Miller coedited The...
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