May Sarton Sarton, May (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism) - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

May Sarton 1912-1995

(Born Elénore Marie Sarton; also known as Eleanor May Sarton) Belgian-born American poet, novelist, essayist, and autobiographer.

A prolific author who is respected for her poetry, fiction, and autobiographical writings, Sarton often focused on such concerns as the joy and pain of love, the necessity of solitude for creativity and identity, and the conflict between body and soul. Influenced by her early exposure to both European and American cultures and her interest in such European poets as Rainer Maria Rilke and William Butler Yeats, Sarton evinced a literary sensibility that is regarded as diverse and astute.

Biographical Information

Sarton was born on May 3, 1912, in Wondelgem, Belgium. In 1916 her family settled in the Boston-Cambridge area. After graduating from high school, Sarton became an apprentice to Eva Le Gallienne at the Civic Repertory Theatre in New York, where she remained until 1934. During the mid-1930s, she founded both the Apprentice Theatre at the New School for Social Research and the Associated Actors Theatre in Hartford. It was during this period that she produced her first two volumes of poetry, Encounter in April (1937) and Inner Landscape (1939). During World War II, Sarton worked as a scriptwriter for documentary films for the Office of War Information. Over the next twenty-five years, she held positions at a number of universities and lectured at a variety of conferences. Sarton died of breast cancer in 1995.

Major Works

Sarton is remembered for her poetry, novels, and memoirs. Her first collection of poetry, Encounter in April, displays her skill with varied poetic forms, including short lyrics, meditative pieces, free verse, and Shakespearean sonnets. Cloud, Stone, Sun, Vine: Poems, Selected and New (1961) contains thematically linked verse from previous volumes as well as new pieces, including “A Divorce of Lovers,” a complex sequence of twenty sonnets in which Sarton combines ordinary and decorative language to detail the end of a love affair. A Private Mythology (1966) was inspired by Sarton's visits to Japan, India, and Greece during the early 1960s. The poems in this volume evidence her experiments with such forms as free verse and the Japanese haiku as she searches for spiritual peace and reveals a sense of humor rarely present in her previous work. The verse in A Grain of Mustard Seed (1971) comments upon global violence and injustice in commensurately harsh language and imagery. This volume also contains religious poems, many of which suggest the need for faith in solving world problems. In A Durable Fire (1972), Sarton reaffirms her belief in the importance of grace and spirituality through a variety of verse forms.

Sarton's first novel, The Single Hound (1938), features a confused young writer who becomes more confident in himself and his artistic abilities through his friendship with an older, established female poet. In this work, she introduces one of her most important themes: the conflict between physical passion and artistic commitment. In Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965), considered by many critics her most important novel, Sarton clearly reveals her beliefs concerning the inspiration and commitment necessary for artistic creation. The novel revolves around the ruminations of acclaimed poet Hilary Stevens as she prepares for and gives an interview about her career. Throughout the novel, Sarton raises such questions as whether a woman can be a successful artist while maintaining a family, what compels an author to write, and how personal emotion can be transformed into art. As We Are Now (1973) examines American attitudes toward the elderly by focusing upon Caroline Spencer, a former teacher confined to a nursing home whose independence is shattered by the dehumanizing treatment of the institution's staff. At the novel's conclusion, Caroline burns down the home as an act of defiance.

Sarton also garnered critical praise for her autobiographical works. I Knew a Phoenix: Sketches for an Autobiography (1959) relates her childhood and youth up to the publication of her first collection of verse. In Plant Dreaming Deep (1968), Sarton recounts her purchase of an old farmhouse in rural New Hampshire and details the responsibilities of being a homeowner, emphasizing the importance of a stable domestic life and her need for solitude in relation to her literary career. Recovering: A Journal, 1978-1979 (1980) is an account of Sarton's emotional and physical recovery from cancer that further underscores the importance of love in her life.

Critical Reception

Initially overlooked by literary critics, Sarton's work was not discovered until the later part of her career. Her work is generally held in high regard. Commentators note that her verse is often introspective and displays her penchant for natural imagery and refined language. Although some critics fault her rigid adherence to traditional forms and her tendency to lapse into melancholy and didacticism, others praise the passion, insight, and graceful language she exhibits in her poetry. Sarton's novels, which explore various topics, including aging, the failure of communication, and the relationship between love and artistic commitment, are commended for their rich descriptions of place and atmosphere and their reflective prose. Furthermore, critics praise her poetry, fiction, and autobiographical writings as inspirational, touching, honest, and thought-provoking.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Encounter in April (poetry) 1937

The Single Hound (novel) 1938

Inner Landscape (poetry) 1939

The Bridge of Years (novel) 1946

Underground River (play) 1947

The Lion and the Rose (poetry) 1948

Shadow of a Man (novel) 1950

A Shower of Summer Days (novel) 1952

Land of Silence, and Other Poems (poetry) 1953

Faithful Are the Wounds (novel) 1955

The Birth of a Grandfather (novel) 1957

I Knew a Phoenix: Sketches for an Autobiography (autobiography) 1959

Cloud, Stone, Sun, Vine: Poems, Selected and New (poetry) 1961

The Small Room (novel) 1961

Joanna and Ulysses (novel) 1963

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (novel) 1965

A Private Mythology (poetry) 1966

Plant Dreaming Deep (autobiography) 1968

Kinds of Love (novel) 1970

A Grain of Mustard Seed (poetry) 1971

A Durable Fire (poetry) 1972

As We Are Now (novel) 1973

Journal of a Solitude (journal) 1973

Collected Poems, 1930-1973 (poetry) 1974

Crucial Conversations (novel) 1975

A Walk through the Woods (juvenilia) 1976

A World of Light: Portraits and Celebrations (autobiography) 1976

The House by the Sea (journal) 1977

A Reckoning (novel) 1978

Selected Poems of May Sarton (poetry) 1978

Halfway to Silence: New Poems (poetry) 1980

Recovering: A Journal, 1978-1979 (journal) 1980

Writings on Writing (essays) 1981

Anger (novel) 1982

At Seventy (journal) 1984

Letters from Maine (poetry) 1984

The Magnificent Spinster (novel) 1985

As Does New Hampshire, and Other Poems (poetry) 1987

After the Stroke (journal) 1988

The Education of Harriet Hatfield (novel) 1989

Sarton Selected: An Anthology of the Journals, Novels, and Poems of May Sarton (anthology) 1991

Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (journal) 1992

Collected Poems (1930-1993) (poetry) 1993

Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (journal) 1993

Coming into Eighty (poetry) 1994

At 82 (journal) 1995

Selected Letters (letters) 1997

Dear Juliette: Letters of May Sarton to Juliette Huxley (letters) 1999

Dawn Holt Anderson (essay date 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Anderson, Dawn Holt. “May Sarton's Women.” In Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives, edited by Susan Koppelman Cornillon, pp. 243-50. Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1972.

[In the following essay, Anderson maintains that Sarton is an invaluable model for young women writers.]

Women in fiction, like women in our culture, usually find, and sometimes lose, their identity in institutionalized relationships such as marriage and motherhood, waiting to see what their men and their children will demand them to be. If they break out of these molds, they usually turn to the business world, a world defined by males, to find their success. Few writers provide women with any models for relationships or ways of life and work outside those which have been codified and sanctified over the years. May Sarton's work, however, is resplendent with new models. Her women characters are alone, forging thoughtful and meaningful lives for themselves, not waiting to be defined in terms of a mate or a nine to five job. Miss Sarton examines valid relationships that women can form, especially with other women, which are outside the usual relationships available to them—women talking, playing and creating together meaningfully. She deals with woman's work and the necessity of integrating womanhood, the total self, into that work so it can become a source of joy and fulfillment. The women who are main characters in three of Miss Sarton's novels establish their own identity by breaking through the molds of standard relationships for women to form new and regenerative ones with others. They rely on themselves as sources of strength, and make full use of their talents in their work.

Two of the novels, Joanna and Ulysses and The Small Room, begin with the breakup of a standard relationship for women. Joanna has become a mother to her father and a prisoner in her home. She has worked in an office, kept the house going and nursed her father for years. Now at thirty she is breaking the mold for a month's holiday, to paint. Lucy Winter, in The Small Room, is also leaving an institutionalized relationship; her engagement is broken. She is on her way to the woman's college where she has taken her first teaching job. Both women must forge new relationships in which to grow. Both must face their aloneness, begin to define themselves as solitary entities, and to find new relationships which will enrich their lives.

In a third novel, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, Hilary Stevens, a seventy year old writer, reviews her life for two young interviewers. The important relationships for her have each been short lived but intense. Her story is a series of comings together and partings. For most of her life she has lived alone; the best in her has been drawn forth by the brief relationships she has formed with others. In this novel, Miss Sarton dramatizes the great importance of woman's relationships as means to fertilize her creative powers. The seeds of Hilary's creative works, books of poetry and two novels, have blossomed through a variety of personal relationships. Her three year marriage, the only institutionalized relationship Hilary entered, resulted in no writing at all. Marriage was a shelter, a safety to her, a long holiday from herself. Selfhood was “submerged in the great primal darkness” (p. 39) of union. Once when she allowed her husband, Adrian, to see her inner powers, he admonished her for her intensity. “You take everything so hard, Hilary. …” (p. 41) The other important relationships in her life have been “instruments of revelation,” “epiphanies,” (p. 97) for her. In her governess, Phillipa, in an understanding friend, Willa, and even in memories of her long dead mother, Hilary perceives, though only briefly, the passionate inner selves which they submerged in order to function in the culturally acceptable roles as job holders, proper wives and mothers. From moments of intimate contact, Hilary learns to develop rather than to hide the powerful personality within her.

From Phillipa she first learns to direct her emotions, specifically her “crush” on the governess, into works of art rather than to expend them futilely in self pity. Through the deep friendship she forms with Willa, Hilary develops a tight control over her own feelings in her poetry. Willa is a woman who entertains frequently. She listens and questions, drawing from her guests their best thoughts and revealing their talents. Her own inner life is never revealed at these gatherings. From memories of her own mother, a woman who shunned any show of intense passion or thought, Hilary senses that she, like her daughter, was meant to be an artist. But to fit the institutionalized roles of wife and mother, she forced herself to reject her own inner life.

One summer Hilary rents the house of a now dead woman. She comes to know the woman whose peace of mind is reflected in her home. Hilary senses the importance of creating surroundings which will mirror one's own inner life, as much to remind herself of her identity as to reveal herself to visitors. Hilary buys a home, and lovingly tends her garden, her cat and turtles, creating peace and order in her home as in a poem. Miss Sarton comments that “no man would have done that.” (p. 148)

Another relationship Hilary forms reveals two important points which Miss Sarton repeatedly makes: first that intense friendships between women bring forth their creativity, and that sexual relationships are not nearly so valuable to individual growth as the culture assumes them to be. Hilary deeply loves her friend Dorothea, a woman with a scientific, “anti-mystic” approach to life. Her cynical and statistical views are the opposite of Hilary's; they operate from different spheres. What matters most to Hilary matters not at all to Dorothea. While their friendship remains just that, Hilary learns to cut her poetry to the sparest, writing sharp, clear lines. But when the women live together in a homosexual relationship, once more Hilary's poetry stops. She is content to make curtains, arrange flowers and stay close to home. Miss Sarton indicates that living with others in sexual relationships is debilitating to personal growth. At best, as in the marriage of Hilary and Adrian, creativity goes to sleep. At worst, as with Dorothea, love becomes a “devastating, destructive rage,” demanding so much psychic energy that the truly creative...

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Agnes Sibley (essay date 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sibley, Agnes. “The Later Novels: Communion.” In May Sarton, pp. 104-43. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

[In the following essay, Sibley identifies the theme of communion as central to Sarton's later novels.]

In the second group of Miss Sarton's novels, published before Kinds of Love (1970), the need for communion is dominant. The passionate individual who so often appeared in the early novels is still prominent in the second group, but now his need is not so much for the ordering of his own inner chaos as for dealing somehow with chaos in the world. To some extent, of course, the attempt to bring order into both the inner and the outer realm is...

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Doris L. Eder (essay date March-April 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Doris L. “Woman Writer: May Sarton's Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing.International Journal of Women's Studies 1, no. 2 (March-April 1978): 150-58.

[In the following essay, Eder explores autobiographical aspects of Sarton's Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, and calls the novel “a novel of dualities resolved into unity.”]


May Sarton's Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing is a masterly and haunting book. It concerns the difficulties of being a woman writer and was, the writer tells us, a difficult book to write.1 F. Hilary Stevens is obviously close to May Sarton, a...

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Jane S. Bakerman (essay date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bakerman, Jane S. “‘Kinds of Love’: Love and Friendship in Novels of May Sarton.” Critique 20, no. 2 (1978): 83-91.

[In the following essay, Bakerman emphasizes the themes of self and personal relationships in Sarton's work, perceiving them as the unifying forces of her oeuvre.]

With the publication of As We Are Now (1973), May Sarton added another perspective to her continuing examination of two central and important themes. She treats in her novels two basic motifs from a variety of points of view, one of which is the driving need of each individual to “create” himself, to come to a deep and positive kind of self-understanding which will...

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Janet Todd (essay date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Todd, Janet. “May Sarton.” In Women Writers Talking, pp. 3-19. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978.

[In the following essay, based on an interview, Sarton discusses autobiographical aspects of her work, the relationship between art and life, and the role of the female artist in contemporary society.]

I met May Sarton on a clear fresh day in May in a car park in York, Maine. She was immediately welcoming and her warmth cancelled out the fatigue of my eight-hour drive from New York. We drove in her car down lanes of new leaves.

Her house was yellow and three-storied; the grass, colored with daffodils and red tulips, stretched down to the sea....

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Laurie Prothro (review date 13 April 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Prothro, Laurie. Review of A Reckoning. National Review 31, no. 15 (13 April 1979): 498.

[In the following review, Prothro offers a positive assessment of A Reckoning.]

In May Sarton's A Reckoning, Laura Spelman learns she has inoperable cancer, then realizes how ill-prepared she is to cope with death. She wants to take stock of her life, clear away the non-essential. Oddly enough, most of her family and friends turn out to be just that; but she finds it impossible to abstract herself from others in the process of dying. “The web of human relations entangles and nourishes at the same time.” She finds her real connections with women, sorting...

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Marlene Springer (essay date fall 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Springer, Marlene. “As We Shall Be: May Sarton and Aging.” Frontiers 5, no. 3 (fall 1980): 46-49.

[In the following essay, Springer praises Sarton's dignified and sensitive treatment of the elderly in her work.]

A university recently spent $77,000 to do a survey designed to assess the needs of the elderly in its state.1 After two years of extensive interviews, the team discovered that the problems of the elderly were (in this order): income, health care, transportation, crime, isolation, nutrition, housing, activity, employment, age discrimination, and education—$77,000 to discover problems that cover most of the ills we all are heir to, with...

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Kathleen Woodward (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Woodward, Kathleen. “May Sarton and Fictions of Old Age.” In Gender and Literary Voice, edited by Janet Todd, pp. 108-27. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1980.

[In the following essay, Woodward traces Sarton's approach to aging in her novels and journals, contending that her “portrayal of old age is a welcome departure from the Western literary tradition of gerontophobia.”]

If we do not know what we are going to be, we cannot know what we are; let us recognize ourselves in this old man or that old woman. It must be done if we are to take upon ourselves the entirety of our human state. And when it is done we will no longer acquiesce in...

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Kathleen Gregory Klein (essay date spring 1983)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Klein, Kathleen Gregory. “Aging and Dying in the Novels of May Sarton.” Critique 24, no. 3 (spring 1983): 150-57.

[In the following essay, Klein considers the role of death and dying in Sarton's novels.]

Modern American society has no stronger taboo in both reality and conversation than the subject of death. Legal pronouncement, medical care facilities, and scientific investigation have combined to make dying seem like a failure of either individuals or society; it is less a natural process than an admission of inadequacy. Honest conversation about dying is rare. Pages of euphemisms designed to avoid the direct use of the word “dead” can be easily...

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Francine Ringold (review date autumn 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ringold, Francine. Review of Letters from Maine and At Seventy. World Literature Today 59, no. 4 (autumn 1985): 597-98.

[In the following review, Ringold lauds the vitality and clarity of the poems in Letters from Maine as well as the entries in her journal At Seventy.]

In a year of what seems to be the celebration of the older writer—the eighty-eight-year-old Helen Hooven Santmyer's novel And Ladies of the Club and the seventy-three-year-old Harriet Doerr's book The Stones of Ibarra head the list of “discoveries” in 1984-85—let us pay tribute to May Sarton, one of the most vigorous voices of our century, who continues...

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Valerie Miner (review date December 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Miner, Valerie. “The Light of the Muse.” Women's Review of Books 3, no. 3 (December 1985): 7-8.

[In the following review, Miner praises The Magnificent Spinster as “provocative in itself and as a mirror of past work, reflecting such classic Sarton issues as social conscience, aging, women's autonomy, friendship and the nature of art.”]

When I was young,
I misunderstood
The Muse.
Now I am older and wiser,
I can be glad of her
As one is glad of the light.
We do not thank the light,
But rejoice in what we see
Because of it.
What I see today
Is the snow falling:
All things are made new.

“Of The Muse,” May Sarton


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Lorraine Code (essay date 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Code, Lorraine. “Persons and Others.” In Power, Gender, Values, edited by Judith Genova, pp. 143-71. Edmonton: Academic Printing & Publishing, 1987.

[In the following essay, Code explores issues of responsibility, morality, and dependency in Sarton's As We Are Now.]


In her short novel As We Are Now,1 the American novelist May Sarton tells a story of the personal disintegration of a woman in a nursing home for the aged. This disintegration is aided and encouraged by the systematically degrading nature of her treatment by the women in charge of the home, and by the gradual severing of all her...

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Barbara LeBar (essay date August 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: LeBar, Barbara. “The Subject is Marriage.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 9, nos. 3-4 (August 1988): 264-69.

[In the following essay, LeBar contrasts Sarton's portrayal of marriage in Crucial Conversations to that in Pearl Buck's The Good Earth.]

Pearl Buck and May Sarton are authors separated by time, culture, and literary technique. Yet each has presented a portrayal of marriage that transcends the aforementioned differences. Each presents a marriage unique to its own time and place and yet, at the same time, a marriage which illustrates the universalities of the intuition.

Despite recent developments in the women's movement...

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Danielle Otis (essay date summer 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Otis, Danielle. “Sarton's ‘Because What I Want Most Is Permanence’.” Explicator 47, no. 4 (summer 1989): 55-57.

[In the following essay, Otis compares the language in“Because What I Want Most Is Permanence” to a river flowing ever deeper, “offering tranquility and continuity.”]

Because what I want most is permanence,
The long unwinding and continuous flow
Of subterranean rivers out of sense,
That nourish arid landscapes with their blue—
Poetry, prayer, or call it what you choose
That frees the complicated act of will
And makes the whole world both intense and still—
I set my mind to artful work and craft,
I set my heart on friendship, hard and...

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Elizabeth Evans (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Evans, Elizabeth. “‘Expensive Commodities’: The Poems.” In May Sarton, Revisited, pp. 77-112. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1989.

[In the following essay, Evans surveys the defining themes of Sarton's poetry and discusses her perception of the role of the poet.]

Poems are, May Sarton wrote to Louise Bogan in 1955, “expensive commodities, as you well know” (Manuscript letter, 12 October 1955).1 In 1937 Sarton published her first book of poems, Encounter in April; her most recent, a chapbook entitled The Phoenix Again in 1987; and The Silence Now in 1988. This half century for Sarton has brought forth some sixteen...

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Carolyn G. Heilbrun (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Heilbrun, Carolyn G. “May Sarton's Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing.” In Hamlet's Mother and Other Women, pp. 148-59. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, Heilbrun views Sarton as an outsider and speculates how this position has affected her work.]

May Sarton's life is a mirror image of the usual American success story. In those wildly famous lives where, Scott Fitzgerald has told us, there are no second acts, the glories and riches soon betray the writer to madness, impotence, alcohol, literary vendettas, and the ashes of despair. For Sarton, perhaps uniquely so, considering the accomplishment, there has been...

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Valerie Miner (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Miner, Valerie. “Spinning Friends: May Sarton's Literary Spinsters.” In Old Maids to Radical Spinsters: Unmarried Women in the Twentieth-Century Novel, edited by Laura L. Doan, pp. 155-68. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Miner explores the portrayal of spinster women in Sarton's novels, asserting that her characters often are “old women who have used their lives productively, indeed exuberantly.”]

In the mirror she recognized her self, her life companion, for better or worse. She looked at this self with compassion this morning, unmercifully prodded and driven as she had been for just under...

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Mary K. DeShazer (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: DeShazer, Mary K. “‘Toward Durable Fire’: the Solitary Muse of May Sarton.” In That Great Sanity: Critical Essays on May Sarton, edited by Susan Swartzlander and Marilyn R. Mumford, pp. 119-50. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, DeShazer analyzes Sarton's complex treatment of “crucial relationship between the woman poet and her muse” as evidenced in the poems of A Durable Fire.]

“We have to make myths of our lives,” May Sarton says in Plant Dreaming Deep. “It is the only way to live them without despair.”1 Of the many twentieth-century American women poets who are mythmakers, Sarton...

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Doris Earnshaw (review date autumn 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Earnshaw, Doris. A review of Halfway to Silence. World Literature Today 67, no. 4 (autumn 1993): 829.

[In the following review, Earnshaw lauds the thematic richness and stylistic mastery of the poems in Halfway to Silence.]

The eminent poet, novelist, and journal writer May Sarton, at eighty, has fashioned a moving series of poems [Halfway to Silence] chosen from her last three books. The three sections present three periods in her life: a love affair when she was sixty-five, a surge of creativity at age seventy, and a new awareness of herself as an artist. She gives this information in an author's note, along with the observation that “the...

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Janis P. Stout (essay date fall 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stout, Janis P. “A Wordless Balm: Silent Communication in the Novels of May Sarton.” Essays in Literature 20, no. 2 (fall 1993): 310-23.

[In the following essay, Stout explores the importance of silent communication in Sarton's novels.]

This voice itself and not the language spoken.

—May Sarton, “A Voice”

The characters in May Sarton's many and various novels are typically engaged in two basic recurrent actions, the effort to shape and to understand their inner selves and the effort to form sustaining relationships with others.1 Often, the dual task proves too much for them; like Ellen, near the end of...

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Anne M. Wyatt-Brown (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wyatt-Brown, Anne M. “Another Model of the Aging Writer: Sarton's Politics of Old Age.” In Aging and Gender in Literature: Studies in Creativity, edited by Anne M. Wyatt-Brown and Janice Rossen, pp. 49-60. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993.

[In the following essay, Wyatt-Brown investigates different theories of aging and productivity and applies them to Sarton's treatment of the elderly in her work.]

In 1990 I was asked to present a paper on May Sarton's The Education of Harriet Hatfield (1989) at a meeting which the novelist herself was to attend. Unfortunately, the novel initially disappointed me. Some of Sarton's literary...

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Andrea Lockett (review date spring 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lockett, Andrea. “Strange Monsters.” Belles Lettres 9, no. 3 (spring 1994): 37.

[In the following review, Lockett delineates the defining characteristics of Sarton's verse in her Collected Poems (1930-1993).]

Even the most devout reader of May Sarton's work may be relatively unfamiliar with her poetry. But Sarton, who has published 16 volumes of verse to date, considers herself a poet first and foremost. Thus, Collected Poems (1930-1993) is essential reading.

The earliest poems, five of which appeared in the prestigious Poetry magazine when Sarton was only 17, already display the excellent command of form and technique that...

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Jeanne Braham (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Braham, Jeanne. “Lens of Empathy.” In Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women's Diaries, edited by Suzanne L. Bunkers and Cynthia A. Huff, pp. 56-71. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Braham underscores the unorthodox and personal nature of the memoirs of Sarton, Nancy Mairs, and Audre Lorde.]

Scholars working within both the humanities and the social sciences are beginning to challenge the male, white, upper-class model of “achievement and quest” dominating the field of biography and autobiography until the last twenty years. Whose lives, they ask, have been studied as exemplary and what...

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Leah E. White (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: White, Leah E. “Silenced Stories: May Sarton's Journals As a Form of Discursive Resistance.” In Women's Life-Writing: Finding Voice/Building Community, edited by Linda S. Coleman, pp. 81-90. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, White scrutinizes Sarton's struggle with depression as expressed through her journals.]

It is tricky business offering the world a story that does not fit into mainstream culture and yet has its own life, its own fragile right to exist.

—Carmela Delia Lanza

May Sarton could be considered one of the...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Blouin, Lenora P. May Sarton: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978, 236 p.

Blouin, Lenora P. May Sarton: A Bibliography. 2nd ed. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2000. 617 pages. Complete annotated listing of works by and about May Sarton.

Primary and secondary bibliography that covers Sarton's early career.


Peters, Margot. May Sarton: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, 474 p.

Biographical account that covers Sarton's life and career.


Evans, Elizabeth....

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