A World of Light Critical Essays

May Sarton


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

As with Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933), Testament of Friendship (1940), and Testament of Experience (1957), Sarton’s memoirs transcend fact to present essential truth. Indeed, the volume Plant Dreaming Deep, marked by its extended narrative of single experience yet unified thematically and chronologically, transforms the genre. I Knew a Phoenix and A World of Light follow the more conventional form of discrete pieces, most of which were published individually in The New Yorker. While critics accepted the republication of these pieces in a collection, Sarton has been criticized for lifting verbatim from the first volume the pieces on Albert Quigley, her New Hampshire friend, and S. S. Koteliansky, her Russian mentor, and at the same time claiming in the preface that she has brought to the work fresh judgments and new insights.

A similar charge might be leveled against the portraits of her mother and father, since Sarton has already written of them in I Knew a Phoenix. Yet Sarton’s depiction of their marriage—a marriage between an obsessive, self-centered, childlike husband and a frustrated, thwarted, artistic wife—requires much distance and compassion; it reflects the anger and courage that Sarton herself has displayed throughout her career. The “informal” portrait of her father remains a unique combination of intuitive insights and rich detail.

The portraits of the middle two sections emphasize Sarton’s remarkable talent for establishing friendships. The descriptions of Sarton’s two early friends, Celine Dangotte Limbosch and Edith Forbes Kennedy, acknowledge her need for stability, understanding, appreciation, and encouragement in her early years during the awakening of her sexuality and her first attempts at writing poetry. Limbosch was the closest friend of...

(The entire section is 770 words.)