May Sarton: A Biography

by Margot Peters

Hardcover, 1997




New York : Knopf, 1997.


From acclaimed writer Margot Peters comes the first, completely authorized biography of novelist, poet, and feminist May Sarton. Granted unprecedented access to personal papers and diaries, Peters gives us a compelling look at the woman who influenced a legion of readers with rich and intimate writings, and reveals the fascinating life that Sarton herself kept hidden. Beginning with a young Sarton largely ignored by her parents, Peters traces the compulsive quest for recognition and artistic inspiration that would characterize most of Sarton's life. We witness her at nineteen as she chooses a life in the theater, only to discover later her real passion: writing. As her literary career takes shape, we watch her personal and professional struggles for acceptance, her intense relationships with such learned friends as Muriel Rukeyser and Louise Bogan, and her secret turmoil over her sexuality. But ultimately, we see Sarton begin to create in her works the image of a strong, independent woman who lived peacefully with solitude--an image that often contradicted the reality of her life.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Seajack
If you've read her series of journals, this one pretty much de-bunks the "Myth of May"; I divide her life into "pre" and "post" Judy (Peters makes clear that there wasn't really a whole lot of "ongoing Judy").
First half for me wasn't as interesting, detailing May's "social climbing"; with the
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possible exception of Eva Le Gallienne, the rest of her celebs meant nothing to me. Foreshadows May's predatory nature, along with background of her dysfunctional childhood. For the second part, I'm assuming readers are familiar with her journals, and I'll try to keep spoilers to an absolute minimum ...
Point #1: May and Judy were a "couple" briefly (if really at all), May's continuous displays of "concern" in the journals notwithstanding, I'd chalk her efforts at "including" Judy up to guilt. (Same holds true for her "dear" Eleanor Blair, whom she used and discarded by the time the journals really got going.)
Point #2: I read "Plant Dreaming Deep" (essays on Nelson) after the many daily journals. From that book, one would assume that May stayed chugging away at her writing day-after-day in Nelson during that period. Actually, she was there well under half the time, and carried out several (torrid) affais.
Point #3: "Journal of a Solitude" is the story of a middle-aged writer in rural NH, devoted to her animals and garden. May expresses a desire to move on from that location, her new home in Maine coming into play by the end of the book. Behind-the-scenes her life would've made a National Enquirer editor sit up and take notice! The townsfolk by then were relieved to be free of the drama.
Point #4: Regarding her time in Maine as a whole -- it's hardly surprising her intestines acted up constantly, and her heart gave out, those "drinks" to which she refers were often doubles, and several at a go! Her personal life continued at a fevered pitch; several of the "friends" mentions are either women hopelessly attracted to her (whom she enjoyed using) or ones she went after.
One point I was hoping would be clarified: the role of her "protege" Susan - victim or predator? Peters gives evidence of both.
Peters makes a reasonable case that Norton eventually stopped editing altogether, shoving the submitted "final draft" straight into bookstores to meet deadlines, figuring her fans would buy anything by May Sarton, as long the stuff kept appearing. May does come to understand by the end that they were doing her no favors in the long run, royalties or not.
To some fans all these salacious details are un-necessary, if downright mean. However, May made quite a bit of money portraying herself as a kindly, concerned old(er) lady; true in a sense, as she could be quite generous with her money, and helpful to some admirers. Almost every single person figuring in her journals in a positive (or neutral) light came to realize how "expendable" they really were in her eyes; she'd led them into a false sense of security, though most were well aware of how other "friends" had fared.
Towards the end, Peters quotes a reader of the journals: "May Sarton - lobsters and loneliness, diverticulitis and champagne."
And here I thought it was only me!
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
Although the subject was endlessly fascinating, the biography itself often just seemed endless. I'm not sure exactly why Peters chose the project since it certainly seemed she did not love her subject.

The chapters are too long for comfortable reading--way too long. Many chapters just seemed to be
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long lists of names: people, benefactors, plays-- all of which at some point caused this reader's eyes to spin. Contrast this with Sarton's own journals....well, skip the bio and dive into the autobiography's!!

Perhaps I should state that prior to reading this bio, I had never read any of Sarton's work. However, at the same time as beginning it, I also began to read Sarton's [Journal of a Solitude].
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