Sunday, February 21, 2010

16. Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

This biography tells the story of the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Known by her friends and family as Vincent, the poetess lived a very unconventional life.  She and her two sisters were raised by an absent mother.  Because of divorce, Cora Millay worked as a nurse and often had to leave her young daughters alone for days at a time.  Vincent strived to achieve in school and often wrote stories and poems that won prizes in magazines.  She catches the eye of a rich socialite who sponsors her to attend college at Vassar.  I found this portion of the book to be very interesting.  In fact, it is a testament to the talents of Nancy Milford that I actually finished the book.  She makes Millay's story compelling and includes interesting tidbits about life in the first half of the 20th century.  However, Millay herself was not a likeable person at all.  At least not in this book.  She must have had some redeeming qualities because the books tells about scores of friends and lovers.  However, what I learned about this woman, even though she had obvious writing talent, is that she was promiscuous, had numerous affairs with men and women including one while she was married that her husband seemed to condone, she was selfish and self-centered; became addicted to alcohol and drugs; and she spent way more money than she earned.  She seemed to be dedicated to her mother but often neglected her.  Relations with her sisters were strained at the best of times.  Usually, I don't care for asides from the author; but Milford is able to interject dialogs with Millay's sister, Norma, that added insight and humor to the course of the story.  Many of Millay's poems are included in the book, but I am not a poetry lover.  Not sure why I would read this book, but there you have it.  I'm glad it's over.  I'm not sure if I will read another of Milford's book.  Even though she writes very well, I wonder why she included so much of Millay's sexual life unless that was just such a huge part of her existence.  It really did serve to illustrate her unconventionality and unique approach to life. All said, I was really glad to finish this book and look forward to moving on to something more uplifting.
Rating:  2.75

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  1. I agree this book was not uplifting, but when I read it a couple of years ago I remember being impressed at how well written it was. I didn't know much about Millay until I read this biography - she was pretty ahead of her time, I think. Thanks for a well-balance review!

  2. You wrote about this book in such a way as to make it rather compelling, even though I don't think I would want to read it either! Ha!

    It is interesting to learn about Millay (I had never heard of her before) but I'd almost keep my findings limited to this post.

  3. I found this one a bit of a slog.

  4. I love Millay's poetry, but may look for another biography.

    Here is a link to one of the poems I like. Also love Renascence which was a favorite of my mother's.