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Posts Tagged ‘Isabel Bolton’

Here’s a post from Blogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe on Isabel Bolton, who has been compared by critics to Virginia Woolf. In this post, Alice links us to an essay on the mid-20th-century author that she published in Bloom and The Millions.

Alice Lowe -- still writing

My discovery of the obscure mid-20th-century novelist Isabel Bolton led to extensive research and an exploratory essay. I wasn’t surprised when early in my search I discovered critics’ comparisons of Bolton to Virginia Woolf, and when I read the first of Bolton’s modernist novels I could indeed see similarities in style and theme.

“In Search of Isabel Bolton” was jointly published this month by Bloom (linked here), one of my favorite sites for obvious reasons: a focus on late bloomers, qualified by the question “‘Late’ according to whom?”, and in the esteemed online magazine The Millions(linked here).

This project, on the heels of an earlier piece about Lillie Coit, is leading me into new territory in my writing, more research-based essays. I can hardly wait to see what happens next!

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On a long travel day home from the Woolf conference in Pennsylvania and a side-trip to Maine, I was fortunate to be able to passgornick the time with Vivian Gornick’s new memoir, The Odd Woman and the City, a gift from my friend in Maine.

I was taken by surprise when, about halfway through the book, Gornick diverts from her mostly personal musing with a lengthy passage that starts: “She was born Mary Britton Miller in New London, Connecticut, in 1883….” She goes on to state that Mary Miller lived in New York and wrote stories and poetry that went unnoticed. Then in 1946, at the age of 63, she published a novel, Do I Wake or Sleep, under the pen name Isabel Bolton. It was followed in 1949 and 1952 by The Christmas Tree and Many Mansions.

Her work was lauded by Diana Trilling in The Nation and Edmund Wilson in The New Yorker, who likened her modernist prose to Virginia Woolf’s. She nevertheless slipped into obscurity until the nineties, when the three novels were re-published as a trilogy, New York Mosaic. Yet she remains unknown today. She published two volumes of poetry, a memoir, and another novel before she died in 1975.

Gornick focuses on her own theme, the self and the city. In Do I Wake or Sleep, Millicent in New York — much like Clarissa Dalloway in London — observes: “What a strange, what a fantastic city … there was something here that one experienced nowhere else on earth.”

I was fascinated even before I learned about the comparison to Woolf. I found New York Mosaic at the public library and launched into it. Do I Wake or Sleep is Millicent’s interior voice over a 24-hour period — sound familiar?  The prose is stunning. Here’s a sentence from the first page:

There was, she thought, a magic, an enchantment — these myriad rainbow lights, now soft and low, now deeper, stronger — all the stops and chords and colors played like organ voluntaries, over the moon, the clouds, the grass.

I’m still reading, completely hooked. I’ve ordered the trilogy — I have to have it, a library copy just won’t do — along with her memoir. I’m off and running on what looks to be a fairly extensive research project and have had interest expressed in a profile I plan to write. Too bad I didn’t find her before the conference on Woolf’s Female Contemporaries!

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