The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore, Author, Celeste Goodridge, Editor, Cristanne Miller, Editor Alfred A. Knopf $35 (608p) ISBN 978-0-679-43909-7
Moore (1887-1972) shepherded American modernism into the mainstream via her poetry, her editorship of the Dial, her essays and reviews and her encouragement of young poets, most notably Elizabeth Bishop. Moore's 30,000 or so extant letters (her output could reach 50 a day) reflect her captivation, as communicated to Wallace Stevens, with ""the enchantment of accuracy, which seems more imperative than the personal."" Hers was a cultivated yet unpretentious bearing that allowed her to express herself clearly on everything from psychoanalysis to Ezra Pound's conduct during WWII, and to wryly register the seeming decline of the language, as when offering criticism to a young Allen Ginsberg. Such decorum, however, did not always allow for personal disclosures. Other than revealing a ""crush"" on the daughter of William James when at Bryn Mawr, the letters, even those to the married British noblewoman Bryher (Winifred Ellerman) and her lover Hilda Doolittle (aka H.D.) shed little light on Moore's sexuality. She was nevertheless not shy about displaying whimsy and affection, as when the new book of a friend arrived: ""Dear Mr. Cummings--blasphemous, inexorable, disrespectful, sinful author though you are--you received a cordial welcome at my door today."" Her mother (who in family parlance was called Fawn, Mole, Mouse or Bunny) was a profound influence on her sensibilities, often editing over Moore`s shoulder, especially in the many letters to brother John Warner (Fish, Badger, Biter, Bible), a Navy chaplain. Mother and daughter lived together in Moore's birthplace of Carlisle, Penn., and later in Manhattan and Brooklyn until the older woman's death in 1947. Moore never met her father, who was institutionalized before she was born. After winning numerous prizes in the 1940s, she assumed the role of prominent public poet she would maintain until the late 1960s, as Costello, a Boston University English professor, observes here. Moore's letters show the gradual development of an authoritative woman of letters, who fiercely loved and protected the American language. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-0-14-118120-2
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