Marguerite Young - What shall we do when, fleeing from illusion, we are confronted by illusion?

Marguerite Young, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, Dalkey Archive, 1993.

"This novel is one of the most ambitious and remarkable literary achievements of our time. It is a picaresque, psychological novel — a novel of the road, a journey or voyage of the human spirit in its search for reality in a world of illusion and nightmare. It is an epic of what might be called the Arabian Nights of American life. Marguerite Young's method is poetic, imagistic, incantatory; in prose of extraordinary richness she tests the nature of her characters—and the nature of reality.
Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is written with oceanic music moving at many levels of consciousness and perception; but the toughly fibred realistic fabric is always there, in the happenings of the narrative, the humor, the precise details, the definitions of the characters. Miss MacIntosh herself, who hails from What Cheer, Iowa, and seems downright and normal, with an incorruptible sense of humor and the desire to put an end to phantoms; Catherine Cartwheel, the opium lady, a recluse who is shut away in a great New England seaside house and entertains imaginary guests; Mr. Spitzer, the lawyer, musical composer and mystical space traveler, a gentle man, wholly unsure of himself and of reality; his twin brother Peron, the gay and raffish gambler and virtuoso in the world of sports; Cousin Hannah, the horsewoman, balloonist, mountain-climber and militant Boston feminist, known as Al Hamad through all the seraglios of the East; Titus Bonebreaker of Chicago, wild man of God dreaming of a heavenly crown; the very efficient Christian hangman, Mr. Weed of the Wabash River Valley; a featherweight champion who meets his equal in a graveyard—these are a few who live with phantasmagorical vividness in the pages of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling.
The novel touches on many aspects of life—drug addiction, woman's suffrage, murder, suicide, pregnancy both real and imaginary, schizophrenia, many strange loves, the psychology of gambling, perfectionism; but the profusion of this huge book serves always to intensify the force of the central question: "What shall we do when, fleeing from illusion, we are confronted by illusion?" What is real, what is dream? Is the calendar of the human heart the same as that kept by the earth? Is it possible that one may live a secondary life of which one does not know?
In every aspect, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling stands by itself—in the lyric beauty of its prose, its imaginative vitality and cumulative emotional power. It is the work of a writer of genius."

"In Miss Macintosh, My Darling, the first and only novel by Marguerite Young, a young woman embarks on a dreamlike voyage through time and memory in search of her darling childhood nursemaid, Miss Macintosh from What Cheer, Iowa, who has disappeared into the ocean, never to be seen again. Finding herself adrift on a sea of delusion and fantasy, the young woman fervently searches for reality only to discover herself drowning in illusion."

"Marguerite Young's first novel, famously in gestation for many years, proves to be more or less than a novel. It is an anatomy not so much of melancholy as of reality. Through a dozen characters, manifested in as many hundreds of pages, Miss Young explores with single-minded passion the residual questions in all fiction, including the validity of dreams, the deception of appearances, the confusion of identities, and the multiplicity of selves that cluster in each seemingly integral being...The effect of this style is of some vast, uninterrupted discourse, as if life were being patiently heaped and endorsed rather than hotheadedly seized and rendered up. It is an extraordinary cosmos, shorn of fixities and definites, subservient to a central theme, ultimately abstract in purport, ambitious beyond fulfillment." - Richard Ellmann

"Twenty years have gone by since the publication of Marguerite Young's Angel in the Forest: A Fairy Tale of Two Utopias. The author, already known for her poetry, revealed herself as a brilliant prose writer, a unique chronicler of her native Indiana. Now with Miss MacIntosh, My Darling she has given us her first novel: a masterful, exhilarating work of art, a saga of America, a classic... The themes explored in Angel in the Forest - time, life, and death dreamed or real - oar through the novel and burst into an exuberant display of stars and starfish, butterflies, lutes, frogs; lost suffragette skirts, roulette wheels; other marvels... Marguerite Young employs mythology not as a fashionable device to embroider her story, but as a searchlight, directed upon the darker reaches of our ancestral memory, our soul... It should be emphasized that Miss MacIntosh, My Darling could have been written only in America, by an American. It is a highly original creation. But it did not come out of a serile bell jar. Its roots are in the literary soil of America." - Marianne Hauser

"'Words are like leaves, and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense is rarely found'" wrote Pope protecting his statement with the qualifying rarely. Proust wrote a long book, War and Peace is a long book and no one should want them shortened. But the trend towards sheer weight in American novels is a curious phenomenon which may have reached its climax with Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, containing some 700,000 words on 1,198 closely printed pages. The mental tape-recording, the 'spontaneous flow' which so much fiction is now may be responsible, or is sheer size used to impress, to bulldoze people into admiration?... Compared with Miss Young's convoluted, sprawling, feet-off-the-ground novel Kerouac's is a simple, autobiographical piece about the jittery, neurotic, drug-taking, auto-racing, poetry-chanting, Zen-squatting crew who have appeared in The Subterraneans, On the Road, Big Sur, and form part of Kerouac's remembrances written 'on the run'... "What said the night watchman to the owl," Miss Young asks suddenly, "And what said the owl?" Yes, you need a strong nerve for this book, but there are rewarding pockets of wit and fantasy and one must, guardedly, admire the author's sheer stamina in producing this curiosity of literature." - Elizabeth Harvey

"A work of stunning magnitude and beauty... The book's mysterious readability is effected through enchantment and hypnosis. Its force is cumulative; its method is amassment, as in the great styles of Joyce or Hermann Broch or Melville or Faulkner... One of the most arresting literary achievements in our last 20 years.... It is a masterwork." - William Goyen

"An extraordinary book by a woman possessed of a breathtaking verbal virtuosity. She also has quality of heart... There are times when her pages surge and beat on the heart and imagination like great music; other times when it shimmers motionless like an ancient Hindu painting." - Lillian Smith

"Marguerite Young is unquestionably a genius." - Kurt Vonnegut

"This is a search for reality through a maze of illusions and fantasy and dreams, ultimately asserting in the words of Calderon: 'Life is a dream.'" - Anais Nin

"This encyclopedic novel addresses the question of illusion, as Young - whose epic vision and exquisite prose are truly awesome - dissects the essence of reality and ruminates on where it can be found." - L.A. Reader

"When Macon Leary of Anne Tyler’s Accidental Tourist wants to protect himself from the friendliness of other passengers on aeroplanes, he takes out a novel.
The name of his book was Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, and it was 1,198 pages long… It had the advantage of being plotless, as far as he could tell, but invariably interesting, so he could dip into it at random.
I spent a long time searching for Miss MacIntosh in secondhand book stores, never seriously expecting to find it. Had it been released in Australia? Not everything is, as I found when I tried to track down Greer Gilman’s Moonwise. The illustration at Dalkey Archive Press, the agent of Miss MacIntosh‘s latest republishing, showed an orange-brown cover with a knobbled texture: not an interesting thing to look at, but inside it was supposed to be either brilliant or horrible depending on the reader. Marguerite Young took 18 years to finish her book, and when it came out in 1965 one critic called it his most hated publication of the year.
“Anyone who has not heard of Miss Young, nor read her magnum opus, “Miss MacIntosh, My Darling,” need not feel ashamed,” stated the obituary in the New York Times when Young died in 1995 at the age of 87. “[E]ven Miss Young’s most ardent admirers… concede that the book, variously described as “a mammoth epic,” “a massive fable” and “a work of stunning magnitude and beauty”… is rather much to take in a single season. Too rich for a repast, it is better savored, they say, like a bedside dish of candy, one bite-sized bonbon at a time.”
Now, having found Miss MacIntosh, My Darling and read it, I believe that the bonbon approach is a good one, but it would still be an advantage to have gone through it normally the first time, in other words, in stretches. This is because the narrative thread often vanishes for pages at a time. If you read, say, a “bite-sized” five paragraphs today, put the book down for a day, read another “bite-sized” portion the next afternoon, then left it for another two days, you might forget the story. Once forgotten it would be hard to recover without major backtracking. The book is fat but Young’s sense of narrative is short, she writes small scenes and strings them on the long thread of those 1,198 pages. Miss MacIntosh is less a narrative than a compendium of accretions. Anyone who has read Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy might like to picture it as an Anatomy of Whimsy, with a similar feeling of half-autistic monomaniacal determination, but modern, American, dreamy, and fabulous, rather than English, scrambling, and scholarly.
It is not as plotless as Macon Leary thinks but the plot is the least important thing about it, being not much more than a coathanger for a reverie. The sentences are sometimes unusually long and the characters are eccentrics and grotesques. We spend most of our time inside the narrator’s head as she travels across the U.S. on a bus thinking about other people, primarily her mother, her mother’s friend Mr Spitzer, and Miss MacIntosh, a woman who took care of her when she was a girl. The mother lives in a dream, Miss MacIntosh lives in reality, and Mr Spitzer is neither one thing nor another. At the end of the book we move on to another significant character, Esther Longtree. What structure the book has is built around those four personalities. The narrator’s name is Vera Cartwheel, she grew up by the sea, and both of those details are appropriate in a book that rolls and surges along as this one does. Ideas appear, vanish, and recur, and recur. Repetition is part of Young’s technique. Opening the book at random and doing a skimming search through the five pages between 526 and 531, I come across 13 iterations of the word cloud.
'He had heard the cloud-burst… snowflake falling through a cloud… an alphorn blowing through clouds… fogs and waters and rolling clouds … Dog star in the rolling cloud… blowing his horn in the clouds… faded in distant thunder clouds… The cloud upon the face of beauty was beauty itself. So he would never lift the cloud… mountain tomb or cloud citadel… into waters and clouds… when the clouds creaked… find her way through the heavy winds and clouds…'
… and the sentence that laps over onto page 532 ends with “… drifting through clouds.” Around the clouds, clouds, clouds, there are moons, moons, moons and fog, fog, fog. Thinking of the way she puts her story together, I’m reminded of those spinning spirals you see on old TV shows when the villain is using an evil device to send the hero into a trance. First you come across the word cloud, you read it, then, a little while later, you come across it again, and your mind takes it in again. When you come across it the third time all these clouds begin to overlap and reverberate. The fourth time loops you backwards once again, only now things are getting complicated because you’ve got more clouds to deal with. In the end this is like watching helicopter blades rotate, blurring together, whumpf, whumpf whumpf, a compelling experience and a weird one. The narrator isn’t the only person remembering things, the reader is too. The prose tumbles along stream-of-consciously, but this is not the stream of consciousness that Woolf practices in Mrs Dalloway or Joyce in Ulysses. It’s as if Young is not content to pass on a train of fictional thought as it happens, she actually wants to merge it into the reader’s own, non-fictional, thoughts. This is a piece of experimental daring, evidence of a writer’s stubborn faith in her own eccentricity. In practice, however, it sometimes feels as if it’s been designed to drive the reader mad. More clouds? More swans? More stars? Toward the end I began to feel that I was reading whole paragraphs twice, or three times, pages apart.
At her sharpest the author uses her long sentences for comic effect. She has a tone of tongue-in-cheek high camp, the tone of a Djuna Barnes piling on the exaggerations to see if she can make us crack and laugh. Vera Cartwheel’s father is not merely poor, he is “the poorest man [his wife] knew,” and when he becomes rich “in a single night” he is “the richest man she knew.” Assembling a vast collection of horses, dogs, girlfriends, and boats, he decides that “his only pleasure was to walk in a high wind on a waxed rope between two peaks above the Alpine clouds.” That waxed is a lovely piece of precision, a comic mimicry of verisimilitude. Not any old rope. It’s waxed.
'Scaling the Jungfrau or Matterhorn, one of those perilous peaks, for [the mother] was always nebulous as to which, it making little difference to her, he had fallen head-first, disappearing under a bank of snow and granite and was never found, not even by the thrifty Swiss, but if he had been found, would have been still the uncorrupted dandy, preserved like herself in some fairy grotto of rock crystal chandeliers and musical stalactites, and had been wearing a white rose on his coat lapel when last seen, so should be easily recognized…'
The book is full of conceits like this: an absurdly rich man being recognized by the rose on his lapel after falling off a waxed rope into a fairy grotto, or unhappy Mr Spitzer walking along the beach through “fog thick as fleece” unintentionally summoning a flock of sheep with his alphorn.
'Mr Spitzer… had carried this alpenhorn… along the foggy beach… and he had blown a few wandering notes like some old ghost calling to his lost love as he had heard, above the ringing waves ringing like silver bells, the ringing, tolling of the silver sheep’s bell which had once rung to the lost sheep, hearing also… the bah bahing of waves breaking upon this shore of stone and fog thick as fleece streaked with the gold rays of the moonlight, waves coming to pasture like sheep with moony eyes… but then quite unexpectedly… a ram had stepped out of the fog, and other sheep followed Mr Spitzer.'
The sheep have been summoned not only by a character in the story but also by the action of language itself, one phrase feeding on another. First there’s the idea of fog, a beach, then waves on the beach, then waves ringing like bells, and aha, let them be sheep’s bells, and let there be some lost sheep, and let the fog be fleecy, like a sheep, and let the waves come to pasture like sheep, followed by—oh, why not—the actual sheep, no a ram, no a ram and sheep, all—doing what?—trailing after Mr Spitzer. This new idea of Mr Spitzer being followed prompts the writer to have him followed by other things as well, the whole passage climaxing in a remark about Mr Spitzer’s confused and trod-upon personality.
'And ever after that, he had been followed by men in grey cities, by lost men although he was lost, and none more lost than he, this old musician blowing his horn in the clouds.'
The whole thing piles up in a delirium of words until the book seems to be drowning in repetitious extravagances punctuated by those moments of comic precision, the “waxed rope.” I’ll probably never read it from cover to cover again, but the bonbon phase is delicious." - Deanne Sole

"The reception of Marguerite Young's enormous Miss MacIntosh, My Darling since its publication in 1965 has followed a pattern established by earlier American modernist novels of great scale and ambition: an interesting and mixed reception with meager sales, followed by long years of relative neglect (and often silence from the author) while the novel retains the ardor of a small but loyal audience who urge its virtues, decry its neglect, publish essays, and eventually see the book returned to print. William Gaddis's The Recognitions, Henry Roth's Call It Sleep, and (to a degree) Cynthia Ozick's Trust have experienced similar fortunes, but Miss MacIntosh, My Darling stands out: at three quarter of a million words, not only is it by far the longest, it is also the barest of incident, the most demanding of its readers' patience, and the slowest (to date) to win approval from critics or academia.
Withal, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling has had its partisans, along with several paperback incarnations over the past three decades, and has now found a patron in the Dalkey Archive Press, that indefatigable champion of avant garde literature. Readers who missed the last incarnation of Young's novel (a two-volume trade paperback from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich back in the late seventies) can now acquire the text in a handsome format (the pages photo-reproduced from the original Scribner's edition), which moreover allows one to follow the page citations in the essays being produced by the small but dedicated Marguerite Young industry. In publishing three books by or about Young this year (with a collection of her early poems soon to follow), the Dalkey Archive has radically enlarged the available material on Young, whose magnum opus has until now had to be approached solely on its own solitary terms, like a steep spur rising from the sea.
Despite the real interest of Young's 1944 Angel in the Forest (a study of the two utopian communities that successively settled New Harmony, Indiana in the early nineteenth century), and the three-volume biography of Eugene Debs, upon which Young has labored for most of the past thirty years and which will reportedly appear next year, Young remains very much a one-book author, and no one who hates Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (as Peter Prescott notably hated it in a prominent Newsweek review) should expect to find something more to his liking among Young's smaller works. Angel in the Forest may deserve a place among the important books on American social history, but the festschrift Marguerite Young, Our Darling and the occasional collection Inviting the Muses are at most minor satellites to Young's single and massive novel, whose readers have rarely had any but the strongest opinions.
Eighteen years in the writing, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is an intensely phantasmagorical work, dream-like, repetitive, resolute in declining to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Its very plot resists summary: Vera Cartwheel, a young or perhaps middle-aged woman, is riding a bus to Iowa in search for Miss MacIntosh, her beloved childhood nursemaid, who drowned herself when she was fourteen. Whether Vera doubts Miss MacIntosh's death (her body was never found) or is simply seeking to trace the dead woman's origins is never divulged: although virtually the entire novel takes place with Vera sitting on the near-empty bus, obsessively recalling Miss MacIntosh and her own childhood memories, we do not learn anything of her plans, nor what her adult life has been, nor what year (or decade) it is. All we have are her swirling memories, and these can be unreliable as well.
Vera's mother lives in a great mansion on the New England coast, where she dreams away the years in an opium haze, holding conversations with dead friends, historical figures, her chandelier, and her drug bottle. In addition to her mother and Miss MacIntosh, Vera's recollections grow steadily to encompass a large cast of grotesques: Mr. Spitzer, her mother's devoted but spurned lawyer, whose dead brother seems occasionally to exchange identities with him; Cousin Hannah, a world-traveller, balloonist, mountain-climber and suffragist who claimed never to have wanted a husband but proved, after her death, to have left behind forty locked trunks, each containing a different wedding gown; a graveyard seducer with a noose's scars on his neck; Esther Longtree, a cross-eyed waitress who murdered her baby and is now perpetually pregnant; and lots more.
This sounds like a narrative cornucopia, but the reader who imagines that these colorful figures will be brought to life in the manner, say, of those in Allan Gurganus's Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All will be in for a shock. Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is virtually bereft of dialogue and outward incident: the long paragraphs recount everything at the same shimmery remove, like objects glimpsed underwater, dissolving any narrative elements into a vast sea of prose.
"Mr. Spitzer, still in a mournful mood, for someone was always dying, had carried this alpenhorn embossed with mother-of-pearl, heavy as a tree branch, along the foggy beach when Cousin Hannah was no more, when doubtless she had climbed her last mountain, the hailstones like buring cinders dashing in her face, and he had blown a few wandering notes like some old ghost calling to his lost love as he had heard, above the ringing waves ringing like silver bells, the ringing, tolling of the silver sheep's bell which had once rung to the lost sheep, hearing also, as he did so, the cries of the grey loons in the grey fog and the bah, bahing of waves breaking upon this shore of stone and fog as thick as fleece streaking with the golden rays of the moonlight, waves coming to pasture like sheep with moony eyes beamed upon the waves of darkness. . . ." (529)
Even a few hundred thousand words of this goes a long way, and I found the novel almost unbearable when I recently tried to read it straight through. Setting oneself a pace (even a leisurely one, such as most of the summer) proved intolerable - the book's remorselessness and utter lack of counterpoint drive one to frenzies of impatience - while twenty years earlier, I had no difficulty dipping into it at random and reading so long as my interest held. (Peter Prescott, who justified his trashing of the book by proclaiming that he had labored over it for two days, here earns a modicum of sympathy: few books are less suited to a reviewer's schedule.) Although Young's advocates insist on the book's "fugal" nature and careful construction, Anne Tyler probably speaks for more readers when she recalls the pleasure of browsing its pages at odd moments, a practice she gives the protagonist of The Accidental Tourist.
Although the structure of the novel may be eccentric - Vera's bus ride lasts until page 948, and her sojourn in a (characteristically unnamed) Indiana town is almost devoid of incident until the book's closing pages--the novel is plainly something other than the inchoate mass that an unsympathetic perusal suggests. Early chapters were published in anthologies and magazines throughout the 1950s, and to compare them with the finished text is to see how radically Young reworked her prose during the long years of composition: a 1954 fragment from New World Writing, which seemed very much of a piece, ends up scattered and recast through various early chapters, with few sentences persisting unaltered. Whatever logic governs the novel's structure, it is the product of long and careful labor.
One problem facing readers of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is they are trained to read prose differently than Marguerite Young cares to be read. We prefer our symbols anchored by literal referents: the sea in Joyce may be the eternal thalassa, but it is also the Irish Sea, whose particulars Joyce knows well. For Young, however, the sea is everything: birth, death, eternity, mutability - she uses the word "oceanic" constantly, and "foam" and "tides" almost as much--and while we know that the sea here is the Atlantic Ocean, for the Cartwheels' seaside mansion is in New England, we don't know where in New England, and what few details Young lets drop convinces me that she doesn't, either. From Joyce to Nabokov (both in his novels and his essays) and Gaddis, we have learned to look for particularity in the elements of narrative; and the free-floating symbology of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling's strikes modern readers as overblown, just as the melodramatic acting style of the nineteenth century grates on twentieth-century audiences, who cannot but take their own era's style as a benchmark. It may take another generation before readers can look at this novel without finding its style of artifice a bewildering irritant.
Whether most readers will try, of course, is another question. Whatever its virtues, Young's massive novel is open to the objection that Leavis made about Clarissa: that the demand it makes on the reader's time is both proportionally and absolutely so immense as to be prohibitive. If one does not consider Ivy Compton-Burnett a major novelist one may concede that she is at least a very good one; but Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is either a great novel or it is nothing.
The contributors to Marguerite Young, Our Darling are in no doubt on this question. Expanded from a 1989 special issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, this volume is the work of true believers. In addition to a section on "Tributes and Recollections" and another of "Essays," the book offers a gratifyingly full chronology, which sometimes tells us more than its compilers may have intended. Most of the writers who have lauded Marguerite Young over the decades--William Goyen, Mark Van Doren, Anais Nin, Kurt Vonnegut, their words of praise quoted on each Dalkey dustjacket--prove to have been old friends, while many of the younger writers who contribute full essays turn out, in the tributes they have also written, to be longtime protegees. It would be unfair but unsurprising for the cynical reader to exclaim, "This isn't an oeuvre, it's a cult."
Although these pieces show Marguerite Young scholarship to be still in its early stages--its contributors defensive about their subject's exclusion from "the canon," and readier to advocate than to discuss--anyone who has read Miss MacIntosh, My Darling will enjoy the company. Miriam Fuchs argues interestingly for Young's use of "liquescence as form," while Susan Strehle proposes that the novel evokes a "women's time" in which teleology, the yoking of cause to effect, and linear progression are supplanted by "the time of female subjectivity." And Marguerite Young herself--still living in Greenwich village, where she moved from the Midwest in 1945--is evoked with clarity and affection by a surprising number of writers, including Stanley Kunitz, Anne Tyler, and Amy Clampitt.
Other critical issues remain unexamined. Many of the novel's mythopoeic elements--Mr. Spritzer's shared identity with a radically dissimilar brother, as well as Vera's mother's dreamflights through history and the eternally pregnant Esther Longtree--suggest affinities with Finnegans Wake that I would have happily seen explored. Young, however, firmly denies any influence by Joyce; and her respectful scholars leave the point alone. It may be that Marguerite Young criticism will only come into its own once the imposing figure of Ms. Young is no longer in evidence." - Gregory Feeley

Marguerite Young, Angel in the Forest: A Fair Tale of Two Utopias, Dalkey Archive, 1994.

"This is the first paperback edition of Marguerite Young's fascinating chronicle of two attempts to establish utopian communities in nineteenth-century America. Angel in the Forest recounts the strange tale of New Harmony, Indiana. The original community was founded in 1814 by the German mystic Father George Rapp, who, with a group of English immigrants, implemented his own theories for a perfect community, this time based on rationalism. Both experiments failed, but Young finds in both a distinctively American yearning for utopia, which continues to characterize the American spirit to this day: a tradition of faith and folly can be traced from Owen's New Moral World to George Bush's New World Order. Written with the same elegance, wit, and lyric beauty that distinguishes her fiction, Angel in the Forest was widely praised upon its first publication in 1945. This edition includes Mark Van Doren's introduction to Scribner's 1966 reprint."

"With the extravagance of a poet rather than the pedantry of a historian, Young's long out of print study conjures up the spirit of two failed 19th-century attempts to establish utopias in New Harmony, Ind. The first was the celibate, spiritual society of Father Rapp (1814-1825), the other the rational, socialist order of Robert Owen (1825-1827). Father Rapp presided over a strict, regimented community (dictated by the visitation of an angel), guiding his people to prosperity through the sale of everything from hogs and shoes to gunpowder and whiskey, but creating a repressive regime that required slavish obedience - sexual abstinence was enforced, even when it meant emasculating his own son when that son fathered a child. Owen, by contrast, preached a doctrine of rationality, equality, happiness and social sympathy, that people are not innately sinful but molded by institutions. To put his ideals into practice, he transformed the Scottish mill town of New Lanark according to humanitarian principles, and then purchased New Harmony from Rapp to create a model of socialist perfection - a vain but splendid dream. Young relates all this in a lavish style that evokes the magic and pathos of the experiments. She is a superb storyteller whose allusions, images and digressions are even more telling than the story told." - Publishers Weekly

"Twenty years ago the 'intellectual eccentric' still engaged the sympathetic attention of our writers and poets. They themselves were a bit wild, dreamers, idealists, creators of fantasies spun not out of drugs and drink, but out of their dreams of society. Robert Owen, 'the father of modern socialism,' who envisioned a science of society, was then magic enough for the writer of fable. Yet in 1945 when Marguerite Young originally published her superb historical epic on two utopias, she anticipated a new American sensibility, one that was beginning to be wary, to be suspect of the dreamer. Or is it that in reading the reissue of Angel in the Forest in 1966 the reader confronts the text with an altered sensibility, one that is uncomfortable unless it encompasses irony?" - Harriet Zinnes

"This is a true book, conceived as great poems are conceived, and composed with the same exciting, inexhaustible energy. In the end it is history, too—more than exists elsewhere. But all the while it has the supreme advantage of feeling and sounding true, both about its subject and about human life wherever it is lived. A sober history of New Harmony would not be a true history, for New Harmony was not a sober thing. It was more or less a mad thing. Miss Young, though with method, is appropriately and beautifully mad." - New York Herald Tribune

"Marguerite Young's first prose volume is repetitive, obscure, diffuse, overwritten, tiresomely obsessed with copulation and with analogical images of flowers, insects, and birds, scornful at many points of coherence, continuity, and form; yet it is a book of astonishing subtlet and brilliance, a genuine work of art, and together with her two previous volumes of verse it should establish its author as one of the truly notable writers of her generation. Its faults are in no sense deficiencies. Miss Young, on the contrary, is prodigal of her talent, and her book suffers from her excessive absorption in its theme." - Martin Lebowitz

"This is a book whose riches cannot be skimmed lightly. If, however, one savors it slowly and absorbs its meaning, its pages offer rewards both as literature and as history, both in understanding the individual and as a testament to humanity." - Boston Globe

"In an age that is being taught to value the most 'streamlined,' I am obstinately becoming more and more convinced that the books best worth our attention are not the 'sweeping' and the 'powerful,' but those over which we may ponder. And I salute Angel in the Forest for being a work of this meditative sort." - Kenyon Review

"If there is in Marguerite Young's book a 'too-much,' as the more literal minded may argue, it is the 'too-much' of the Renaissance imagination which delighted in excesses, the 'too-much' of a modernist Rabelais, a John Webster. The writing, from first to last, shows a dynamic force, stronger than the neat rules of literary perfection." - Sewanee Review
Marguerite Young, Inviting the Muses: Stories, Essays, Reviews, Dalkey Archive, 1994.

"Marguerite Young is best known as the author of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, a 1200-page novel published to great critical acclaim in 1965 and since then considered a landmark of contemporary American literature. But she is also an enchanting essayist and a perceptive critic, and Inviting the Muses gathers all her shorter prose writings, most of which are unknown even to her admirers.
Three short stories (one previously unpublished) are followed by essays and reviews on a wide variety of topics: the Midwest in which Young grew up, writers she admires, the act of writing itself, dolls, horses, deaf-mutes, Mormons (Young is a descendant of Brigham Young), and always the primacy of the imagination in all human endeavors.
Young celebrates "complex life and complex letters" (the title of one of her essays), avoiding the commonplace to seek out the mysterious unities that bind disparate activities. Her style mixes elegance with whimsy, wisdom with wit, and her attitude alternates between wonder for life in all its bizarre variety and impatience with those blind to that variety. Inviting the Muses reconfirms Young's eminence as a grande dame of American letters."

"Devotees of Young will welcome this collection of her early writings. Included are three short stories (one not published before); 15 essays; 23 book reviews; and character sketches on Johnny Gruelle, who created Raggedy Ann, and on poet Marianne Moore. Young's passion for literature is reflected in her piece 'On Teaching,' as well as in her book reviews. She expresses respect for authors who use symbolism and mysticism in their work, such as Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms and Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series. She is vehement in her criticism of Jean-Paul Sartre, denouncing his theories on the meaningless of life." - Publishers Weekly

"Young is best known for her novel Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. This collection contains three short stories, 15 essays, and 23 reviews by Young, who has long been at work on a biography of Eugene Debs. One of the stories and three of the essays have never been published before. The short stories provide an interesting glimpse into the development of Young's fiction. The essays cover a variety of topics, including the Indiana of her youth, the creator of the Raggedy Ann doll, favorite writers, and imagination. Her reviews are of novels by famous writers such as Henry Miller and Anais Nin as well as poets such as Rosalie Dunlap Hickler. Recommended for academic libraries with graduate programs in literature." - Cheryl L. Conway
Marguerite Young, Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs, Knopf, 1999.

"Marguerite Young, author of that immense dreamscape of a novel, Miss Macintosh, My Darling (1965), worked on Harp Song for a Radical for nearly thirty years, leaving it unfinished at the time of her death in 1995. The book purports to be a biography of the great American Socialist leader Eugene Debs (1855-1926). But in fact Harp Song for a Radical is like no other work of history or biography ever written. Though it does recount certain episodes from Debs' early life, its delirious digressions range freely across the entire length and breadth of nineteenth-century America and Europe. Young touches on matters as diverse as the great American railway strike of 1877, the poetic careers of Heinrich Heine and of James Whitcomb Riley, Joseph Smith's discovery of the Book of Mormon, and the workings of the Russian secret police under Czar Nicholas I. What unifies the book is two things. First, there is Young's grand epic vision of the utopian quest for justice, and class struggle between workers and capitalists, as the animating leitmotif of the entire nineteenth century. Second, there is Young's prodigious prose style. Her lush, page-long sentences, filled with expansive pleonasms, gorgeous metaphors, and mind-boggling associative leaps, and that sometimes ride roughshod over the rules of syntax, weave a dense, miraculous tapestry that time and again leaves me breathless. Harp Song for a Radical is an excessive book in every imaginable sense. It is a perfect antidote for our current age of diminished political and poetical expectations." - Steven Shaviro

"Don't pick up this fascinating, deeply eccentric book expecting to find a conventional biography of Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926). The fiery American labor leader who founded the Socialist Party of America is not so much the subject as the central figure in a group portrait of utopian dreamers--including Karl Marx, Brigham Young, abolitionist Wendell Phillips, poet James Whitcomb Riley, and detective-agency founder Allan Pinkerton--from the time of the French Revolution through the dawn of the 20th century. Author Marguerite Young is a legendary Greenwich Village bohemian who died in 1995. She devoted the last 25 years of her life to this volume, which was intended as a recapitulation of the issues that had engaged Debs - justice for workers, peace for everyone, racial equality--and continued to galvanize America in the 1960s and beyond. Young doesn't provide a lot of straight factual information about Debs's life, but takes instead a snapshot of his soul as it was formed by reading and experience. The narrative closes (sort of) with the national railroad strike of 1877, a bitter defeat for labor that turned railroad worker and union activist Debs toward greater radicalism. Though not a work for the traditionally minded, Young's genre-bending book will thrill students of American social and socialist history." - Wendy Smith

"Edited by Charles Ruas and published posthumously (Young died in 1995), this biography of the celebrated labor leader Debs (1855-1926) is a prodigious effortAbut hardly a traditional biography. It's much more concerned with the times than with the life of Debs. Thus, Debs's historical achievementsAleading railway strikes, establishing the Socialist Party, running for president between 1900 and 1912, getting imprisoned for opposing U.S. entry into WWIAare virtually absent from the book. Instead, Young (author of the novel Miss Macintosh, My Darling) painstakingly constructs a vast tapestry that periodically invokes Debs (notably his parentage, Midwestern youth and editorship of the Locomotive Firemen's Magazine) while dwellingAin exuberant prose so purple it often clots the narrative flowAon elements of his era. For the first third of the book, the most prominent character is the obscure German utopian Wilhelm Weitling; Young also leads readers on excursions with Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx and the Mormons. A more familiar cast animates the rest of the book, which features long passages on Susan B. Anthony, Mary Todd Lincoln and anti-labor private detective Allan Pinkerton. Some shorter set piecesAe.g., on the physician who developed the Gatling gun or the cultural assumptions behind the McGuffey readerAdistill Young's epic erudition in more manageable form. Written with a sense of rhapsodic mission, these teeming pages offer many informative passages, moments of poetic juxtaposition and unrestrained bursts of language, but neither a disciplined portrait of Debs nor insightful historical synthesis is among its accomplishments." - Publishers Weekly

"Young's style is nonlinear, subjective, and psychological, and as a biographer I found myself longing for a more traditional narrative. But that was not the author's purpose. Instead, drawing on her skills as a poet and novelist, Young wanted her readers to enter into Debs's head and share his utopian dream.
Young's words are hurled at the page Jackson Pollock-style, evoking images of late-19th-century America. Debs appears all over this stunning canvas--but so, too, do mini-portraits of Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, Brigham Young, and a host of other seekers of utopia. It is a veritable collage of tumbling images, rich but chaotic and often unfathomable.
Young's epic Harp Song celebrates the life of an American prophet. She reminds us that, however quixotic his battles against the capitalist robber barons of the early industrial age, Debs's transcendental, Emersonian populist decency lives on, buried deep in the American psyche. If Marguerite Young were still among us, sitting in her long crimson dress with its gold-embroidered vest at a Bleecker Street cafe, smoking her Lucky Strikes, she would optimistically insist that the coming millennium will bring a better world. Perhaps." - Kai Bird

"It is difficult to decide who is the more remarkable character in this new book: Eugene V. Debs--founder of the Socialist Party in America, five-time presidential candidate, and a legendary orator - or his biogrpaher Marguerite Young, author of the legendary novel Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, a first-rate historian of 19th-century America, and a prose stylist of the highest order. This book is a match made in heave: the story of an extraordinary man told by an extraordinary woman.
Young's narrative method is episodic and anecdotal, and her style nothing less than epic. This is not a conventional biography but a "harp song," an epic ideally chanted with harp accompaniment (as were the Iliad and Beowulf). young saw the quest for utopia as a grand tale, like the wanderings of Ulysses, and used a magniloquent prose style to give her theme epic grandeur. Her specialty was what she called the "dragnet" sentence: a long, paratactic sentence that would cast its net into a sea of facts and fancies, ideas and characters, and drag them into unexpected relationships. (There's one in Miss MacIntosh that's two pages long.)...
My one complaint about this fabulous book is its length: no, not the usual one that it's too long, but that it's not long enough. Five years ago both Young and editor Charles Ruas described Harp Song as a three-volume work of 800 pages each, yet what we have here is a single volume of 600 pages, without an editorial word about the second two volumes. In a cursory discussion of the surviving manuscript (in an otherwise useful introduction) Ruas says Young didn't quite finish the book, but he doesn't point out the present book contains only about half of what Young did finish..." - Stephen Moore
Who is Marguerite Young?

The Paris Review Interview

A Conversation with Marguerite Young By Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs

Marguerite Young: "Complex Life and Complex Letters"


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