Alyse Gregory, Scofield Thayer, and the Dial

Article excerpt

From its very beginnings, women played a significant role in the editing of the Dial magazine, originally the organ of the New England Transcendentalists. Margaret Fuller's role as editor for the first two years, from 1840 to 1842, has now been recognized, and Marianne Moore is celebrated as editor for the last four years of a later series, published by Scofield Thayer from 1919 to 1929. But another woman, Alyse Gregory (1884-1968), who was an invaluable consultant to Thayer during the Dial's early New York modernist phase and managing editor in 1924 and 1925, remains an obscure figure. (1)

Obscurity is the fate that Alyse Gregory would probably have chosen for herself; however rebellious in her youth, she never felt confident of her talents, and grew more and more reticent with the years. Her orthodox literary tastes, which she imposed on the Dial, contrast with her bold novels, acute psychological studies of restive young women struggling against the fetters of conventionally acceptable behavior. Gregory joined the Dial at a critical moment, bringing the order and continuity that her friend, Marianne Moore, would later build on. Although Moore worked on the Dial longer than Gregory and was freer of Scofield Thayer's guiding hand, she continued the editorial and artistic policies that Gregory had established.

Scofield Thayer (1889-1982), a stockholder in the Dial since 1918, bought the magazine out in November 1919. On 22 October 1922 he made the following proposition in a letter to his close friend Alyse Gregory:

   [A]llow me to run through once more the terms in accordance 
   with which Mr. Watson and I would like to thrust upon you the 
   managing editorship. Salary indefinite probably 75 weekly.... 
   You would have in fact almost complete control of the paper 
   merely acknowledging Mr. Watson as president and myself as 
   editor before the public. 

This curious offer was further qualified in following sentences with strictures such as: "You would also I trust take our advice when we on our own hook might suggest some writer or article.... Also when Mr. Watson or I travel abroad you could give to him or to me as much authority as you saw fit." Then Thayer high-handedly suggests that Gregory limit the number of articles to be published by specific contributors who do not meet with his full approval. "But in case you should [not do as I want] I give you now the tip that you had better watch my fingers should they hover in the neighbourhood of your teacup" was an avuncular indication of who would be in charge. Nonetheless, when Thayer resigned in June 1925, he insisted in his "Announcement" (533) that the decisions concerning the contents of the magazine had been colored by the personalities of his staff, and that Alyse Gregory's contribution had been vital.

Gregory had been refusing Thayer's job offers for well over a year already, insisting on her lack of skill and knowledge, but also, knowing her friend's high-handed ways, she preferred to heed her own need for independence. She would continue to balk at the honor he wished to bestow on her for another year. When, finally, she did give in to his pleas and took on the managing editorship of the Dial at the end of 1923, it was only for a year and a half. Gregory had known Thayer for some years before she agreed to work on his magazine and had found his company stimulating. She probably knew, however, that he planned to spend most of his time in Vienna and that his persecution mania--which Sigmund Freud had declared incurable--would make working with him difficult. She also knew that his policy for the Dial was set--it was to be a showcase for his varied aesthetic preferences--and that he would never relinquish the reins.

After the death of Randolph Bourne, the essayist and literary critic, Thayer had decided to abandon the model of the short-lived periodical Seven Arts, which he had initially hoped to emulate. …