Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Marguerite Young

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Marguerite Young

Article excerpt

... I am the delicate spirit who on the air does walk Woven of sinew and heart from sorrowful talk, A hesitant answer of what the heart believes,

And even in his answer have I escaped, I am the insubstantial heart beat which goes From him, in whom are all the leaves of darkness; Who grows more silent than the thing he shaped.

--From "Ventriloquist: The Coffee Hour" (1940)

Marguerite Vivian Young (1908-1995), who began her writing career as a poet, became the author of two volumes of poetry, an epic poetic prose novel, and two poetic prose histories. Young was born in Indianapolis on 26 August 1908 to Chester Ellis and Fay Young (nee Knight). After her parents divorced, Marguerite at age three and her younger sister were raised by their maternal grandmother, Marguerite Herron Knight. Both of her parents remarried, and Marguerite maintained contact with her extended families throughout her life through letter-writing and visits. As she grew older, her relatives gradually removed themselves from her life, which had become defined by the literary and artistic community of Greenwich Village. A Midwesterner who could not live in the Midwest, Young had left her doctoral studies in Philosophy and English at the University of Iowa and moved to Greenwich Village after her first manuscripts were accepted for publication in 1943. Remaining true to her Midwest origins, she returned to Indianapolis in 1993 to live at the home of her niece, Daphne (Thomas) Nowling, where she died on 17 November 1995. Her posthumous work, Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs, published in 1999 by Alfred A. Knopf, establishes Young's reputation as a Hoosier writer.

In interviews later in life Young always mentioned her grandmother as the foremost influence in her youth, a type of "female William Blake [who] was convinced I would write from the age of three" (Byatt, "Women Writers" 71). As a young child she took seriously her vocation to be a writer and was strongly encouraged by her grandmother: "She wanted me to be a writer. From the earliest infancy I memorized a verse or two of the Bible every day, the King James version, which she thought was important for a sense of imagery and music.... [S]he praised my writing, and knew from the earliest time when I began to pick up a pencil that I would be a writer. She said I would be either a writer, or the first woman president of the United States ..." (Ruas 95-96). In addition to reading the English classics, Dickens, George Eliot, and Thackeray, young Marguerite developed an early fluency in French, and before going to college, she had already read works by Anatole France, Balzac, Racine, and Voltaire (Duncan 8). When asked by an interviewer how the divorce of her parents affected her as a child, she reflected, "That fact is important. It makes a child introspective to lose a parent; it is something which has happened to many writers. It also meant that I was always a liberated woman, because I never had a mother to overthrow or a father to dominate me" (Byatt, "Women Writers" 71).

She attended Indiana University, Bloomington, and Butler University, Indianapolis, where she majored in English and French and minored in criminology. She was on the editorial staff of Butler's poetry journal, The Cocoon, as well as the university's literary magazine, the Tower Alice Bidwell Wesenberg, her poetry teacher at Butler and editor of the poetry journal, became a lifelong friend and correspondent. Young dedicated her first book of poetry, Prismatic Ground, to Wesenberg. After obtaining her B.A. at Butler in 1930, at the age of twenty-two she published her first poems in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, vol. 36. Harriet Monroe, founder and editor of the journal, also became a friend and mentor of Marguerite's. Monroe's Andes mountain expeditions became a topos for the mountain-climbing, suffragette cousin, Hannah Freemount-Snowden, in Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. …

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