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Not at All What One Is Used To: The Life and Times of Isabella Gardner Hardcover – December 31, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: University of Missouri (December 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826218989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826218988
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

July 7, 2011, will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Isabella Gardner at the age of 64. Unlike Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, and Allen Ginsberg--all male stars of the American poetry firmament of the 1950s, and Plath, the tragic female among them--Gardner's reputation, Janssen suggests, suffers from not being taken seriously, perhaps not even by herself. Once her fourth marriage collapsed in 1966, the patrician Gardner began to decline, moving into New York's ultra-bohemian (and ultra-rundown) Chelsea Hotel. After her troubled son, Daniel, a prominent photographer and filmmaker in the downtown scene, died under mysterious circumstances, and her daughter Rose, whose drinking had gotten out of hand, admitted herself to an institution, Gardner drifted through a series of alcohol-fueled dead-end relationships in California until finally returning to the Chelsea Hotel to spend a few final years in relative peace. In telling Gardner's story, Janssen avoids the arcane, particularly when dealing with her rebellious years, when Gardner fought against her white-glove upbringing to pursue a career in the theater. But when she became involved with Poetry magazine, she realized her true calling. The association led to her first and best collection, Birthdays from the Ocean, and these narrative threads breathe vivid life into a highly accessible biography. Photos. (Dec.)
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Review

A chronicle of the 20th-century Brahmins, viewed through the eyes of an addictively interesting black sheep. It rivals Geoffrey Wolff's memorable BLACK SUN . . . as best-ever book about Bostonians Behaving Badly.

--Alex Beam, Boston Globe

A fascinating biography. . . . [H]er life, a largely grim drama . . . starred scores of characters -- patricians and poets, artists and activists, wannabes and wastrels, ad men and madmen.
--Pamela Miller Star Tribune

Janssen's sensitive biography should help restore Gardner to her rightful place in modern poetry. . . . [T]his exemplary biography provides fresh insight into recent American literary history. . . . Highly recommended --Carl Rollyson CHOICE

An engrossing window into the tumultuous life of an American poet. . . . [I]t will spark new and well-deserved interest in Gardner's . . . work. Autumn Arnold in Raffia: Magazine for Gender Studies

Marian Janssen has done an admirable job of compiling a life, but it is one that still raises many questions. 
Jacquelyn Pope Harvard Review Online


“A very well-written biography. A truly compelling story of a woman who both wants to live her own life and wants badly to please others, particularly men, particularly her husbands, and most particularly her fourth husband, Allen Tate—who betrays her in the end. Janssen’s portrait of Gardner is sympathetic, but it is not uncritical.”—Fred Hobson, author of Mencken: A Life



“This is a great biography that will give Isabella Gardner’s poetry the attention it has long deserved. Compellingly written, deeply researched, learned, lucid, funny, and wise, this book is more than a mesmerizing page-turner. It allows us to understand Gardner and her milieu with new specificity and insight. This is one of the very best biographies of a mid-twentieth-century poet yet written.”—Steven Gould Axelrod, author of Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words and coeditor of The New Anthology of American Poetry


More About the Author

Marian Janssen was born in the Netherlands and became hooked on British literature when she was an au-pair in London. Back in the Netherlands, American poetry and criticism came to fascinate her even more. Her THE KENYON REVIEW, 1939-1970: A CRITICAL HISTORY was nominated for prestigious awards and reviewed in numerous publications. She has just published NOT AT ALL WHAT ONE IS USED TO: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ISABELLA GARDNER. Columnist Alex Beam in the Boston Globe http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2010/12/21/the_other_isabella_gardner/?s_campaign=8315 thought it rivals Geoffrey Wolff's memorable BLACK SUN "as best-ever book about Bostonians Behaving Badly." Steven Gould Axelrod wrote: "Compellingly written, deeply researched, learned, lucid, funny, and wise, this book is more than a mesmerizing page-turner. It allows us to understand Gardner and her milieu with new specificity and insight. This is one of the very best biographies of a mid-twentieth century poet yet written." And Fred Hobson said: "A truly compelling story of a woman who both wants to live her own life and wants badly to please others, particulalrly men, particularly husbands, and most particularly her fourth husband, Allen Tate--who betrays her in the end. Janssen's portrait of Gardner is sympathetic, but it is not uncritical."

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James S. Eisenberg on October 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An unsung figure in the world of American literature, Isabella Gardner (great niece of the museum founder) created beautiful, intense poetry, as well as being an editor, and critic of major importance.
Using her Boston Brahman fortune to help many major and minor poets, she was generosity itself. (The size of Gardner's fortune is the only major inconsistency in Jenssen's reportage.At times she seems to accept Gardner's self assessment of not being that wealthy, and at other times hinting that her wealth was seemingly boundless.) She survived four really bad marriages, the murder of her son and the unrelated tragic attack that left her daughter deaf and insane. A major poetic talent, she also had a talent for making bad decisions.
I somehow expected that there would be an image of the poetry scene in the Fifties and Sixties as a genial and appealing Bohemian world. It is distressing to read about the Chauvinism, Racism, Homophobia, drug and alcohol abuse, backbiting and intellectual conceits of many of the people one meets in these pages. It is a real eye opener. It should be mentioned that several of the people in the book, seemed to be addicted to Psychoanalysis,including our heroine. It didn't seem to do any of them any good.
The book is well worth reading, but not at all what one expected !
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Judith Arns on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
From the first page on, I was drawn into Gardner's life, fascinated by the transition of this Bostonian upper class girl into one of America's greatest contemporary female poets.
Using wonderful quotations from thousands of letters and interviews, the biographer composes a coherent narration and brings Isabella Gardner to life and right into the heart of the reader.

The vivid, sometimes filmic descriptions of places and people that marked her time, have led me to Gardner's moving poetry.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ann M. Kerr on June 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I thought i was getting a biography of isabella Steward-Gardner, who founded the Boston art museum, but once i began the book and realized my mistake I couldn't put it down. She was an important poet in her time, had a fascinating life, and was well conected in the literary world. Now I'd like to read her poems.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Roos van Rooij on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Why read this book? Marian Janssen gives you a close look at Isabella's life and work, the two being quite inseparable. The tragic events in Isabella's life, the (sometimes wrong) choices that she makes, the husbands, the friends, the wealthy background, NOT TO FORGET the beautiful poems she wrote, they all turn reading this book into an overwhelming experience. Credits for this also go to Marian Janssen, because of the way the book is written. The research she did is unimaginably detailed; you really feel you get to know all these people, like she did. If you are interested in American poetry this is a must-read and even if you are not, please read it, because Isabella's life is so interesting!
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