Fans of Zelda, Nancy Milford's groundbreaking (and bestselling) biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald's tortured wife and muse, have been waiting impatiently since 1970 for Milford's promised follow-up about poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). It's finally here, and they will not be disappointed. Milford's vivid narrative limns an electric personality with psychological acuity while capturing the freewheeling atmosphere of America in the turbulent years following World War I. After "Renascence" was published (when she was only 20) and she moved to Greenwich Village, Millay was the queen of bohemia, taking lovers with zest and voicing the reckless gaiety of a generation in her famous lyric, "My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends-- / It gives a lovely light." With her flame-red hair, milk-white skin, and a voice that thrilled audiences (making her poetry readings a welcome source of income), Millay was the archetypal "new woman": powerful, passionate, and not to be ignored. But Milford makes it clear that her first loyalty was to her mother and sisters, and her deepest commitment to her writing. This juicy chronicle has famous names aplenty--critic Edmund Wilson and Masses editor Floyd Dell were among the men devastated by her refusal to be faithful--and lots of dissipation: Millay drank heavily and became addicted to morphine. It also takes a perceptive look at how an artist draws material from her life and at the strategies she uses to protect the wellsprings of creativity. Brief passages interspersed throughout delineating Milford's interactions with Norma Millay, the poet's younger sister and literary executor, might have been self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing; instead they offer intriguing snapshots of the complex process by which biography is made. The resulting book is a tour de force, and wildly entertaining as well. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Milford hit the New York Times bestseller list 30 years ago with her acclaimed biography of Zelda Fitzgerald; she now seems poised to do it again with this outstanding biography of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Like Fitzgerald, Millay (1892-1950) was a Jazz Age phenomenon, causing a sensation wherever she went; lines from her brief poem, "First Fig" ("I burn my candle at both ends/ It will not last the night... ") would become the rallying cry of a generation. She was notorious for her sexual unconventionality and (as Edmund Wilson put it) "her intoxicating effect on people... of all ages and both sexes." How a lyric poet could have achieved such celebrity is the conundrum at the heart of Savage Beauty. Millay, as Milford depicts her, was a troubled genius who used her prodigious gift to propel herself out of rural poverty and into the center of her age. She carefully cultivated the reporters and patrons who took the "fragile girl-child" under their wing. But her delicate image masked a force of nature whose incendiary wit and insatiable ambition took the public by storm. Milford deftly links the lyric intensity of Millay's work with her ravenous appetite for life. Whether tracing her ghoulishly close relationship to her mother and sisters, her years at the center of cosmopolitan life or her morphine addiction and untimely death, this account offers its readers a haunting drama of artistic fame. A true paradigm of literary biography, this finely crafted book is not to be missed. (Sept. 11) Forecast: Zelda, a finalist for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, sold 1.4 million copies. In addition to a nine-city author tour and first serial publication in Vanity Fair, Mitford will be interviewed in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar. Expect lots of excellent reviews and return trips to the printer once the 75,000 initial run sells out. Along with this bio, Modern Library will issue a new edition of Millay's poetry, edited by
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