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Blood Too Bright: Floyd Dell Remembers Edna St. Vincent Millay Paperback – March 1, 2017
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"Artfully brought to vivid life are the lives and loves of two extravagantly romantic rebels who found themselves and each other at the heart of America's truest bohemia, the Greenwich Village of the early 20th century."
- Douglas Clayton Floyd Dell: The Life and Times of an American Rebel
"Floyd Dell's granddaughter has unearthed a trove of his private letters. The result, collected here, is the first in-depth entrée into Floyd Dell's brilliant mind as it tries to grasp that of Edna Millay, his enigmatic and still-elusive lover."
- Barbara Hurd Listening to the Savage: River Notes and Half-Heard Melodies
"In memoir, letters and prose, Millay and her Village world come alive. Floyd Dell deepens our understanding of her dedication to poetry, commitment to the radical causes of feminism and pacifism, and love affairs with women and men."
- Dana Greene Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life
"[Dell] . . . illuminates not only his astute powers of observation . . . but also Edna St. Vincent Millay's self-defined conflict between romantic love vs. art, heart vs. mind, that she tackled in both her poetry and prose."
- Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Jerri Dell's compelling preface, interlaced with memories of her grandfather, the fiery radical and astute man of letters, entices readers into this absorbing exploration of love and literature."
- Krystyna Poray Goddu A Girl Called Vincent: The Life of Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay
" . . . provides fresh food for thought about the radical feminists of Greenwich Village during the early decades of the 20th century."
- Lois Rudnick, Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds
"Floyd Dell's recollections of events are moments, sensations really, in which we feel as he might have done when walking down the crooked streets of Greenwich Village, skinny dipping with beautiful young women on a summer’s eve, making a final break with Edna Millay as candles flicker and burn out." —Mary Jane Treacy, Simmons College, emerita
"Ms. Dell deserves our deepest thanks for restoring to us the powerful and eloquent voice of one of the central figures of Greenwich Village on the cusp of becoming the Bohemian center it is known for today, and for giving us a fresh perspective on the "girl poet" he had loved." —Bookreporter
About the Author
Following a thirty-year career working with illiterate women in poor countries for the World Bank, Jerri Dell moved to rural Pennsylvania, where she writes creative non-fiction and memoir. Blood Too Bright: Remembering Edna St. Vincent Millay, is her vision of the book on which her grandfather, early 20th century author Floyd Dell, was working at the time of his death in 1969. She is currently writing a memoir of her travels for the World Bank, and another of growing up with the ghosts of Bohemian Greenwich Village.
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Floyd Dell, 1961
Floyd Dell—one of the principal figures of the radical circle of Greenwich Village writers and artists in the 1910s—very nearly did leave the telling to others, until his granddaughter, Jerri Dell, unearthed the trove of personal papers Floyd Dell had given to the Newberry Library. Along with them were hundreds of letters to literary luminaries of the day and to Millay's first biographer, Miriam Gurko, author of Restless Spirit (1950). Those letters, along with articles Floyd had written, his own unpublished memoir of Millay, and the introduction to what would have been a collaboration with Gurko, broadened Jerri Dells' scope; she had originally intended only to "fill in the gaps of stories" her grandmother had told her. Instead, Jerri Dell has brought her grandfather's voice to life in this singular memoir that serves not only as "a long love-letter to Edna St. Vincent Millay, the 'girl poet' my grandfather could never forget," but a remarkable portrait of the brilliant man of letters Floyd Dell was.
Floyd Dell was 30 years old when he met Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1917, soon after the publication of her first book of poems. In 1918 they became lovers. Theirs was a short-lived, turbulent affair, however. Progressive as he was, he could not accept Edna's "anarchic" feminism and insistence on freedom, including sexual freedom: "Such a girl dares not let herself love in the old fashioned 'womanly way,' Floyd wrote in a 1931 article for the New York Herald Tribune, "forgetful of self, subordinating her interests to those of her lover." Later, in a letter to Gurko in 1960, he reflects on the "pattern of her love…it begins, on her part, with exquisite sweetness and tenderness and romantic devotion—with admiration, hero-worship, literary adulation, awe, and wonder and enchantment—and this changes to irritability, and quarrelsomeness, with a variety of efforts designed to hurt, humiliate and punish, perhaps including unfaithfulness."
Such audacious fickleness was, Floyd concludes, her defense. A participant in two great revolutionary movements of her time, feminism and pacifism, Millay could never "belong" to him or any man"…but only "to herself, or her art." Sadly, while the "poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay's lifted love experiences outside of marriage from the psychological mire of 'sin' into the realm of beauty and dignity," they did not, in the end, shield her from anguish, ill health, or the changes in literary taste brought on my modernism.
The structure of Blood Too Bright brilliantly draws readers into the passions and struggles of radicals in the Greenwich Village circle, moving from Jerri Dell's brief preface, to the introduction from Dell and Gurko's unpublished book, to Floyd Dell's early writings, and finally his letters to Gurko, which end two years before his death at 82 in 1969. There is an elegiac tone in his later reflections, but also keen observations on the move from Millay's art—he saw her as "the last of our great poets—to the "formlessness" of modern literature; the responsibility of artists to speak truth to power; and the legacy of the revolutionary movements he devoted his life to: progressive education, birth control, feminism, and socialism.
It is Floyd Dell's vital presence as much as his intimate and insightful memories of Edna St. Vincent Millay that lends power to this book. Ms. Dell deserves our deepest thanks for restoring to us the powerful and eloquent voice of one of the central figures of Greenwich Village on the cusp of becoming the Bohemian center it is known for today, and for giving us a fresh perspective on the "girl poet" he had loved.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay explored life and love deeply, and she left a map of her search in her famous poetry. She was full of passion, sweetness, dreaminess, ambiguities, and despair. In short, she was a fascinating woman, and her early love affair with Floyd Dell fascinated him so much that he never forgot her. He was an accomplished writer himself, and as an older man he wrote hundreds of pages of letters about her, their love affair, and his long friendship with her. It is fascinating material, but it was never organized and published.
But now, Floyd Dell's granddaughter, Jerri Dell, who even as a child was exposed to the family stories of this torrid affair, has explored the library archives of her grandfather's writings, and has weaved together a story of human love that makes the reader envious, shocked, riveted--well, fascinated. The story is told largely in Floyd's strongly graphic words, that practically stand up and talk to the reader. But it is organized and skillfully stitched together for smooth reading by Jerri.
Millay and Dell lived in Greenwich Village before it became famous. This story of Bohemian love is also a story of American culture and social change. The title of the book, so startlingly and compactly expressed, is taken from a line in one of Millay's poems (“Weeds”). It describes--as I read it--the strained polarity between the seductive physical and the needful mystical (or, as Millay preferred, 'artistic') sides of life. Like its title, this story is full of tension and puzzlement, as its actors fearlessly and without regard to social conventions seek out who they are and what life means.
Disclosure: I knew the author when she was young. I requested a copy of this book after learning of it. Previously I knew nothing about Floyd Dell. My response here is honest and heartfelt.
Author Jerri Dell allows her readers to witness her grandfather Floyd Dell's journey through the medium of his private letters. The letters expose portraits of many now-famous, creative, very real humans living in a vibrant Greenwich Village of the mid 1900's.
As readers we follow an articulate Mid-western young man as he evolves into one of the "most flamboyant, versatile, and influential American Men of Letters of his time." Along the way he introduces us to well-known writer and artist friends, and most importantly, to his lover and rebellious colleague, Edna St. Vincent Millay.
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I am so happy that I had the opportunity to read this remembrance of Edna St.Read more