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The Virgin of Bennington Paperback – April 2, 2002
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Top Customer Reviews
It seemed to start out that way. The first few chapters were an enjoyable retelling of the author's experience at Bennington where she was the proverbial "fish out of water". Those chapters were well written and fun to read.
Then she went on to tell of her time as a young woman in New York City. Here the book derailed into more of a biography (hagiography might be a better description) of her mentor. If I were into the politics of the small world of modern poets, this might have been interesting. Instead, I found it laborious and not very interesting reading. Since I work in the publishing industry (although not in New York) and have occassionally been involved in business with some of the bigger publishing companies, it might have been fun to read about the politics of the publishing world. But this book was too narrow for that.
The were parts though from time to time that were interesting, and I did enjoy the first chapter. I think this book sets the reader up for disappointed by its title and what it seems to promise on the cover. But I think if the book were more appropriately described its audience would be very small.
The primary fault with the book does not lie with the author, who admits at the end of the first chapter that the story begins with "an untidy but cheerful job interview" at the end of her college years. It lies instead with whoever decided to sensationalize what could be described as a quiet but interesting book of tribute to a woman who devoted herself to poets and poetry. Norris's prose is clear and easy to read. But her description of her brushes with famous and not-so-famous poets in New York in the 1970's are not that interesting, as the encounters themselves tend to be of the mundane variety. The true kernel of this book is Norris's love and admiration for Elizabeth Kray, which is only briefly alluded to on the book's cover. In sum, a bit of a disappointment.
For a true coming-of-age memoir, check out Susanna Kaysen's Girl Interrupted or the more recent humorously written Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl.
This book is, instead, a fascinating illustration of the emotional, psychological, sexual, and spiritual development of a young woman who had the courage to accept the mentorship of an older woman, Betty Kray.
Those who read this book on the surface will find a fascinating portrait of Betty Kray who, according to the documentation in this book, was the prime mover and shaker of the Academy of American Poets in its earliest years. The Academy was largely responsible for the discovery and promotion of many of our best-known contemporary American poets (Denise Levertov, James Merrill, Stanley Kunitz, and many others).
Students of literary history, as well as those who enjoy reading memoirs, will respond well to this engaging, previously undocumented account of the rise of contermporary American poetry.
However, more discerning spiritually-minded readers will go one step further in their understanding of this book, for Norris has written a beautiful, deep illustration of moral development and mentorship. Dare I call it spiritual direction? If one knows what to look for, one can see everywhere in the pages of this book the spirit of God--through the unexpected figure of Betty Kray--shaping the life of a young poet.
I'm grateful that Norris did not overtly spiritualize this mentorship, for to do so might not be an honest depiction of Betty Kray. Rather, for those who read carefully, Norris shows us that God's hand is everywhere in our lives, and providence abounds---if we only look for it.
Norris' abilities as a storyteller were evident in her earlier works, especially "Dakota: A Spiritual Geography", and again she takes what might be for some an uninteresting subject and grabs our attention. Readers who are looking for a spiritual read similar to Norris' earlier prose may be disappointed, but I feel that Norris probably sees God's hand in her experiences with Kray.
Highly recommended, well-written and, more importantly, well thought out.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'm a compulsive reader of stories by Bennington authors. This one was fun.Published 11 months ago by Paloma M
I like Kathleen Norris books and have just about all of them. This one is not one of my favorites, however--it didn't seem to have her usual spiritual insights.Published on January 6, 2013 by Mary Ann MacLagan
This was a tedious book to read. I became interested in Kathleen Norris after reading The Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace. Read morePublished on February 11, 2012 by Donna Hill
I agree with many of the reviews in that the title is slightly misleading. This is half memoir, half tribute to Norris' mentor, Betty Kray. Read morePublished on February 16, 2010 by Manola Sommerfeld
I'm a huge fan of Norris and especially love Dakota and The Cloister Walk. I found this book to be boring and I was disappointed in Norris herself much to my own personal dismay. Read morePublished on April 12, 2009 by Sweetbriar
With the title of The Virgin of Bennington and knowing Kathleen Norris as a contemplative Christian author, one might expect something of a coming of age memoir on the heathen... Read morePublished on July 4, 2006 by Joe Sherry
For admirers of Kathleen Norris' excellent "Dakota" and "The Cloister Walk," as well as those interested in the Academy of American Poets whose Betty Kray created the template for... Read morePublished on April 28, 2006 by Reader from Spokane
This book contains the memoirs of the formative years of Kathleen Norris. Norris attended high school in Hawaii, where her father, a professional musician, was stationed with the... Read morePublished on November 21, 2005 by Amazon Customer
A valuable history of several decades of poetry and "poetry politics" in the United States. As many other reviewers have noted, the title has little connection, however, to the... Read morePublished on December 24, 2003 by g3 from the UP