Marguerite Young with the manuscript of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling
August 26, 1908|
Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
|Died||17 November 1995
Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
|Occupation||Poet, novelist, biographer, professor|
|Notable works||Angel in the Forest
Miss MacIntosh, My Darling
Harp Song for a Radical
Marguerite Vivian Young (August 26, 1908 – November 17, 1995) was an American poet, novelist, biographer and critic. She is best known for her novel Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. In her later years, she was known for teaching creative writing and as a mentor to young authors. "She was a respected literary figure as well as a cherished Greenwich Village eccentric."
Life and work
Young was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Through her father, Chester Ellis Young, she was a collateral descendant of Brigham Young, and by her mother, Fay Herron Knight, she was a direct descendant of John Knox.
Young's parents separated when she was very young, and she and her sister, Naomi, were brought up by their maternal grandmother, Marguerite Herron Knight, who was convinced the child Marguerite was the reincarnation of her dead cousin, Little Harry. Her grandmother nurtured Young's love of literature. Young studied at Butler University in Indianapolis, receiving a BA in French and English. She then attended the University of Chicago, auditing Thornton Wilder's writing class at his invitation and earning her MA in Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature.
While attending the University of Chicago, Young had a part-time position reading Shakespeare to Minna K. Weissenbach. A patron of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Weissenbach was also known as the opium lady of Hyde Park. Weissenbach was to be the inspiration for the Opium Lady in Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, and the drug-based flights of fantasy were to make their way into the novel.
Young's first book of poetry, Prismatic Ground, was published in 1937, while she was teaching high-school English in Indianapolis. In that same year, she visited the commune of New Harmony, Indiana, where her mother and stepfather resided. She relocated to New Harmony and spent seven years there, beginning work on Angel in the Forest, a study of utopian concepts and communities, at the same time producing, Moderate Fable (1944), which won the poetry prize from the National Academy of Arts and Letters. Angel in the Forest appeared in 1945 and was well received, winning Guggenheim and Newberry Library awards.
Over the next fifty years, while maintaining an address in New York City's Greenwich Village, Young traveled extensively and was part of a wide literary circle that included Mari Sandoz, Richard Wright, Anaïs Nin, Flannery O'Connor, and Allan Tate, with whom she had an affair. She also had a complex friendship with Carson McCullers and Truman Capote. She wrote articles, poetry, and book reviews while also teaching creative writing at various venues, including the New School for Social Research and Fordham University.
As early as 1947 Young began working on a new project that would evolve into the epic novel Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. Although she had intended to take just two years, she did not finish her novel until 1963. Young described it as "an exploration of the illusions, hallucinations, errors of judgment in individual lives, the central scene of the novel being an opium addict's paradise." Anaïs Nin, in The Novel of the Future, calls it "an epic American novel written in a poetic style." Miss MacIntosh, My Darling was not well received critically but developed a cult following.
Starting in 1975, Charles Ruas produced for Pacifica radio station WBAI in New York a year-long series of readings from Miss MacIntosh, My Darling called The Reading Experiment. The readings were by Young's contemporaries in the literary, theatre, and journalistic worlds, such as Leo Lerman, Wyatt Cooper, Osceola Archer, Marian Seldes, Ruth Ford, James Coco, Peggy Cass, and Earle Hyman. The artist Rob Wynne scored each program with concrete sound effects and atonal and harmonic music, as well as opera. The programs were distributed nationally through the Pacifica Radio Network. The series has been reissued by and is available through Clocktower Gallery's Internet station "Art on Air." Renewed interest in the book resulted in the publication in 1979 of a boxed two-volume paperback edition, with an Introduction by Anaïs Nin, by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, as well as a two-volume paperback edition in 1993 by Dalkey Archive.
Young's next project was to be a biography of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, the creator of Little Orphant Annie. Her experiences in joining the protests against the Vietnam War made her turn her focus to Riley's friendship with Eugene V. Debs. The digression was to occupy the rest of her life, becoming an ambitious biography of Debs, the union organizer who evolved into the first Socialist candidate for President of the United States (1904, 1908, 1912, 1920). She projected a three-volume epic history of the people, through Debs's battles for workers rights and the development of the Locomotive Firemen's workers union. Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs, remained unfinished at the time of her death.
Part I, “Prelude in a Golden Key,” portrays Swiss agnostic Wilhelm Weitling’s cross-country tour of all the pioneer communities that took part in the Western settlement of the United States. He visited the Mormon community first in Nauvoo, Missouri, and then in Salt Lake City, Utah, after their flight and resettlement; the Shakers; the Amish communities in Pennsylvania; the Oneida community; the Icarians; the Rappites, and many other settlements in the wilderness. Through this perspective Young establishes that this nation was founded and settled on the principles of communal ownership and mutual assistance. In Part II of Harp Song for a Radical, Young establishes that Eugene Debs was the catalyst through which these principles became the basic tenets of the labor movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The unfinished manuscript was edited by Charles Ruas to give Young's survey of the utopian communities and to include her historical portraits of major figures encountered by Debs in his struggles as a labor organizer: the portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln, James Whitcomb Riley, Joe Hill, Sojourner Truth, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith and Susan B. Anthony. This edited version of Harp Song for a Radical was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1999. In her last illness Marguerite Young returned to writing poetry. Inviting the Muses, a collection of her stories, essays, and reviews, was published by Dalkey in 1994. Young’s papers were subsequently deposited at the Beinecke Library, Yale University.
List of works
- Prismatic Ground (1937), poems
- Moderate Fable (1944), poems
- Angel in the Forest: A Fairy Tale of Two Utopias (1945), historical study
- Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (1965), novel
- Inviting the Muses: Stories, Essays, Reviews (1994)
- Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs (1999), historical study (posthumous)
- Photograph of Young with Truman Capote: "LIFE visits Yaddo". Life 21 (3): 110. 1946-07-15.
- Ruas, Charles E. (Fall 1977). "Marguerite Young, The Art of Fiction No. 66". The Paris Review.
- Harp Song for a Radical
- NYT obituary reprinted in 52 McGs.: The Best Obituaries from Legendary New York Times Reporter Robert McG. Thomas ISBN 978-0-7432-1562-6