- Mosaic of Fire: The Work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder, and Kay Boyle by Caroline Maun
Caroline Maun's Mosaic of Fire: The Work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder, and Kay Boyle seeks to recover a group of modernist women writers who have been largely neglected by standard literary histories: Lola Ridge (1873-1941), Evelyn Scott (1893-1963), Charlotte Wilder (1898-1980), and Kay Boyle (1902-92). Maun uses these authors and their personal and professional relationships with one another from the 1920s through the 1940s to explore the beneficial effects of women writers creating and participating in a supportive network with other female artists. Mosaic of Fire functions as both a group biography and a critical study of key texts by these authors to highlight the influence they had upon one another as mentors, editors, advocates, and friends. By bringing attention to these writers, Maun continues the work of scholars like Cary Nelson, Shari Benstock, William Drake, and Joseph Harrington, who have recovered modernist authors, especially women, often erased from the standard narratives of the period's literature.
Maun begins her study of this group with Ridge, the oldest of these writers, who was born in Ireland, was raised in New Zealand, and ultimately settled [End Page 420] in New York. A poet and social activist, Ridge used her editorial positions at the periodicals Broom and Others to foster the careers of younger women, like Scott and Boyle, whom she saw as having potential for literary innovation. Maun treats Ridge's 1919 lecture "Woman and the Creative Will" as a manifesto for this younger generation, as it urged women writers to defy gender constraints and dare to pursue a life dedicated to literature. In the 1920s, Ridge published some of Scott's earliest verse in Others and reviewed her work very positively; she hired Boyle as her assistant at Broom, offered her feedback on her first novel, and encouraged her to publish. Among the roles that Maun shows these women serving for one another are those of sympathetic audience and scrupulous editor, as they often read each other's writing in drafts, revised work because of the critiques they received, displayed astute understandings of one another's publications, and found in the works of their friends inspiration for their own writing. When Wilder, the younger sister of Thornton Wilder, came into the group in the 1930s (having met Scott at the writers' colony, Yaddo), she soon benefited from the feedback of the others and reciprocated with her own suggestions, especially to Scott.
Just as notable in Maun's study as the artistic influence these women had upon each other's writing is the significant place they held in one other's emotional lives. For example, she argues that Ridge not only served as a model of a literary woman for Scott and Boyle but also became a maternal figure for them. In her chapter on the relationship that Boyle and Scott developed when both were living in France in the 1920s and were individually involved in complicated personal lives (Boyle had left her marriage and became pregnant by a lover who died of tuberculosis; Scott was living with her child and common-law husband while ending her relationship with lover Owen Merton), Maun presents their deepening emotional connection and identification with one another. In the chapter about the decades-long friendship between Scott and Wilder, including a period in the 1930s when they were roommates, Maun details how the two writers, both struggling with mental illness, supported one another even through the many years of Wilder's institutionalization; indeed, Scott frequently wrote to Wilder's family attesting to her sanity and pleading for her release. In these chapters, Maun mines the rich and largely untapped archive of these women's correspondence with one another to offer a fascinating account of their relationships.
In addition to bringing to light these now little-known biographies, Maun also offers substantial close readings...