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  • Modernism Edited: Marianne Moore and the Dial Magazine by Victoria Bazin
  • Melissa Girard (bio)
Victoria Bazin, Modernism Edited: Marianne Moore and the Dial Magazine. Edinburgh University Press, 2019.

In January 1929, Sibley Watson came to the Dial offices to tell Marianne Moore that the magazine was closing. Launched by Watson and Scofield Thayer in 1920, the Dial played a significant role in the development of literary modernism. Most famously known for its landmark publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in 1922, the Dial was “one of the great tastemakers of the twentieth century,” as Adam McKible has shown.1 But, despite its considerable influence and prestige, the magazine was never profitable. Finally forced to relinquish this financial burden, Thayer and Watson decided that the magazine’s last issue would be in July. Moore handled the news with characteristic grace. She thanked Thayer and Watson for providing her with some of the most “rewarding” work of her career, and she wrote to her brother, Warner Moore, to reassure him that she would be fine: “Any powers I have are not lessened by the discontinuing of the Dial. In fact I owe a prodigious amount to what its name has transferred to me of public confidence.”2

There is something heartbreaking about this brief vignette, which arrives near the end of Victoria Bazin’s Modernism Edited: Marianne Moore and the Dial Magazine. “Miss Moore,” as she was widely known, served as the magazine’s editor from April 1925 until its demise in July 1929. In this capacity, she wielded considerable literary and cultural authority. But Moore’s career demonstrates the gendered arc of editorial work and modernist trajectories. Where Eliot’s position as editor of the Criterion [End Page 125] led to prestige and professional opportunity, the same doors did not open for Moore. Bazin astutely identifies the gendered dynamics that shaped Moore’s editorial career and, furthermore, uncovers some of her subtle and collaborative accomplishments as a periodical editor, treating these as a crucial part of her literary career rather than a footnote to her poetry.

Modernism Edited provides a richly detailed and nuanced reconsideration of Moore’s work as editor of the Dial. By revisiting this late chapter in the magazine’s history, Bazin challenges the prevailing critical assessment that the Dial peaked in its early years when Ezra Pound exercised some editorial control over it. According to Bazin, suspicions regarding Moore’s editorial judgments and influence over the magazine have been fueled by gender bias. Mocked for her “feminine fussiness,” Moore, like Harriet Monroe at Poetry magazine, was frequently cast as an enemy of the new and implicitly masculine forms of modernist experimentation (58). Hart Crane, for instance, famously derided the two editors as “hysterical virgins” and Pound similarly remarked upon Moore’s “spinsterly aversions” (52). As Bazin shows, “A gendered critical discourse emerges in response to the wounds inflicted on male writers by women editors like Moore and Monroe. According to Pound, these editorial impositions threatened to ‘emasculate literature entirely’” (135).

If, on the one hand, the woman editor had too much power and too little phallic gusto, on the other hand, Bazin demonstrates, everyone assumed she would take care of the magazine’s administration and nurture its content like a mother or midwife. As Sarah Blackwood observes, “editing is particularly feminized labor.” When done right, it “erases itself.”3 Moore excelled at what Aaron Jaffe calls the “downstream work” of publishing and promotion: the everyday administrative and secretarial tasks, as well as the care work, which make art possible but which the art object itself cleverly conceals.4 In his autobiography, William Carlos Williams characterized Moore as “a rafter holding up the superstructure of our uncompleted building . . . one of the main supports of the new order” (35). Even less sexy than a spinster, Moore as “rafter” provides invisible yet essential support to modernism. Williams’s architectural metaphor effectively captures the difficulty of analyzing this form of feminized labor, which resides in the very infrastructure of magazines.

As these contrasting yet converging characterizations suggest, Bazin’s recuperation of Moore’s editorial work at the Dial will be particularly valuable to scholars studying the...