Here, May Sarton writes to Juliette Huxley, wife of scientist and eugenicist Julian Huxley, about her daily life in Massachusetts. She shares her thoughts on gendered relations among poets, Virginia Woolf, rivers and absolutes, and how she longs for Huxley to visit.
March 23, 1948
139 Oxford St.
My treasure, dear sprite, Radiguet arrived yesterday to make me feel alive again. Also it was a lovely warm day and you could smell the earth, and I am so happy to be home, and at last I definitely have my passage on the Queen Mary, April 7th. Now I am eager to hear what you can plan and whether perhaps I cannot see you for a week-end alone. Air Mail from your side takes six or seven days so if you cannot get it to me here, send plans to c/o Jane Stockwood, 12 Ormonde Mansions, 106 Southampton Row, London W.C.1. I’m sorry about a depressed and rather cross letter I sent—something in your letter froze me, I think, and now it is really time that we saw each other again. I find it suddenly very difficult to write. I think of you a great deal but it is not a word-making thinking, perhaps. And I think of Paris and the great serene spaces and the trees. I am so tired, darling, that is the trouble with me. I feel as if I had not settled anywhere, deeply settled for a long time, but all had been effort and hurry, climbing up and down the days, a great lack of savoir vivre as I really do not have so damned much to do, nothing compared to what you have to do. But there it is, the ends all frayed and the deep messages not getting through. Living on nerve, one loses one’s soul.
But now people are beginning to buy the book it is hardly out yet and no bookstore in Cambridge has it at present, but orders are in and people call up excitedly and the Times book sup had reprinted two of the poems, “In That Deep Wood” and “Santos, New Mexico” in two consecutive issue which is good free advertising. Kot said you had written Spender—how very kind. I feel that he doesn’t like me, but I think no male poets ever like female poets really. It is the taking over a masculine, creative function which annoys them. Profoundly inside they want women to be passive, the receivers not the givers. Malraux was very interesting that day at lunch. He took the other side, that women were natural poets but men poets always monsters—Keats (t.b.), Byron, lame etc. etc. It is fruitless really, only one minds the perhaps not necessary sense of being on the defensive, of having invaded someone’s territory, all unasked. I got terribly angry at a very condescending review of Woolf’s Common Readers by Diana Trilling. She is an acute critic, but the fact is that there is great conflict always about the woman writer and this was very evident. D.T. blames Woolf for not ever saying the definitive thing about any writer, entirely missing the point as I see it of The Common Reader, and even of the title which was not, I believe, ironic, but meant exactly what it says. They are personal essays, springing out of the pleasure of rereading and meant to make other people wish to read. Heavens, we have PhD.’s to cover the whole ground and make the final statement. I think the limitations of any genius are one of the most interesting things, because almost always without them the genius would never have been exactly what it was. The limitations are a positive, not a negative. To expect Woolf to have the toughness of a truck driver or the masculine analytic mind, or to blame her for not making syntheses when her genius was something entirely different, seems to me just stupid. I wrote Trilling an angry letter but thought better of it. It is a pity because she is actually one of our few critics opposed to “reviewers.” Perhaps it is partly that with any greatly praised writer, there has to be a period of debunking before the final reassessment and Woolf is out of fashion now.
O darling your letter of March 20th arrived this minute. How quick, how blessed! With the wonderful news that we might have a few days together in May—and that perhaps I might catch a glimpse of you in London, for I shall be there à partir du 12 ou 13 avril, and until about the 25th. However, if we miss each other there, how lovely May will be. This is a great relief to my mind to have some plan—and I loved the flowing river. It reminded me of Eliot’s quartets:
I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable—
only the Seine is beautifully tamed and tractable.
This was interrupted by a long sherry-drinking conversations with our dear painter friend from Santa Fe, Agnes Sims, who has been visiting us since I got back and has just left in a taxi. So now for the first time the house is silent and I am alone. It is noon but all I can think of is sleep and the dentist in a few minutes. I wait for you to appear to make time not a long treadmill but a flight, a marvelous parabola, an extension of love.
I devoured half of Radiguet, a very passionate book, marvelously written. How it seizes one!
I am sorry about the maid, except that if you didn’t like her you may unearth a wonderful treasure instead.
Descartes, alas, I haven’t here. It’s at Channing Pl. with half my books or I would try it again. But I think it is true that one looks now for absolutes, for the absolutely pure. There is nothing else. I must write Julian about his book on ethics which I read with very great interest and admiration. It is a very usable truth, and so it is comforting. But always now I feel in his work with its astounding ability to synthesize, that some middle step is missing, the place where once the synthesis is made it can settle down inside the personality like motes in a sunbeam or particles in water, and that only then would be the time to do the writing. The ideas themselves are so magnificent, rich and full of faith and somehow the writing fails. Am I wrong? Soon when I feel a little more bright, I’ll try to write him a letter about the book and what it meant to me. These criticisms are not important.
Love and love, darling
Here is the beginning of Maritains’s intro. to a book of Leon Bloy in translation I bought In the South. It made me think of you because you always believe you feel poor because you give so much: “We can give nothing we have not received, being in the likeness of Him who had received everything from His Father. That is why the more one gives, the more one needs to receive, the more one is a beggar.”
From Dear Juliette: Letters of may Sarton to Juliette Huxley. Sarton, May, Juliette Huxley, and Susan Sherman. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.