The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

Featured Abstracts

Fitzi's Library:  Mary Eleanor Fitzgerald's Service to Modernist Art and Radical Politics
Catherine Hollis

Catherine Hollis teaches in the Fall Program for Freshmen at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a former editor at the Emma Goldman Papers Project and the author of Leslie Stephen as Mountaineer (2010), a monograph on Virginia Woolf’s father. Her work on M. Eleanor Fitzgerald ("Fitzi") grows out of an interest in forms of modernist patronage practiced by women that involve labor and time rather than money. 

Feminist modernist scholarship increasingly recognizes the heretofore invisible labor of the women who built “the cultural infrastructure for modernism” (Liesl Olson, Chicago Renaissance, 29–30). The often unpaid or underpaid labor of managing bookstores, typing manuscripts, bookkeeping, and secretarial work was as critical for the promotion of modernism as the artistic work itself. What rewards did these behind-the-scenes acts of service to modernism offer the women who engaged in them?

Mary Eleanor Fitzgerald (1877–1955) is a significant example of a woman who dedicated her working life to serving modernist art and radical politics out of her own intellectual and spiritual commitments. As a teenager she joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church and planned to be a missionary; once she became disillusioned with the religion, she retained its radical commitment to pacifism and vegetarianism. Her job as a booking agent brought her into the orbit of Emma Goldman, for whom she went on to work as a manager, secretary, and all-around unpaid assistant. “Fitzi” managed Goldman’s financial affairs (including raising money for bail), helped edit Goldman’s Mother Earth, and in general served as an anchor for Goldman’s often chaotic political life. Needing paid work, Fitzi went on to work as a secretary for the experimental theatrical group the Provincetown Players, staying with them for decades and eventually serving as their Executive Director.

This paper will examine the ideas that inspired Fitzgerald’s service to the modernist art of the Provincetown Players and to the radical politics of Emma Goldman. I propose that an analysis of her 30-volume personal library can reveal the ethical and aesthetic commitments that led Fitzgerald to invest her working life in service to modernism. Balanced between volumes on communism and the labor movement, philosophy, and drama, Fitzi’s library is a telling example of contemporary progressive thought.

Elizabeth Bishop's Feminist, Anti-Cold War / Nuclear-Bomb Poetics:  Queered Global Ecologies
Cassandra Laity

Cassandra Laity is currently the editor of Feminist Modernist Studies (Routledge; 2018–) and a former editor of Modernism/Modernity (2000–2010). She is the author/editor of four books including H.D and the Victorian Fin-de-SiècleGender, Desire and Sexuality in T.S. EliotH.D.'s Paint it Today, and a forthcoming monograph on Elizabeth Bishop's queered, global ecologies, Radical Natures

I argue here that following Elizabeth Bishop’s fraught year spent in Cold War Washington (1949–1950) as the Library of Congress Poetry Consultant and her successive flight to Brazil (1951), where she lived openly as a lesbian with landscape architect Carlotta Soares, her love poems in Questions of Travel (1965) encode a queer/ecological protest against Cold War “Man’s” intersecting threat of nuclear, global destruction and the McCarthyist purge of U.S. homosexuals. Staged lyrically at Samambia in the mountainside house Soares built for them surrounded by waterfalls, rocks, clouds, plant and wildlife, Bishop’s tryptic of “bomb” poems suggest the global precarity of evolutionary earthly life and queer love in Cold War culture. “The Armadillo” (Bishop privately termed her “bomb” poem), “Electrical Storm,” and particularly “Song for the Rainy Season” variously depict the fiery, electrical, climatic destruction of Samambia’s evolving, thriving, geo-ecology including the indwelling human lovers themselves.

Camille Roman (2001) explored in depth Bishop’s experience as a federal employee in Cold War Washington where several drafted poems reveal her mounting outrage at the militant Cold War nuclear policy of “containment” and McCarthy’s red-baiting of homosexuals “poison[ing] the air” (135). More recently in the literary world, Rowena Kennedy-Epstein (2017) discusses the gendered “Cold War New Critical orthodoxies” established by the Congress of Cultural Freedom (CCF) and secretly funded by the CIA which encouraged a canon of (“pure” “aesthetic”) women writers through prizes, publication etc., while barring works engaged in feminism, lesbianism, pacifism among other issues. This paper begins by discussing Bishop’s growing recognition of her paradoxical role as the unwitting “tool” of the CCF in the years leading up to her Washington consultancy.  The recipient of copious prizes and literary successes for her “objective” precisely observed naturalist poetics, a newly politicized Bishop subsequently revolted in her Brazil love poems, which both masked and strategically encoded her queered, anti-Cold War global ecologies. After briefly alluding to Bishop’s growing ecological awareness at Samambia—facilitated by readings in Darwin, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and William Carlos Williams “Asphodel that Greeny Flower”—the paper concludes by deciphering Bishop’s coded anti-Cold War poetics in “Song to the Rainy Season.”   

Pamela Colman Smith, Female Artistic Communities, and the Suffrage Movement
Elizabeth Foley O'Connor 

Elizabeth O’Connor is an Assistant Professor of English at Washington College, in Chestertown, Maryland, where she teaches classes in modernism, twentieth-century British literature, postcolonial literature, and journalism. She has published essays on Pamela Colman Smith, Kate O’Brien, Jean Rhys, Ford Madox Ford, and fin de siècle little magazines. Her current book project centers on Colman Smith, an early twentieth-century artist, writer, editor, and folklorist, who was connected with several different strands of modernism before falling into obscurity after World War I.  

Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith was a biracial artist, poet, folklorist, editor, publisher, and costume and stage designer who was active from the mid-1890s through the 1920s. Born in London in 1878 to American parents, Colman Smith traveled widely, spent a formative part of her youth in Jamaica, was educated as an illustrator at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and died in her beloved Cornwall, England.  Best known for her illustrations of the 1911 Rider-Waite tarot deck, her paintings were exhibited in many galleries in the U.S., Continental Europe, and England—where she lived the majority of her life. She also has the distinction of being the first non-photographic artist to have her work shown at Alfred Stieglitz’s “Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession” in New York. Very prolific, Colman Smith illustrated over 20 books and pamphlets, wrote two collections of Jamaican folktales, edited two little magazines, and, after their demise, ran The Green Sheaf Press, which primarily published women writers.

Colman Smith’s feminist press, and associated Green Sheaf shop in Kensington, helped create a community for struggling women artists and writers. It also provided her and the other women she published with the freedom to pursue a range of topics, especially in relationship to gender and sexuality, without the constraints of the ever-present profit margin and variable popular tastes that dominated commercial publishing.  During this period, Colman Smith became active in the suffrage movement, organizing groups of local women to attend rallies in London, and brainstorming ways by which they could earn money for their resistance efforts; she was jailed at least once for her efforts. In addition, Colman Smith contributed a range of cartoons, posters, and postcards to the Suffrage Atelier as well as creating costumes, stage designs, and promotional materials for the Pioneer Players. This paper will argue that while more overt acts of revolutionary feminist resistance have received more critical attention, the community and world-building of marginalized, outsider figures like Colman Smith are important for broadening and deepening our understanding of the suffrage movement, especially in relationship to collaboration between classes.

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