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Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,846 Ratings  ·  415 Reviews
Thirty years after the smashing success of Zelda, Nancy Milford returns with a stunning second act. Savage Beauty is the portrait of a passionate, fearless woman who obsessed American ever as she tormented herself.

If F. Scott Fitzgerald was the hero of the Jazz Age, Edna St. Vincent Millay, as flamboyant in her love affairs as she was in her art, was its heroine. The first
ebook, 550 pages
Published November 27th 2001 by Random House (first published January 1st 2001)
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Gina I was having the same feeling. There is enough of her personal writing that she didn't need to do that as much.
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Rosemary Titievsky
This is one long book and I wanted more. Not more pages. More poetry. And way more salaciousness. Alas, Nancy Milford is a patient professional who carefully presents well-documented facts with little innuendo.

The story of Edna is beyond fascinating. This sort-of homely girl from Maine uses her mind and ability to pierce through people's facades to seduce her way through life. But there's so much more to the story. She works hard and deserves her successes. She loves to be loved, cares to be car
For your ears. You can thank me later.

I've decided that I like Edna St. Vincent Millay more as a person than as a poet. I feel bad about that, to a certain degree. Because how would I know about her if not first for her poetry? She gained popularity for her writing, and her personal life was secondary (sorta).

Nancy Milford does a great job here of researching Vincent's life, primarily through talking with Vincent's sister, Norma, who passed away in 1986. (One note of serious annoyance: Nowhere i
Aug 01, 2007 Brekke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: readitlovedit
I'm biased because Edna St. Vincent Millay is my absolute favorite poet. So learning more about her was very interesting to me.

The book itself is incredibly well researched, really delving into the wild life of this amazing women.

She's not really someone you can idolize or look up to, but she is someone you can fall in love with, and that shines through beautifully in this biography.

I will warn that it is a bit heavy, and getting through the entire thing does involve a little slogging, but for s
Nov 25, 2007 Leanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone looking for a psychological read
I will admit that I didn't know of Edna St. Vincent Millay before starting on this book and so I greatly enjoyed the introduction to her poetry - certain poems are excerpted at length in this book and I found them to be lovely and insightful. Moreover, the portrait of Edna and her entire family was detailed, layered and complex. In fact, the entire description of Edna's life called out for psychological interpretation at nearly every turn. Although I never felt that I really liked any of the cha ...more
Jan 08, 2008 Smallen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to learn what a tremendous asshole Vincent is
This book made me hate Edna St. Vincent Millay. No joke. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for some of her verses especially some from Conversations at Midnight, but she seems an awful, ugly, nasty person.

That aside, I wasn't really a tremendous fan of the book. I loved Milford's biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and expected a lot from the follow up that took 30 years to research and write. It was too choppy for me. There were so many letters and excerpts from letters that I never felt like
Oct 31, 2009 Lene rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book is far too long for the subject matter at hand. I could certainly have stood 100 fewer pages of ESVM's whining. In hindsight, it was a poor choice for my first biography. It has left a horrible taste in my mouth for the entire genre.
I found the author's insertion of herself into the story irritating. The flow (or lack thereof) was not well served by the constant excerpts from letters to and from Millay. I realize that these are the documents upon which the biography is founded, but th
Apr 19, 2009 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a riveting biography of a remarkable literary and feminist icon. It took Nancy Milford 30 years to write this biography of "Vincent" - and after you read it, you can understand why. Milford remains remarkably true to her sources - a vast treasure trove of at-that-point-unseen letters, journals, notebooks, unfinished works, and more from Edna St. Vincent Millay's estate. In the book, she lets the sources stretch their legs and breathe, allowing us readers to stew in Vincent's rich, impeccabl ...more
Ned Ryerson
Jul 25, 2008 Ned Ryerson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just started this, but so far so good. Millay was a very "out there" character for her time. She was promiscuous and not choosy about which sex she slept with. She smoked and drank and partied. She was politically vocal and active. She hated the Lindberghs and publicly spoke out against them when they were advocating the Nazis. People adored her, but also hated and feared her. Thomas Hardy once said that there were only two good things about America--the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St Vinc ...more
Julie Ehlers
I haven't read a lot of biographies of writers, but this year I read two, and I think I've figured out what the biggest challenge is in documenting the life of a creative person: Most of them don't leave behind much writing about their creative process. As a result, any biography of a writer is going to focus on what can be documented--their various relationships, their travels, the awards they've won, bad behavior that others witnessed and never forgot. This is all well and good--after all, I t ...more
Jul 02, 2008 Maggie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
Review: Savage Beauty written by Nancy Milford
I began this book not having the slightest idea about Edna St. Vincent Millay other than a few poems of hers I remembered from a poetry collection, and came away from it enthralled as much with the story as I was with the care Nancy Milford took in every detail, every analysis, every description. A biography has twin hearts: the first being the story, the life itself, and the second being the biographers interpretations- of not only the happenings, b
Feb 01, 2015 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been reading the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay lately, so I was pleased to find this book in one of the boxes that my aunt sent at the beginning of the winter. I knew very little about the poet and her life, so this biography, thirty years in the writing, makes me want to take a new look at the poems. Although I feel that there are some faults in Milford's biography, seeing the poetry against the background of a life, often troubled but always adventurous, added a new dimension to my un ...more
Meghan Pinson
Jun 23, 2010 Meghan Pinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, favorites
As a third grader, I read every biography our school library held. They were all library-bound, olive drab or dull blue, stamped on the spine in white or black letters with a name and a subtitle. My favorites were Benjamin Franklin and Helen Keller; from then on, I wanted to get into publishing and Radcliffe College, and the astronaut dream was jettisoned. After I exhausted those two or three library shelves, though, I let the biographical form go, and only a few have passed through my hands sin ...more
Nov 22, 2014 Molly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, nonfiction, biography
Wish I could give 4.5 stars. Fantastic biography -- fascinating and exhaustively documented from beginning to end. Much of that is due to the fact that Edna St. Vincent Millay lived such a *life* and had such entirely engrossing relationships while composing her classic poetry. The book jacket reviewers call her life both "inspiring and cautionary" and ... yeah. There's a hell of a lot of caution in there as well. But you can certainly say that Ms. Millay never shrunk from living. Great book.
Jul 11, 2012 Kerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: everything
I was introduced to the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay this past semester when I took an Intro to Poetry class. We read “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed” and “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why.” From that point on, I have been a major fan of Millay’s work and I wanted to know more about her. So I looked around for a good biography to read and found Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Vincent (as Millay was known by family and friends) was a fascinating wom
This is a remarkable biography, for a multitude of reasons.

First, I must admit my own ignorance when it comes to much of Millay's work. I think I was surprised by how well-known she was in her day. I took advanced English courses in high school, studied English quite a bit in college, and yet my knowledge of her was so very limited, and the same went for my English nerd friends who I brought her up to. This either reflects poorly on the school systems, the way that fame of women is regarded, the
Sara Van Dyck
Sep 16, 2015 Sara Van Dyck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
Milford’s biography makes it clear that the candle that Millay burned did not always give a “lovely light.” She fueled that life with love affairs with men and women, alcohol, and drugs, yet somehow managed a dedication to her writing that eclipsed all other commitments. However, I did find the details of Millay's personal struggles a little tiresome, although that may be a legitimate reflection of her life. Milford quotes many poems, showing what they meant during that period of Millay’s life. ...more
Sep 01, 2007 Jessi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
The thing about biographies is that I float around the house for days, pretending to be the dowdy best friend of the subject. Or alternatively the glamorous best friend, if my biofeedback is in alignment. And I floated on this one for WEEKS. Just a great combination of interesting circumstances, genius, weird personalities and all things fabulous. And a darn good poet.
Sep 15, 2010 Joanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was working for Virginia Hamilton Adair when I read this book. I was telling her about it, and said that Edna's mother had to work all the time, and they didn't have money, but she made sure they were surrounded by poetry.
"Poultry ?" says Virginia, "Why would they want to be surrounded by poultry?"
What a good laugh we had over that.
Jun 26, 2015 Hilary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A poorly written biography will map out a person's life as a story. It will have a clear and decisive path. It will, in other words, try to transpose a narrative onto a life. I'm not much for that. The creation of a narrative means control and exclusion, excluding details and emphasizing others. I think that Nancy Milford did a wonderful job in not over-narrating her biography of Millay. I mean there is a certain closeness to the subject, the biography is spliced with anecdotes Milford's dealin ...more
Dorianne Laux
Dec 29, 2009 Dorianne Laux rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far, amazing.
Jun 06, 2008 Chrissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time I've picked this up and begun reading only to become intimidated by the subject and lay it aside. Biographies in general are difficult for me to read, because they make me feel guilty for reading rather than doing.

In this particular case, the biographer is careful to draw parallels down through three generations, ending with Edna Vincent Millay. The beginning of the book reaches backward through the life of Vincent's mother and grandmother, setting up the life to come as
Sep 29, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1920s, biography
I'm not huge on biographies, and I didn't have an especial interest in Millay either, so this was a somewhat unusual choice for me to pick up. But the reviews looked really promising, and I'm a sucker for anything about the Twenties and/or artsy Bohemian-types, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm so glad I did--it is magnificent. Millay's story, of course, is fascinating in itself, and Milford's work with that raw material was just outstanding--so incredibly readable and engaging. I especially l ...more
May 30, 2014 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting biography of Millay that invites the reader to understand her soul, her mind and what drove her to her passion of her poetry…Milford made me want to know her more intimately as a person and gave excellent background on her childhood and adulthood as inspiration for her writing..
Jul 24, 2015 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poets, bio-memoir
Author Nancy Milford's research into the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay through family letters, journals, photos and conversations with Millay's sister Norma presents to the reader an intimate glance into the life of a captivating woman.
Wow, what a book and what a life. So much to unpack here. Millay is a complicated figure and never entirely what you want her to be, as an artist, a feminist, and a woman but she is always her own person, embodying every manipulative, passionate, wild impulse she had. The early years of her education have a nice charm, her growing success and salacious love affairs have fervor, and the end is both incredibly sad and sadly predictable. Surprised that there hasn't been a biopic made at some point. ...more
Willa Lewis
Dec 04, 2013 Willa Lewis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely wonderful portrait of the poet. Compelling from start to finish, Mitford draws you in with her writing style and exhaustive research and reporting. Millay was an original, and her life story reads like a novel. Mitford interviewed Millay's sister Norma while working on the book and periodically refers to her conversations with Norma throughout the narrative. Some critics of the book didn't like this; I thought it was great and made this biography stand out from so many others. I found ...more
This is everything that a biography should be. Tragic and lovely and positively perverse in places, like Vincent herself. I do not like the majority of Millay's poetry, almost to the point of "can't stand it," and I picked this brick up anyway. Gents, Nancy Milford knows how to dress a book.

A good biographer is always a little in love with their subject. Milford gives Vincent the kind of rapt attention that she probably would have wanted, and consequently Savage Beauty is a thing of wonder. The
The first 50-pages were tough slogging, but beyond that it became easier, or I became accustomed to Ms. Milford's style, which, as another reviewer said, was somewhat "choppy." Some sections, e.g., Ms. Millay's first competition, are covered in excruciating detail (pages and pages) while Ms. Millay's death was dispatched in 2 or 3. Her publisher's death is dealt with in 1 sentence 3 years after it occurred. Photographs were oddly chosen, with two pages devoted to Ms. Millay's drug notations. One ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have mixed emotions about this book. I enjoyed reading it but have conflicted feelings about the author. Her biography of Zelda Fitzgerald was one of my favorite books of the eighties. This book about Edna St. Vincent Millay did not seem to me to be as well written although the author worked on it for thirty years. At times it was disjointed and confusing and, unlike some other reviewers on Goodreads, I thought the book was colored a little too often by the author's personal opinions. It often ...more
Shelly Leyden
Jul 04, 2015 Shelly Leyden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend insisted I read this book. I suspect she thinks me "intellectual" in a way that I most certainly am not. Though an English major, I've frankly steered clear of poetry in my entire life. Still, I enjoyed this book, and came one baby step closer to wanting to read poetry than ever before. It illuminated for me once more the notion that people in the past were both the same and completely different than those of today. Youth past and present are unified in obsession with the newest of the ...more
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Nancy Milford (born March 26, 1938, in Dearborn, Michigan) is an American biographer.

Milford is best known for her book Zelda about F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife Zelda Fitzgerald. The book started out as her master's thesis and was published to broad acclaim in 1970. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, spent 29 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, and has si
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“I am wild, if you like; but I stayed in my burrow a long, long time, - nibbling your straws and snapping at your fingers, but always just a little out of reach. Until at last I got to trust you so much that one day I ventured out for a minute, - and you threw rocks at me. And I will never come out again.” 4 likes
“Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly; In my own way, and with my full consent. Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely Went to their deaths more proud than this one went. Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping I will confess; but that’s permitted me; Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free. If I had loved you less or played you slyly I might have held you for a summer more, But at the cost of words I value highly, And no such summer as the one before. Should I outlive this anguish—and men do— I shall have only good to say of you.” 1 likes
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