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Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  452 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
May Sarton's ninth novel explores a woman's struggle to reconcile the claims of life and art, to transmute passion and pain into poetry. As it opens, Hilary Stevens, a renowned poet in her seventies, is talking with Mar, an intense young man who has sought her out and whose passionate despair reminds her of herself when young. Mar has had an unhappy love affair with a man. ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 17th 1975 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1965)
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The Color Purple by Alice WalkerOranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette WintersonThe Price of Salt by Patricia HighsmithOrlando by Virginia WoolfAnnie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Lesbian novels from before 1990
33rd out of 177 books — 41 voters
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Jezebel's Books All Women Should Read
387th out of 674 books — 1,277 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Oct 22, 2016 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: gay-lesbian
Upon its publication in the early 1960s, May Sarton worried that Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing would result in her forever being classified as a lesbian writer. That she was a lesbian was no secret since she had lived an openly homosexual life including relationships with notables such as Elizabeth Bowen. Her concern was that readers would focus on the characters' bisexuality and miss what she had to say about love which to her was the same whether it was shared as part of a gay or str ...more
Rebecca Foster
Although I’m a huge fan of Sarton’s memoirs (especially Journal of a Solitude) and enjoyed her Collected Poems, this was my first taste of her fiction. I confess to being underwhelmed: this book is rather slight and strangely unfeminist. Part of the problem may be that I know so much about Sarton’s life that I couldn’t help but see all the autobiographical detail in her descriptions of Hilary F. Stevens’s life and habits. Like Sarton, she’s a somewhat reclusive writer who has had success with bo ...more
Mar 24, 2009 Del rated it really liked it
Carolyn Heilbrun writes an introduction which puts Sarton's book in perspective. The novel will be of interest to anyone who suspects that the creative woman often pays a great emotional price. My first Sarton book, though I've started a couple of her journals. The day I finished the book (March 23rd) I found a used copy of "Journal of a soitude," her diary for one year. I suspect that I'll find that I appreciate the non-fiction more than the novel. Stay tuned!
Jun 03, 2012 Melee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: all-lgbtqia
Dang. I'm pretty sure there was a super-cool revelation in the last few pages of this, but she lost me. I feel stupid.

Otherwise, I liked the book, but I just didn't love it. The first half showed potential to be lovable (for me), but it petered out from there. And, going back to my first remark, I don't generally mind not completely understanding a book, but in this story it just got tiring to not wholly grasp the themes and the epiphanies of the characters.
Jan 07, 2015 Meghan rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
Do you really think it is impossible for a woman and a writer to lead a normal life as a woman?

I live in a small town that I moved to two years ago. I'm not the friendliest person and I work at home, by myself. Some mornings, some afternoons, I fall into the trap of thinking that no one experienced this, that all my struggling with family and motherhood and solitude and attempts at writing are somehow new and unique. It can be a bit of a kick in the gut to have it pointed out the exact opposite:
Sep 03, 2015 Abby rated it really liked it
“‘Love opens the doors into everything, as far as I can see, including and perhaps most of all, the door into one’s own secret, and often terrible and frightening, real self.’”

I really liked this; there is something rich and Woolfian about it, a vague, domestic, lyrical quality that never fails to delight me. The passages focusing exclusively on Hilary Stevens and on her reminiscences of her past lovers were the most powerful and compelling. And her relationship with Mar was also engaging. I did
Kathy Skaggs
Oct 12, 2014 Kathy Skaggs rated it it was ok
I really didn't like this book. I got it for free during my trial Kindle Prime subscription and even though I read most of it, I couldn't motivate myself to finish it before my trial subscription ended. I've read and enjoyed a couple of May Sarton's journals and I had just finished her novel, The Way We Live Now, so I thought I would check this one out since it's so highly esteemed as a lesbian novel that doesn't portray lesbianism in a negative or depressing light. Maybe it was unique at the ...more
While reading, I accidentally referred to this book as Mrs. Sarton Hears the Mermaids Singing more than once. And that's really not an inappropriate title.

This is my third Sarton novel, and I don't know why it took me so long to realize that each of her main characters are poorly disguised versions of herself. A reclusive little old lady writer who is bisexual/a lesbian and has anger issues and loves flowers - that describes both Mrs. Stevens and Ms. Sarton.

Also, nothing much happens in Sarton'
Tonia Peckover
Jul 22, 2015 Tonia Peckover rated it really liked it
My introduction to May Sarton. A deep and thoughtful look at the life of a woman writer/poet in old age. Also a surprising book for its time (1965) in that the characters speak openly about their sexuality. There is a lot to mine here, especially about the cost of writing, the reality of womanhood, and the way our choices weave our futures for us.

"Woman's work?...Never to categorize, never to separate one thing from another - intellect, the senses, the imagination....some total gathering togeth
Sherry (sethurner)
Nov 02, 2008 Sherry (sethurner) rated it really liked it
"Hilary Stevens half opened her eyes, then closed them again."

Hilary Stevens is the mature poet and novelist, and in this novel she remembers the difficulties she has experienced in life, both in the areas of love and of being an artist. She counsels a young man facing his first real crisis in love and in writing, and she attempts to explain her life to two interviewers, there to understand the writer. This is a novel of character and ideas, not action. I found it intriguing. A similar more cont
1965. This book is one of those changed-my-life-books that come along once in a while. I can't be expected to review it impartially therefore. I suspect it may have some flaws, but for me it came along perfect at the perfect time and swept all other possible concerns away. I suspect it is a bit didactic, possibly dry, dated, not radical enough. Who cares? It was as Bob Dylan says in Tangled Up In Blue: And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Oct 30, 2008 Judy rated it liked it
I've recently read one of May Sarton's journals, and this novel is very similar to that book - the central character, an elderly writer looking back over her life and loves, both men and women, is clearly based on Sarton herself. I found it very readable (her prose is extremely moreish and you always think, just one or two more pages), but a bit self-indulgent at times and also rather vague - a lot of meandering around about the agony of living with a great talent.
Katie M.
Jan 22, 2010 Katie M. rated it liked it
Shelves: queer, 2009
This was the first May Sarton I'd ever read and I so wanted to love it, but it was just too mired in Second Wave-thinking and vagaries about Being An Artist for me to really get past. No hard feelings, though; writing about elderly bisexual poets is pretty badass no matter which school of thought it falls under.
Mary Narkiewicz
Jan 25, 2014 Mary Narkiewicz rated it liked it
I read this book a long time the early seventies..

After reading it, I wrote to May Sarton and then began a long correspondence and therein lies a tale.. I was influenced by her work for awhile.. Love her journals.. and some of her poetry..

Almost met her, but we had a falling out about that.
Marta Mellinger
Nov 08, 2009 Marta Mellinger rated it it was amazing
hard to find, but a really important book for women who are "tuned to an intense frequency" in of those books I have given away often and re-read....tells the story of one woman's life looking backwards and what she learned and how she learned it....mostly through those she most passionately loved.
Jan 28, 2016 Pat rated it really liked it
There’s a lot I like about this book—the weaving together of poetry, solitude, gender roles in the creative arts, pondering the Muse. But what pleases me the most is the presence of a woman protagonist who is old and intelligent. These have become so important to me. I’m a sponge as I look for roadmaps and for unfamiliar paths through the expansive forests of Old.
Apr 22, 2008 Karen rated it liked it
Altho the end wasn't as strong as the beginning, I definitely recommend this book about a fictional poet, who recalls how the various people she has encountered have changed her and influenced her craft.
Jul 14, 2012 Katrinka rated it it was amazing
How in the world did May Sarton remain off my radar for so long? This book is wonderfully able to put the reader fully into the sensuality of its scenes-- and has something of Virginia Woolf about it, when Woolf's really on.
Aug 30, 2007 Kara rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the ladies.
an incredible book about the choices of an artist ranging between her craft and her lovers. inspring really.
Aug 21, 2008 Jen rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life; I decided to become an English major after reading it. Sarton is one of the most under-rated authors/poets of the 20th century.
Jun 12, 2007 Itai rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
I wish there was also a catagory for "Who gave you this book?" My dear friend, Gregory Manin shared this book with me and introduced me to May Sarton.
Aug 14, 2013 Russell rated it it was amazing
Every novel one reads of May Sarton grows the heart and soul.
Aug 05, 2016 Kacey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book while in Costa Rica.
Apr 03, 2015 Scott rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite
A favorite
Jan 25, 2010 Jennifer added it
Shelves: fiction
I enjoy May Sarton's nonfiction (memoirs) much more than I do her novels...
Jun 29, 2016 Mackay rated it did not like it
Read for my book club. I found nothing worthwhile in the pages.
Robyn MacDonald
Love May Sarton's writing
Apr 16, 2008 Garnette rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: my generation
Shelves: favorites
To think she wrote this in the early 1950's. Wish I had read it in high school.
Arja Salafranca
Dec 21, 2014 Arja Salafranca rated it liked it
Mrs Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing is re-published by Open Road Media in 2014, with an introduction by Carolyn G Heilbrun. It first appeared in 1965, and was her first openly gay or lesbian novel. Sarton, the poet, diarist and novelist, tried to reject the label “lesbian writer”, preferring to consider herself a writer who plumbed the depths of emotions and relationships, whatever the nature of the relationships being described.

Reading the novel 50 years after initial publication certainly r
Oct 31, 2016 Mable rated it it was amazing
An amazing writer

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May Sarton was born on May 3, 1912, in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. An accomplished memoirist, Sarton boldly came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her later memoir, Journal of a Solitude, was an account of ...more
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“I loved them in the way one loves at any age — if it’s real at all — obsessively, painfully, with wild exaltation, with guilt, with conflict; I wrote poems to and about them; I put them into novels (disguised of course); I brooded upon why they were as they were, so often maddening, don't you know? I wrote them ridiculous letters. I lived with their faces. I knew their every gesture by heart. I stalked them like wild animals. I studied them as if they were maps of the world — and in a way, I suppose they were." She had spoken rapidly, on the defensive... if he thought she didn't know what she was talking about! "Love opens the doors into everything, as far as I can see, including and perhaps most of all, the door into one's own secret, and often terrible and frightening, real self.” 116 likes
“The creative person, the person who moves from an irrational source of power, has to face the fact that this power antagonizes. Under all the superficial praise of the "creative" is the desire to kill. It is the old war between the mystic and the nonmystic, a war to the death.” 4 likes
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