Mary Ellen's Reviews > My Thirty Years' War: The Autobiography: Beginnings and Battles to 1930

My Thirty Years' War by Margaret Anderson
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This is the autobiography of Margaret Anderson, who ran a literary zine called The Little Review for 30 years...from 1899 to 1929. She is abrasive, headstrong, petulant, and pretty much the most fabulously outspoken radical American literary voice I've come across.

It's inspiring, because she lived in gross and utter destitution, and poured every cent that came in to the Little Review. There are some great scenes where she describes having dinner parties with no food and no furniture, ways she and her literary entourage made fun on zero means.

She also describes in detail her encounters with now-famous authors. Hemingway (who she calls Hems), Pound, Gertrude Stein, Carl Sandburg, EMMA GOLDMAN (who adored Margaret Anderson, btw). It's really interesting to read her descriptions of them, how they sounded when they spoke, what they are, how they acted when they were drunk, etc. She provides a portrait of each as a person, which is great to have since most of these authors have since become so famous that they're regarded as being disembodied, mythical "great" authors. She describes how Hemingway was, after all the hype, sort of a wuss - great stuff.

On a personal note, I was first assigned to read this book as part of a class called "American Genre: The Little Magazine" at Vassar. I found it on Amazon but the guy never sent it to me. I got a refund, but I never got the book - so I just bullshitted (bullshat?) my way through class the week it was due.

One of the first issues my professor raised with the book was M.A.'s utter lack of sex and romance in the book. Although M.A. meets a woman named Jane Heap and becomes fascinated by her and obsessed by her, and even though M.A. and Jane live together and run the Little Review for decades, she never explicitly states that they're in a relationship. Nor does she include in her autobiography any scenes of romance or sexual encounter, not even in adolescence. She presents herself as unsexed, a purely intellectual person. My professor wanted to know what we made of this.

At the time, being that I hadn't read it, I sort of went into a "so what? would we care about the lack of relationship details if this was a man writing, or a woman writing about a hetero relationship? are we demanding that she acknowledge her status as Other or else we're not comfortable" blah blah etc. You know. Vassar.

Having read the book now, though, my professor's question echoed in my mind. Was she in a relationship with Jane Heap, and intentionally avoiding discussing it in her autobiography? Once you've read the book, and you've endured her forthrighteness and attitude for nearly 300 pages, it seems unfathomable that she would ever avoiding discussing anything, even if it was a social taboo. In fact, she spends most of the book expounding on social taboos!

So what's the deal, then? My take is that Margaret Anderson truly wanted to be a purely intellectual entity - a person that exists not physically, but in reputation and in conversation. Her prose features endless pontification, philosophizing, pithiness. She talks about ideas first and foremost, and any description of the physical world is in terms of the material's relevance to her ideas. She describes her environment insofar as she considers her poverty necessary to her vision of art. She describes people insofar as their ideas interest her. She resists physicality on every plane. And being that sex and sexuality are one of the most physical realms one can explore in literature, it makes sense that she would omit any details of her sexual relationships... whether with Jane Heap, or anyone else.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
May 4, 2008 – Shelved

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