Cover image for Dear Juliette : letters of May Sarton to Juliette Huxley
Dear Juliette : letters of May Sarton to Juliette Huxley
Sarton, May, 1912-1995.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
400 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
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PS3537.A832 Z483 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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May Sarton's love for Juliette Huxley, ignited that first moment she saw her in 1936, transcended sixty years of friendship, passion, silence, and reconciliation. In the breadth and variation of these letters, we see Sarton in all her complexities and are privy to the nuances of her rich amitie amoureuse with Juliette, the preeminent muse and most enduring love of her life. The letters chart their meeting; May's affair with Juliette's husband, Julian (brother of Aldous Huxley), before the war; her intense involvement with Juliette after the war; and the ardent and life-enhancing friendship that endured between them until Juliette's death. While May's intimate relationship with Julian had not been a secret, her more powerful emotions for Juliette had. May's fiery passion was a seductive yet sometimes destructive force. Her feelings for and demands on Juliette were often overwhelming to them both. Indeed, Juliette refused all contact with May for nearly twenty-five years, the consequence of May's impulsive threat to tell Julian of their intimacy. The silence was devastating to May, but her love for Juliette never diminished. Their reconciliation after Julian's death was not so much a rekindling as it was a testament to the profound affinities between them.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Sarton was a well-respected poet, novelist, and journal keeper. Before World War II, she had an affair with Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous Huxley. But it was Julian's wife, Juliette, who was the greatest love of Sarton's life. Their relationship lasted 60 years, a great portion of those years separate from one another. Sarton's letters to Juliette are gathered here, documents testifying to the fact that "it was Juliette she loved more . . . than anyone else." The correspondence, well annotated by editor Sherman, opens a window to Sarton's passion--passion not only toward Juliette but also toward her calling in life, which was poetry writing; and we view, and not with any sense of voyeurism, how much Sarton considered Juliette the wellspring of her creativity--her "muse," if you will. It is always enjoyable for serious readers to encounter not only insights into the creative mind but also such good examples of articulateness as these letters are. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

The letters that American poet and novelist Sarton wrote to Swiss-born sculptor Juliette Baillot Huxley are witty, passionate and soul-baring. The two first met in England in 1936, when Sarton, 24, became captivated by Juliette, 39, even while embarking on an affair with Juliette's famous husband, Julian Huxley (brother of novelist Aldous Huxley), a zookeeper, peace activist and the first director general of UNESCO. While their romance was a matter openly shared with Juliette, Sarton's deep love for Juliette remained a secret. "There was perhaps one week only of physical intimacy" between the two women, according to Sherman (who edited Sarton's Selected Letters), yet this was a true union of souls, as the lettersÄlyrical, effusive, profound, uninhibitedÄmake abundantly clear. Sarton helps Juliette through the war years, muses on the difficulty of self-acceptance, offers a constant flow of sharp opinions and impressions on art, politics, people. Her letters are strewn with her musical, crystalline poems, some never before published. She frequently quotes writers who nourished her imaginationÄYeats, Rilke, Proust, Virginia Woolf, Valery. We catch glimpses of Sarton's circle of friends, among them poet Muriel Rukeyser (with whom she lived during the 1940s), novelist Rebecca West, imagist poet Hilda Doolittle, Paris-based American journalist Janet Flanner. Juliette broke off their relationship after Sarton threatened to tell all to Julian. After a 27-year silence, Sarton resumed their correspondence in 1976, months after Julian's death. In a tenderly affectionate foreword, Francis Huxley, son of Julian and Juliette, recalls Sarton's last visit to his mother, then age 97 (Juliette died in 1994, Sarton in 1995). An appendix includes two dozen of Juliette's letters to Sarton. Photos. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Poet Sarton had an affair with Julian Huxley (biologist and brother of novelist Aldous) in the 1930s, then switched her allegiance to Huxley's wife, Juliette. Their stormy relationship spanned 60 years, including 25 years of silence that ended only after Julian's death. In the 1980s, Sarton gathered her letters to Juliette but decided to withhold publication during Juliette's life. The job has fallen to Sherman, a close friend and editor of May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916-1954. Dear Juliette is a series of high-speed disquisitions on Sarton's many passions; self-conscious about never having gone to college, she was prone to statements like, "Have you read Kierkegaard? I am plunged into it up to my ears." Later letters reveal a surprised awareness of the price Juliette paid for what Sarton called their "three-cornered love" with Huxley. Evidently, Sarton had a certain capacity for self-deception, but she is never less than totally captivating. A model editor, Sherman footnotes lavishly, bringing the outside world into what would otherwise be an energetic monolog. For academic libraries.ÄDavid Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This collection covers the years from 1936 to 1994, with a gap from 1948 to 1976 resulting from a breach in the friendship. In the foreword, Francis Huxley writes of Sarton's "turbulent and excessive" enthusiasm. Attributing Sarton's anger to the fear of losing Juliette's affection, Sherman argues that Sarton's pursuit of Juliette Huxley (wife of Julian) was less that of sex (if that at all) than like a "lover pursuing her muses, pursuing poetry." For Sarton, "anger was a chastener, a purifier, a way toward growth and understanding." The breach was healed when Sarton wrote to Juliette after Julian's death. These letters reveal Sarton's "towering passion for life." She writes effusively of natural wonders, people, the books she is reading, her own writing, her hopes and fears, her pets. Reading these letters is very much like having Sarton in the room sharing in her joys, anger, and grief. Exceptionally informative page notes, photos, and a chronology. Very highly recommended for English and women's studies collections. J. Overmyer; Ohio State University



Chapter One A NOTE ON THE TEXT OF THE LETTERS French was May Sarton's first language, basic to her nature, intrinsic to her thought and work. To the end of her life she instinctively turned to it for words and phrases, entire conversations, letters; she used it for titles and epigraphs to poems, epigraphs and prologues to books, passages in journals. French, its literature and poetry, so much at the heart of her own life, was essential to the very atmosphere between Sarton and Juliette Huxley, herself born in French Switzerland. Unless otherwise indicated, translations from the French are by this editor. I have left her French as she wrote it except where the meaning was obscured or in cases of typos or misspellings; in translating I have tried to approximate as closely as possible her own voice and locutions, even when that somewhat departs from the literal meaning of her French. It was Sarton's custom in the early years to sign letters with a hieroglyph. Usually it was a lily of the valley; sometimes, to her parents, she used a mouse or bird; to Lugné-Poä it was often an elephant. In all her letters to Juliette Huxley, however, she used only a lily of the valley; I have indicated such hieroglyphs with brackets.     I have almost always retained Sarton's idiosyncrasies: her British variants in spelling, her underlinings, her errant capitalizations, and her casual punctuation. S.S. October 27th, 1936 239 East 17th Street New York City O Juliette, I have just come home from standing in Max Gordon's office in a herd of actresses only to be told, "you're not the type," and found a nice fat letter from Julian. How wonderful letters are, how unexpected--especially across an ocean. One has no idea what time of day, what mood, what event they are going to meet. And this was a perfect spar to a drowning man!     It is curious how often in this idiotic N.Y. life my mind goes back to certain images of last spring, as if in the green underwater spaces of your room it might rest. What are you doing? Are you doing any sculpture? It was tantalizing to see only one thing and to be dragged away from that. Though I guess that you are so busy maintaining peace and the very special atmosphere you have that it must be difficult to catch time enough for anything else. Women are always being torn between their human responsibilities and other things, aren't they? It is comparatively simple, I have an idea, to be simply embarked on a career! Still I should love to know that you are one of the magical people who can do both--if you are well. Are you well? Are you really better as well as carnivorous?     I have been trying to see Dora Clarke for weeks but first I had grippe and then she had migraine. I'm hoping that if this champagne weather continues we'll finally manage both to be well next week. Autumn here is unbelievable really. It makes one think anything is possible. The air is like glass--everything sparkles. I have by a miracle found a room on a little park so there are trees instead of walls to look out on. They are very thin and sad but nice. And my room is big and gray and rather Chinese, intense and peaceful all at once. It is freedom after the claustrophobia this city gives me. What else? This afternoon I went to see a small exhibition which contained the Toulouse-Lautrec of Avril leaving the Moulin Rouge--a little self-contained sober figure slipping along and it looks cold--the very essence of the theatre--this strange fabrication of glory by strange little people who possess it so little once they have taken off their make-up. Being in the theatre is like having an endless devouring affair with a second-rate person. Ah well. Meanwhile I try to write. Here are some poems. I can't remember what I sent Julian. Tell him I'll answer his letter in a day or so and he is an angel.     It is good to think of you and to span for a minute the huge waste of ocean between us. Be well and happy--and stay exactly as you are. I'm hoping to come back in the spring and it would be awful to find anything changed! Love to you May Max Gordon's officeP:Max Gordon (1891-1989), theatrical and film producer, owner of the Village Vanguard nightclub from 1934 on. a drowning man: At this time Sarton was tirelessly engaged in looking for a job, trying every possible theatrical office while also hoping to persuade Paris-Soir to let her do a series of American "Letters" similar to Gênet's "Paris Letters" in The New Yorker . last spring: Having sailed to England on the SS Manhattan , Sarton disembarked in England on 26 March 1936 and spent her first night in Cornwall at the home of Dr. Charles Singer (1876-1960) and his wife Dorothea (Waley) Cohen Singer (1882-1964), historians of science and old friends of the Sartons. Julian Huxley, then secretary of the Zoological Society, was there as a guest, looking for a place to grow eucalyptus trees en masse for the koala bears at the London Zoo. On 7 May, Sarton dined at the Huxleys' London apartment, meeting Juliette for the first time. The following day she wrote to her parents: "The most exquisite atmosphere--his wife is one of the most charming people I have ever seen like one of K.M.'s [Katherine Mansfield's] women--the apartment all pale green and she is like that--she has a slight accent--I don't know what nationality she is." Marie Juliette Baillot was born in Auvenier on Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 6 December 1896. any sculpture: Juliette had been studying sculpture at the Central School with John Skeaping, a well-known British painter and sculptor. Dora Clarke : sculptor, friend of the Huxleys; her bronze of a Kikuyu girl was reproduced as the frontispiece for Julian Huxley's Africa View (1931). Avril: Jane Avril was a dancer and figured in several of the famous posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), French painter who became the supreme portrayer of Montmartre nightlife, with its dancers, actresses, singers, and women of the demimonde. what I scent Julian : Sarton had sent Julian "Out of a Desolate Source." published in Time and Tide (1936); "You who ask peace" (see Inner Landscape ); and "Apologia," unpublished; see Appendix. In response to this letter Juliette wrote: "Thank you for writing and for being so alive. I expect you make a definite impression on most people, but I feel the impression you made on us is a very true one, and that you couldn't possibly be different to what we think you are." * * * December 5th, 1936 New Haven O Juliette, here I am in New Haven for a gay weekend with your letter like a secret treasure in my purse. It is going to snow (it is always just going to snow these days) and really the excitement of a snowstorm is one of the reasons for living in N.Y.--though for that matter Switzerland is superior I guess! To quote from Noel Coward who is making us all madly sentimental, "the gods must find it entrancing. "This afternoon I am thinking of writing a series of poems on snow--of which the enclosed is the first.     Your letter is like a painting. I have a sort of sur-réalist photograph of it--the scarlet thread on Julian's face from the chin cut, yellow chrysanthemums, little cactuses, and the frog of coral wood--with Bernard Shaw's beard somewhere. What a darling you are to write me. I am freshly startled with surprise every time I wake up and think that there you and Julian are suddenly upon my horizon. It still seems preposterous. But it is true don't you think that one knows--definitely knows almost at once whether people are going to be of one's island or not? I fell in love with you both at first sight--Julian in a storm in Cornwall and you in a little white jacket in a green room where I was so frightened by being early that I would have read you the whole of "Testament of Beauty" rather than have to talk! I sometimes wonder whether the anguish of meeting is worth any possibility of further acquaintance. When I was having to raise money all the time for the theatre I had to overcome every impulse to run away so that I am able to stay rooted to the spot now but that is the most that can be said.     It is wonderful that you are working, and that you are better. I am glad! * * * Noel Coward ... madly sentimental: Nine short plays by Noël Coward (1899-1973), English composer, playwright, and actor, known for his witty, sophisticated comedies about the British leisure class, under the title Tonight at 8:30 , had opened in 1936. "Testament of Beauty" : the most ambitious work by English poet Robert Bridges (1844-1930), Britain's Poet Laureate 1913-1930, embodying his life's philosophy. * * * December 7th, 1936 New York I am sitting up in bed with sun streaming in and a feeling of convalescence. Last night despair came down on me. Does it ever on you? For no great reason but just the longness of living. Sometimes I feel like a dog that someone is making jump for a bone. One gets so tired of jumping. But now it is over. Now I am full of resolutions. You know, it is the day after Saint Nicholas. In Belgium all the children are sick from eating marzipan pigs and chocolate violins. I wish I had one to eat and one to send you!     In Cambridge I started on a short novel about three old ladies in Belgium. It could sum up more or less what is clear to me now in living without being autobiographical at all (which I want to avoid) but God knows when I'll do it. It seems to be impossible to look for a job and have any blank stretches to write in. One is in a state of continual suspense. So I've given up for two weeks trying to pull words out unless they come by themselves. I want to write a poem for Chopin beginning the crystal tears of chandeliers a bit Sitwellian, but it could be fun. I've been reading a charming book on Chinese painting called The Chinese Eye, by a painter called Chiang Yee. Chinese painting is painting for poets I think. Have you seen it? And a perfectly wonderful book on the Greek poets by Browda (he's just at Harvard for a half-year). I never quite believed that Sappho was all she is cracked up to be until I read this--the translations are usually so bad.     Blessings on you for writing and do soon again. Yours to command M-- My room is gray with many white curtains--an almost emerald linen couch cover with yellow cushions (almost chartreuse) and a modern carpet in bands of thin greens, creams, gray and buff. I can't explain it but against gray walls it takes on style as a color scheme I think. * * * novel about three old ladies in Belgium: The Single Hound, Sarton's first novel, published in 1938, is based on Marie Gaspar, Blanche Rousseau, and Marie Closset (Jean Dominique, 1874-1952), a seminal influence in her life; the Belgian poet was founder of the Institut Belge de Culture Français, where Sarton went to school for a winter when she was twelve; see pp. 120-135 in I Knew a Phoenix and Ch. 12 in A World of Light . Sitwellian: reference to Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), English poet and critic known for her patterns in sound. Chiang Yee: (1903-?), a Chinese writer who lived in England and often illustrated his own books. The Chinese Eye was published in 1935; he is perhaps better known for his The Silent Traveler series. book on the Greek poets by Browda: Greek Lyric Poetry from Alcman to Simonides (1936) by Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra (1898-1971), English classical scholar. Sappho: (b. 612 B.C.), a native of the Aegean island Lesbos; one of the most famous lyric poets of all time, known as "the tenth muse." color scheme I think: Enclosed with this letter: "Invocation" appears elsewhere as "Snow"; "At This Time"; "Out of the Torn Sky"; and "The Diviner," written for Polly Thayer Starr and first published in May Sarton: Among the Usual Days (Norton, 1993); see Appendix. * * * Sunday, January 31st, 1937 [5 Channing Place] Dear Juliette-- Julian writes that you have been engaged in this battle of flu (it must have been carried back and forth on the Queen Mary). I hope you and yours are out of it now and somewhere high up on a dazzling snow-plain. I suppose you are expert on skis. I used to go up into the hills around here when I was a little girl at Christmas--knowing nothing about it--but oh how exciting! It is sheer magic, isn't it? We used to ski a lot by moonlight, singing the Brahms Requiem in parts (in case of sudden death!), but I was never any good. Do you jump? It must be the nearest thing to flying.     The minute 1936 was over I felt as if a mountain had dropped off my shoulders! But this year I am sure is going to be extraordinary. I feel it in my bones. Already I have embarked on a novel which I have an awful feeling that only you and I will like (perhaps even you won't like it, but I do count on you a little). It is about three old ladies in Brussels, particularly one whom I adore and to whom the poems are dedicated (she is a poet, Jean Dominique). It is all the things I care about and feel most about now. For instance, the possibility of depth and adventure in an apparently tiny scope of living. We (in America particularly) have overestimated the value of actual experience, I think. I see imaginations dulled all around me by an excess of actual physical excitement whether it be making love or driving a motor car fast--or acting every night of the year. This sounds very silly written down. Oh dear! It is more than that. It is going to be called The Single Hound with that poem of Emily Dickinson's to head it: Adventure most unto itself The Soul condemned to be-- Attended by a Single Hound Its own identity. It is more and less than that, for of course it can turn out to be merely pretty and whimsical and sentimental and dreadful! But I find myself deep in at the moment with no perspective at all. I hope to finish 100 by March 26th (when I sail for Port of London) and extract an advance from my publisher. You know I am taking Conrad Aiken's house in Rye with two friends of mine and am hoping you and Julian will come down for a weekend with Dora Clarke. The house seems to be enormous (I've never seen it).     You haven't of course been able to do any work with all this flu. How are you really? Is the frog finished? I can't say you are mean not to have written you must be so busy--but your letter is a treasure and I feel like a bird with its mouth open asking for more! Love to you from May You can't imagine how I am looking forward to seeing you again! * * * on the Queen Mary: The HMS Queen Mary, the largest liner afloat, had made its maiden voyage to New York City from England at the end of 1936 in 3 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes. mountain had dropped off my shoulders: As 1936 ended, Sarton, discouraged, had given up going to theatrical offices and hoped instead to find a job through friends; she was having personal difficulties with her friend Theodora Pleadwell; her room on East 17th Street was infested with bedbugs; she had just finished correcting galleys of Encounter in April , and, as the Sartons were on a cruise to Spain and Trinidad, she had gone to Anne Thorp's until their return. (she is a poet, Jean Dominique): Encounter in April, Sarton's first book of poems, published in 1937, was dedicated to Jean Dominique. Adventure most unto itself ... : last verse of #822 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Little, Brown, 1960). deep in: a favorite allusion of Sarton's to the dormouse in the treacle in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898), English author, mathematician, and photographer. Aiken's house in Rye with two friends of mine : The American poet Conrad Aiken (1889-1973) and his wife, Mary, lived for a time at Jeakes House, built in 1698, on Mermaid Street in Rye, which Sarton, together with Margaret English and Kappo Phelan, friends from the Apprentice Theatre, rented for April and May 1937. They were joined by Liz Johnson and Elena Flohr, who shared expenses. * * * March 3rd 1937 5 Channing Place Cambridge, Mass. Oh Juliette, you deserve no letters as you never answer them but Julian says you have sprained your ankle and I hope that enforced quiet will bore you sufficiently to result in an answer to my two? three? neglected children that have lain unanswered for months. The tyranny of letters is frightful--sometimes I, who write a great many, think it more of a strain than it is worth! My dearest friends are all in places like Prague or California so that one mood never matches another. But it has been precious to have Julian's letters with their picture of a fantastically busy full life and their glimpses of you.     It is quite terrifying to think of seeing you both so soon--I always suffer unreasonably from the "mal du départ"--and the horrible cheerfulness of tenderness that hides, has already descended on Mummy and me. I hate leaving her. It makes me feel that I am getting old that I am now constantly somewhere deep down preparing myself for the time when she will die. It is absurd of course. The things one prepares oneself for and are armed against never happen, do they? It's always the unexpected things.     I wonder if my book has come yet and if you like it, or which ones you like best, or don't like at all.     Please send me a word. The only fun of a book of poems is to give it to one's friends. It has been quite thrilling to feel it going out in different corners of the earth. Today I just heard from Jean Dominique who didn't know the dedication of course. If you ever come to Brussels you must meet her and her two friends: Blanche Rousseau, the writer, and Gasparri, a very Belgian, eccentric, humourous school teacher. The novel is about them. Tomorrow I am going to the country for the day to work at it again. I have been thrown off by a job of raising money for Erika Mann and a group of German refugees--and the suspense of not knowing if the publisher would like it, but now I have the contract in my pocket I feel full of peace and longing to get to work. The trouble is that these departures always involve seeing so many people, I am quite exhausted.     I have a new French blue jacket like a soldier that you will like I hope. I thought of you when I got it. Otherwise there is simply no news. I have been reading Auden's new book Look Stranger. He is Erika's husband. Over and over again a single line touches me. "To settle in this village of the heart,/ My darling, can you bear it?" for instance, but the poem never leaps out of the page whole. I do admire him though. But on the whole I think he finds complicated ways of saying rather simple things and the great virtue of poetry--one of its virtues--is that power to say an apparently unsayable thing quite simply, don't you think? Which makes me decide that I must write you a poem--or wait to see you. I wouldn't want the enchantment that you and Julian together first of all, and then each by yourself, cast over me to be changed into anything less or more. And yet [ suppose it must and nothing stays where it is. Anyway it is good to think of seeing you soon--and please save some time for me in the three days following April 6th when I think I shall be sailing up the Thames--I want to see the frog and you, peacefully! Love M [ ] mal du départ: pain of departure, a phrase often used by Eleanor Mabel Sarton. my book: Encounter in April . Gasparri: Marie Gaspar, known as Gaspari or Titi to the younger students; see "Titi" in The New Yorker, 11 September 1954; also footnote to letter of 5 December 1936. the country: Sudbury, Massachusetts, home of Anne Thorp. Mann and a group of German refugees: Erika Julia Hedwig Mann-Auden 1905-1969), daughter of Thomas Mann (1875-1955, German novelist, Nobel Prize, 1929), had just brought over her own anti-Nazi theater company, banned throughout Europe for their political satire; later she became a journalist and commentator on culture and politics. Her marriage to English poet and dramatist W. H. Auden (1907-1973) in June 1935 was undertaken to provide Mann with a British passport and escape from Nazi persecution; the marriage was never dissolved. "To settle in this village ...": opening of poem xxiii in Auden's Look Stranger (1936); U.S. title On This Island (1937). (Contiunes...) Copyright © 1999 Estate of May Sarton. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Francis HuxleyMay Sarton
Forewordp. 13
Editor's Prefacep. 17
Chronologyp. 23
Key to Addressp. 29
Works Referred Top. 33
Letters of May Sarton to Juliette Huxleyp. 37
Appendixp. 343
Working Drafts of Introductionp. 343
Letters and Parts of Letters from Juliette Huxleyp. 352
Unpublished Poems and Original French Lettersp. 371
Acknowledgmentsp. 387
Indexp. 389