Cover image for The summer of '39 : a novel
The summer of '39 : a novel
Seymour, Miranda.
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Uniform Title:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, 1999.

Physical Description:
230 pages ; 25 cm
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Inspired by the events that occur after poets Robert Graves and Laura Riding leave Europe to spend a summer with a young American couple, this novel is told through the memoirs of a wizened recluse whose friendship with an enigmatic poet and husband-stealer ends in a tangle of divorce and madness.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

While writing the biography, Robert Graves: Life on the Edge (1995), Seymour became intrigued with the demise of Graves' knotty relationship with the American poet Laura Riding during the fateful summer of 1939, when they traveled to America to visit Katharine and Schuyler Jackson. Neither couple survived intact. Graves returned to Europe alone, Katharine landed in a mental institution, and Schuyler and Riding eventually married. Rather than focus on the real-life figures she knows so well, however, Seymour universalized their story by creating Nancy Brewster, a complex and poignant fictional heroine who suffers Katharine's fate. Born to Boston Brahmins, Nancy should have reaped the rewards of privilege, but instead was sexually abused by her father and betrayed by her mother. Once on her own, she moves to New York and falls in love with Chance Brewster, a penniless literary aesthete. Nancy's eloquent account of her anguished childhood and bohemian life with Chance occupies most of Seymour's adroitly orchestrated, subtly mystical, and quietly suspenseful novel, making the devastation to come all the more wrenching. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Novelist and biographer Seymour's inspiration for her fourth novel (following a biography of Robert Graves, Living on the Edge) comes from a notorious 1939 incident involving Graves and his then-companion, poet Laura Riding. As a result of the summer the two spent with Schuyler and Katharine Jackson, a young American couple, Jackson left his wife for Riding, and Katharine was institutionalized after attempting to strangle one of her daughters. Seymour's narrator is a Katharine Jackson-like character, who tells her story from the perspective of a reclusive old age. Nancy Parker grows up enduring her father's abuse and her mother's scorn; only her visits to her aunt and uncle at Point House in Falmouth, Mass., afford solace. On a trip to New York, she meets Chance Brewster, a promising young writer, literary impresario and founder of an obscure small press. After years in Greenwich Village and on New Jersey farms, always in close proximity to Bill and Annie Taylor, their closest friends, they end up at Point House, where Nancy, who has never entirely recovered from the trauma of her childhood and sensing herself out of place in the intellectual world she married into, finally feels safe. Gurdjieff and Edmund Wilson make appearances, but it is visionary poet Isabel March who has the greatest impact on the foursome. When Isabel and her lover, Charles Neville, move in with the Brewsters, Nancy allows the enigmatic woman to gradually take over her husband, poison her relationship with her children and push her over the edge into madness. Too late she learns that Isabel's mesmerizing obsession with truth in art masks her deceptive wiles. Although Isabel is not convincingly the charmer for whom men would die, the reverberations of her acts are powerful. In elegant, richly evocative prose, Seymour moves back and forth from Nancy's childhood to her old age, weaving a delicate net of narrative around an ominous core of darkness, in which personal demons are mixed up with a general dread of Hitler and the horrors to come. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved