Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Edna St. Vincent Millay: the free spirit

She was once the most famous person in the entire world. And now barely anyone knows she existed.

Who was Edna St. Vincent Millay?

This red-haired, green-eyed beauty was born in 1892 in Maine to a financially-strained single mother and a household of talented, artistic sisters.

When she was 20, Vincent won fourth place in a poetry contest for Renascence, a poem which made her an overnight sensation on the East coast.

When it became known the young poet was living in poverty, a wealthy fan paid her way to Vassar College.

While in school, Vincent blossomed into a bisexual bohemian, writing some of her best poems by day and discovering delicious, passionate carnal pleasure by night.

As an undergrad, she not only became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, but she also published a best-selling collection of her work.

Upon graduating from Vassar, Vincent moved to Greenwich Village in New York City.

Her hippie lifestyle was almost half a century before its time. The gorgeous vixen lounged around her apartment, drinking booze and experimenting with drugs.

Dozens of men and women fell in love with her. Vincent slept with them all, but kept her heart at arm's length.

She quickly became the most famous woman in the entire world. Her poetry readings in the 1920s were more like rock concerts, with hysterical fans screaming for encores and hundreds of people desperate to catch a glimpse of the ethereal enchantress.

Every move she made was headlined in the tabloids. Millionaires around the world demanded her presence at their parties.

But it wasn't long before Vincent's dizzying glam-fest came to a screeching halt. The 20-something-year-old fell victim to alcoholism, drug addiction, and numerous embarrassing health problems, which hindered her travel and work.

Fortunately, the literary princess had a knight in shining armor waiting in the sidelines. To the shock of her friends and lovers, Vincent married Eugen Boissevain, a Dutch businessman.

The couple moved to a 435-acre dairy farm in upstate New York, which they named Steepletop. It would become the beloved home where they would spend the rest of their lives.

Instead of hindering Vincent's work, Eugen nurtured it. He allowed Vincent to retain her lovers and explore her sexuality. He desperately tried nursing her back to health from her addictions.

He simply loved her.

One year after her husband's death in 1949, Vincent tumbled down a staircase at Steepletop, breaking her neck and dying in a crumbled heap on the floor. She was only 58.

Many conspiracy theorists believe Vincent threw herself down the stairs, heartbroken over the loss of her soulmate, Eugen. Others speculated she was inebriated or had a heart attack.

Steepletop is now home to the Millay Colony for the Arts, which offers one-month residencies to visual artists, composers and writers.

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light!

-First Fig, Edna St. Vincent Millay


Gayatri said...

WOW! It's true that genius & madness go hand in hand! Where do you find these photos Jenny?

Tights Lover said...

I swear, if I had known some of these back stories I would've paid more attention in English class...hahaha.

Sometimes I wish I lived during a time when writers and poets were the celebrities...rather than what we have now.

Angie said...

Jennifer these tributes/brief bios are terrific! I have to agree with Tights Lover regarding writers and poets vs. the celebrity we have today. It seems there is so little appreciation for fine arts and humanities these days. Thank you for sharing!

Kristin said...

Are you working on a book? If should be!

Anonymous said...

gosh, these stories always end so terribly...

Arielle said...

Wow, that's crazy! I wonder if she did throw herself down the stairs...hmm..


Becca said...

New to your blog here but SOOO Loving your bios on these amazing women!

Olga said...

I really like the way you find forgotten names and introduce these extraordinary people to us.

Alison said...

What a fascinating biography, and how sad that so much genius was lost.

when BABI speaks said...

I was like reading a history book. cool post and the photos are classically beautiful!


SassyUptownChic said...

She was something else! LOL The husband let her continue her sexual escapades...Sounds like a Swingers life! HAHAHA Amazing story! Have a great evening Jennifer!

Shybiker said...

I'm lovin' your historical biographies. I'm learning new stuff in entertaining ways. Thanks!

Meri said...

I didn't know much at all about her before. I'm glad she found someone to care for her before her tragic end!

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle... said...

Well, your favorite ladies certainly aren't the wall-flower type, Jenny ;-) I am ashamed to confess I had never heard of Vincent or her poetry until today. Thank you for teaching me something! Veronique

JoaNNa said...

another beautiful post!
i was quite shocked when i read that the husband let her keep her lovers. his love to her was truly genuine :)

Leia said...

I ADORE this series of biography posts you've been writing lately. I've been learning so much about interesting people! I had read some of her poetry but had no idea what kind of life she lived. Enjoyed this so much!

Josie said...

Jen... You've gotta stop bringing me down like this! Whatever happened to a happy ending?
xo Josie

Vix said...

What a fascinating woman. You certainly put some effort in your posts.x

Ivana said...

I love how you always make me discover the most interesting women! Thank you!

xx Ivana

Stop by sometimes :)
Style in the City

Chic 'n Cheap Living said...

What an interesting life story! Now i have to look up her poems!

Chic 'n Cheap Living

genuinstyle said...

Love these kind of posts you make :) You are a talented writer!

Stephanie said...

I'm utterly fascinated by each and every one of these posts, even if I don't have much to add to the conversation. Seriously, you leave me speechless a lot of the time. (About that book? Have you started it yet?)

The Blonde Duck said...

This proves I'm not a brilliant writer! I'm not that crazy.

Savvy Gal said...

wow. I love reading these type of posts on your blog.

FashionJazz said...

Wow, you always post the most hectic and interesting things babe :)


Imogen said...

I love this style of posts you have been doing lately. They are always very interesting. I'd never heard of her before that is quite a story. Such tragedy at the end.

Petra Bellejambes said...

Growing up and schooling in Canada, EVM never loomed on my literary radar other than as a big name whose work I had not yet explored.

Weirdly now I am both better informed and more ignorant. How did that happen?

You write beautifully Jennifer, economically and expressively. There is a very full arc in a very few words here.

I will be back for more.

xox - P

Rachel said...

Great post, Jennifer! Love these little bio posts you do! :)

Fashion.MakeUp.LifeStyle said...

WoW that's crazy scary...wonder if she really threw herself down the stairs...Just one of those things that make you go hhhhmmmmm....

<3 Marina

Nicolette said...

You have some very unusual photos indeed. I've read Savage Beauty and watched many other photos online but you take the cake in terms of pictures. However, all your info does not seem to be correct.

She was the first-born, so was not born 'into' a family of artistic sisters and her father left when she was young.

After reading Savage Beauty I travelled to Camden, ME. Later I went to Poughkeepsie and later again I visited Steepletop.

Finally, that's where the spell was broken and I have no idea why but I was not sad.

It was as if she had reeled me in just as she did to both men and women when she was alive.

First Fig was how I learnt about her and that will always be my favourite. I also immensely love Afternoon on a hill, and the untitled one where she gets up early to climb Megunticook
with 'an apple in the pocket.'

I believe without speculating that she tumbled from the stairs while drunk and that she was quite happy about it because life was unbearably unhappy and lonely without Gene.