The first publication of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s private, intimate diaries, providing “a candid self-portrait of the ‘bad girl of American letters’” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Provides an occasion to revisit not just [Millay’s] improbable life but also her sometimes revelatory work.”—Abigail Deutsch, Wall Street Journal
“Rapture and Melancholy paints a picture of artistic triumph, romantic tumult, and a daily life that descended into addiction.”—Heather Clark, New York Times Book Review
The English author Thomas Hardy proclaimed that America had two great attractions: the skyscraper, and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. In these diaries the great American poet illuminates not only her literary genius, but her life as a devoted daughter, sister, wife, and public heroine; and finally as a solitary, tragic figure.
This is the first publication of the diaries she kept from adolescence until middle age, between 1907 and 1949, focused on her most productive years. Who was the girl who wrote “Renascence,” that marvel of early twentieth-century poetry? What trauma or spiritual journey inspired the poem? And after such celebrity why did she vanish into near seclusion after 1940? These questions hover over the life and work, and trouble biographers and readers alike. Intimate, eloquent, these confessions and keen observations provide the key to understanding Millay’s journey from small-town obscurity to world fame, and the tragedy of her demise.
About the Author
Pulitzer Prize winner Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950) was a poet and playwright. Millay biographer Daniel Mark Epstein is a poet and dramatist, the author of books about Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, and Bob Dylan, and a recipient of awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Holly Peppe, literary executor for Edna St. Vincent Millay, has written and lectured about the poet’s life and work since the early 1980’s, when she lived in Millay’s home at Steepletop with the poet’s younger sister Norma. Dr. Peppe’s essays about Millay appear in the Penguin Classics, Harper Perennial, and Yale University Press editions of her poetry.
“Rapture and Melancholy: The Diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay, edited by Millay biographer Daniel Mark Epstein, provides an occasion to revisit not just her improbable life but also her sometimes revelatory work. . . . While the diary entries vary widely in interest level, Epstein’s biographical summations are reliably fascinating and informative. . . . Hopefully the release of this complex woman’s diaries will draw readers’ attention to the complexity of her work, which offers much more than figs and ferries.”—Abigail Deutsch, Wall Street Journal
“Seven decades after Millay’s death, Rapture and Melancholy paints a picture of artistic triumph, romantic tumult, and a daily life that descended into addiction.”—Heather Clark, New York Times Book Review
“The Millay who emerges in these entries is not the famed poet, performer, and lover but another Millay, whose inner world helps situate the story of her life anew.”—Apoorva Tadepalli, The Nation
“The poet’s account of her life is raw, intense and rich in detail, supplementing the poems with another kind of first-person voice.”—Lucy McDiarmid, Times Literary Supplement
“The Millay we remember is forever lovely and lyrical . . . yet her diaries give us a fuller picture of the poet than we have ever seen.”—Sandra M. Gilbert, American Scholar
“A candid self-portrait of the ‘bad girl of American letters.’ . . . Authoritative introductions contribute to the literary significance of the diaries.”—Kirkus Reviews
“These diaries show us the young writer who was a sensitive, often forlorn, aspirant and the established poet at the apex of literary fame who achieved her wildest early fantasies.”—Declan Ryan, PoetryFoundation.org
“Epstein assembles in this intimate collection the first publication of the diaries of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950). The entries, which cover 1907–1949, offer moving insights into the interior and domestic life of the Pulitzer winner. . . . Through it all, Millay comes across as full of life: energetic, intelligent, and vivacious.”—Publishers Weekly
“For all her excesses and insecurities, her faults and bad decisions, there is still something admirable about Millay’s curiosity, her play in the klieg lights, her appetite for life. In 1912, Infinity and Eternity had beckoned, and the young Millay had followed.”—Maggie Doherty, New Yorker
“Rapture and Melancholy, particularly in its first half, will also appeal to general readers interested in the unfiltered workings of a lively, complicated mind. The diaries reveal a writer both insecure and imperious, convivial and lonely, kind and cruel: brilliantly and wretchedly human.”—Carolyn Oliver, On the Seawall
“Of interest both to academics who wish to explore the context behind Millay’s work and also to a wider readership hungry for intimate access to their favorite poet. Epstein’s edition fulfills expectations on both counts . . . [and] will undoubtedly provide an indispensable resource for Millay scholars, and Millay fans, for years to come.”—Sarah Parker, American Literary History
“A book of surprising revelations and careful silences, these diaries constitute a remarkable portrait not only of a woman, an artist, and a citizen, but of the cultural life of her time.”— David Bergman, author of The Poetry of Disturbance
“An essential work for the study of Millay, Daniel Mark Epstein’s brilliant edition of her diaries takes us with great knowledge and insight behind the scenes of her remarkably poetic, complex life.”—Jonathan Cohen, author of Muna Lee: A Pan-American Life
“Endlessly intriguing and illuminating. The publication of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s diaries is a major literary event, providing astonishing insight into the great poet’s art and life.”—Chloe Honum, author of The Tulip-Flame
“From her ‘tired and crushed and driven’ girlhood through days of gardening in the nude, Millay kept diaries that illuminate a gifted poet’s life and are a pleasure to read. Millay’s prejudices emerge as nakedly as the gardener herself, and the late entries about addiction are devastating. I’m still grateful for this book. It was hard for an ambitious woman to survive her own daring. We need to remember it.”—Lesley Wheeler, author of Poetry’s Possible Worlds