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Kay Boyle Biography

(1902–1992), Being Geniuses Together, Plagued by the Nightingale, Year Before Last, My Next Bride, Avalanche

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American writer, born in Minnesota, educated at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the Ohio Mechanics Institute. She moved with her first husband to France, and lived in Europe for twenty years. Much of her fiction draws on autobiographical sources; a memoir, Being Geniuses Together (1938), co-authored with Robert McAlmon, movingly chronicles her experiences in Paris and elsewhere.

Boyle's deserved reputation as an innovative Modernist novelist rests on the relatively recent recognition of at least three of her works as feminist classics. She has herself criticized these works for being overly sympathetic to their autobiographical American heroine's perspective; but her intense and controlled use of lyrical imagery, combined with its personal tone, contributes greatly to the charm of Plagued by the Nightingale (1930), her first novel. The American Bridget, living in the conservative bosom of her French husband's wealthy family, is forced to choose between her sensual desires and her loyalty to her husband. In Year Before Last (1932), Boyle tells the story of the relationship of her American fictional alter ego, renamed Hannah, with the idealistic editor and writer Martin, who is dying of tuberculosis. It is probably the finest of her novels, deriving its conviction from personal grief. My Next Bride (1934), darker and more bitter, draws on another true encounter, and reveals Boyle's increasing ability to transform her autobiographical heroine into a convincing fictional character. Later novels, generated by the Second World War, including Avalanche (1944), Primer for Combat (1942), and A Frenchman Must Die (1946), were less successful. However, in the autumnal Underground Woman (1975), the story of a woman jailed for her involvement in anti-war protests during the Vietnam War and confronted with her daughter's vagrant lifestyle, Boyle again displays her considerable strengths as a novelist. These are underwritten by her exemplary and vocal concern for political and social justice and Civil Rights which is also evident in a collection of essays, Words That Must Somehow Be Said (1985).

Boyle began her literary career as a short-story writer with the collection Wedding Day (1929); she has since displayed consistent proficiency in the form. The best stories from her collections, which include The White Horses of Vienna (1936), the war-inspired The Smoking Mountain (1951), and Nothing Ever Breaks Except the Heart (1966), are arranged thematically and chronologically in Fifty Stories (1980). She is also the author of several volumes of poetry, including A Statement (1932), Collected Poems (1962), and This Is Not a Letter (1985).

Patrick Boyle Biography - (1905–82), The Irish Times, At Night All Cats Are Grey, Like Any Other Man [next]

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