Monday, June 5, 2017

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast, excerpt seven)

from Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast by Megan Marshall:

In the back pages of a small notebook dated December 1961 to May 1965, the years that saw the unraveling of Elizabeth and Lota’s marriage, Elizabeth kept a list of books she meant to buy (prices were sometimes noted) or had read. She entered stars alongside some of the titles: Selected Letters of Rilke, Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine, Guy Domville, The Life of Mary Wortly Montague—and The Problem of Homosexuality. The last, published in 1958, may be the only informational book on homosexuality Elizabeth ever mentioned in writing, aside from a reference to having read Havelock Ellis as a teenager in a letter to Ruth Foster. (Fiction was different: she’d read Djuana Barnes’s “good old” Nightwood soon after its publication in 1938, and told May Swenson she regretted having lost the book in her move to Brazil; she would not have been startled by The Group’s conclusion if it were not for the possibility that readers might take Lota for the Baroness.) Although she’d lived primarily in Rio during the years 1961-1965, Elizabeth eventually labeled the notebook “Ouro PrĂȘto,” and ideas she could have gleaned from The Problem of Homosexuality may have supported the choices she began to make in 1965 that led her away from Lota. Perhaps she sought out the book for help in justifying behavior that felt natural to her—as natural as her homosexuality—even as her actions were almost certain to hurt Lota if discovered.

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