One art : a study of the life and writing of Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop was as powerfully discreet about the facts of her life as she was about the genesis and motives of her writing. Her life was forged from an orphaned and potentially debilitating childhood and her poetry is implicitly constructed out of this history. This thesis is divided into two parts, prefaced by an introduction. The Introduction discusses the difficulties in defining Bishop's situation: her equivocal place within American twentieth-century poetry, her conservative but fiercely independent position as a woman writer, and the ambivalent intimacy between her life and her writing. She never denied the connections, but neither did she make them. Part One, "Life Study", offers a provisional biography. There is still no published biography of Bishop and my study is based on unpublished and archival material as well as published critical works, memoirs and interviews. I have attempted to situate her art within the contours of her life, as I understand them. Part Two, "Writing It", is a critical study in six chapters of the development of Bishop's writing. The first chapter acts as a bridge between Parts One and Two of the thesis. I t is a reading of her s tory "In the Village", which Bishop herself placed between the two parts of her book "Questions of Travel", and it presents the story as a paradigm of central questions that recur throughout her writing life. These might be described as, on the one hand the effort to recompose landscapes and homes which are fraught with anxiety and dissolution; and on the other, to celebrate increasingly the essentially precarious security she discovered in a vantage point which never ran the risk of arrival or fixity. The other five chapters of Part Two are organized chronologically: they explore her development as a poet by looking in turn at a sample of her early work and then the four books of poems published in her lifet~e. In a short afterword I reflect on the relationship between Bishop's art and her biography.