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published biography of Bishop and my study is based on unpublished and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