Faculty Bookshelf: Carol DeBoer-Langworthy

The Modern World of Neith Boyce: Autobiography and Diaries

Carol DeBoer-Langworthy

 

Compiled from holograph and typed witnesses in the American Literature Collection of Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, this edition of Boyce's lifewriting supports her reputation as a pioneer of literary modernism. Remembered as a founding member of the Provincetown Players, Boyce is also famous for her longtime marriage to the anarchist journalist Hutchins Hapgood and their mutual struggles with theories of Free Love. This volume of hitherto-unpublished diaries and what she called "a sort of autobiography" also reveals events and family concerns that surface in her later fiction and plays.

Born in Indiana in 1872, Boyce grew up in Los Angeles, where her father was a co-founder of the Los Angeles Times. She, as a teenager, participated in the bohemian life of the city before moving east with her family. In Boston and New York she worked as a freelance writer, then as a reporter and editor on Lincoln Steffens’ Commercial Advertiser. There she met Hapgood, whom she married in 1899. Her “autobiography” ends with her marriage.

Two other documents, diaries, also comprise the book. One records her first sojourn in Europe in 1903 with Hapgood and their son. A second recounts a trip to Italy in 1914—when she, Mabel Dodge and Carl Van Vechten plus assorted children became stranded there with the outbreak of World War I. Honoring Boyce’s placement of these documents together in possible order for publication, this documentary edition also portrays her early friendships with Gertrude Stein, Mabel Dodge, Carl Van Vechten, Lincoln Steffens, and a host of lesser-known artists and writers who contributed to the creative flux of the first half of the 20th century.

Boyce would go on to publish four novels, dozens of short stories, plays—one of which, “Winter’s Night,” is now considered a feminist classic—, poetry, essays, memoir, and finally, a volume of family and national history compiled from 250 years of family letters and public documents. Her friendship circle included Mary Heaton Vorse, Susan Glaspell, John Dos Passos, Marguerite Zorach, Mina Loy, and many other creative artists. She died in Provincetown in 1951.

"Neith Boyce's autobiography is a lost treasure of Americana, rescued from the archives and scrupulously edited by Carol DeBoer-Langworthy. Boyce's pictures of Los Angeles as a small town and New York as a small city at the turn of the century are vivid and priceless. And the account of her struggle to live as an independent professional woman is engrossing. She was a fine professional writer—one of a number of women writing in the early twentieth century whose work deserves recognition and reexamination now. This collection of her autobiographical writings is an excellent first step."—Robert Scholes, co-director of the Modernist Journals Project at Brown University

"Building on the work of Boyce's two daughters, who spent years annotating family correspondence, DeBoer-Langworthy has uncovered the details of Boyce's youth, her family's financial reverses and multiple moves, as well as her early career as a journalist in Boston and New York. She has also identified most of the people mentioned in the text, a considerable feat considering that Boyce gave many of her characters (including herself) pseudonyms or identified them by their initials alone. DeBoer-Langworthy also has carefully adhered to Boyce's typed manuscripts, including her handwritten changes, and standardizes only punctuation, spelling and spacing. " —Mary Jo Binker, Documentary Editing 28(2), Summer 2006

"...THE MODERN WORLD OF NEITH BOYCE is a valuable book for its presentation of Neith Boyce's life in a much more complete way than it has ever appeared before, and for its publication of Boyce's autobiography, an interesting example of a life within modernism recalled in a thoroughly modernist style. Like other female writers of her time, Neith Boyce clearly struggled for—and at times won—an independence and freedom that had not even been imagined a generation before her. Carol DeBoer-Langworthy's introduction to THE MODERN WORLD OF NEITH BOYCE honors this struggle with its attention to detail and passion for the life of Boyce. This important work contributes much to our critical understanding of Boyce and the modern world she sought to live in and write about. As its editor intended, it ensures that the life and lifewriting of Neith Boyce will not be forgotten this time." —Julie Rak, Lifewriting Annual vol 2, December 2008

ISBN: 0-8263-3147-5