May Sarton has not only been an artist, poet, novelist, memoirist, but, like other modern writers, she has seen her life as interacting with her art.
Experience becomes meaningful, reveals itself, when it has been transformed into art.
Carolyn Heilbrun Hamlet’s Women
Some quotes from her earliest memoir, I Knew a Phoenix:
Of her father:
“He spent his days writing and reading, yet he reminded himself in his journal that next year (he would be twenty-one) he would undertake some scientific studies at the university, ‘in order to get into closer touch with life’. There was no sign of the dedicated scientist and historian, except that cryptic comment in his journal, a journal that bore the title The Non-Conformist: ‘I believe one can divide men into two principal categories: those who suffer the tormenting desire for unity and those who do not’.”
Of her mother:
She had lifted out of a pile of rubbish a single Venetian glass on a long delicate stem so dirty it had become opaque, but miraculously intact. How had this single object survived to give us courage? It went back with us to Cambridge and it was always there, wherever we lived. And now it is here, in my own house, a visible proof that it is sometimes the most fragile thing that has the power to endure.
Of her dream:
I blurted out that my dream was to play Hedda Gabler. No one could have looked more remote from the cold elegant Hedda than this awkward adolescent girl, hair cut like a boy’s, her whole peson suggesting exactly what she was, a professor’s daughter. The incongruity of the wish and the person who expressed it made Miss Le Gallienne laugh, and turn on me an amused, appraising eye. The ice was broken, and after that she asked me to come back several times, and we were able to talk.
Of solitude in London:
Then I lost myself in London, I found a furnished room near Baker Street brown walls – brown bedcovers, a sooty window opening onto sooty ‘backs’ – where I stayed in bed writing all morning to save shillings on the gas meter, and in the afternoon walked and walked, in ignorance, dismay, curiosity through the streets and parks, wondering sometimes if I existed. This suspension of one’s own reality, this being entirely alone in a strange city…is an enriching state for a writer.