The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer
“For nearly a century, Scofield Thayer has remained a somewhat shadowy figure in the history of modernism. But James Dempsey has at last illuminated Thayer’s passionate, intense, and agonizing story.”—Barry Ahearn, editor of The Correspondence of William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky
“As no other book has done before, The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer places Thayer’s contribution to modernism as editor of The Dial in the context of his personal struggles to forge a new aesthetic and to understand his own psychology and the life of his times.”—Michael Webster, author of Reading Visual Poetry after Futurism
Regarded as a titanic artistic and aesthetic achievement, the influential literary magazine The Dial published most of the great modernist writers, artists, and critics of its day. As publisher and editor of The Dial from 1920 to 1926, Scofield Thayer was gatekeeper and guide for the movement. His editorial curation introduced the ideas of literary modernism to America and gave American artists a new audience in Europe.
In The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer, James Dempsey looks beyond the public figure best known for publishing the work of William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, E.E. Cummings, and Marianne Moore to reveal a paradoxical man fraught with indecisions and insatiable appetites, and deeply conflicted about the artistic movement to which he was benefactor and patron. Thayer suffered from schizophrenia and faded from public life upon his resignation from The Dial. His struggle with mental illness and his controversial personal life led his guardians to prohibit anything of a personal nature from appearing in previous biographies. The story of Thayer’s unmoored and peripatetic life, which in many ways mirrored the cosmopolitan rootlessness of modernism, has never been fully told until now.
almost never in his correspondence—he almost always sees the relationship between man and woman as a power struggle, and sex itself as a kind of currency: The male of great possessions incorporates for the female those possessions more than does such a female for the male. To him she is, after all, a physical and animal object; to her he is primarily a power, a force, a something capable of increase, actually of multiplication, through the worldly power there inherent. He can enjoy his knowledge
letter containing a single white feather, the emblem of cowardice. He noted only that the stationery was “queer paper.”13 Bourne introduced Thayer to several of his friends, including Alyse Gregory. Gregory was a young Progressive who had given up a promising career as Death of the Prophet a singer to move to New York and work for women’s suffrage and other issues. Her apartment at Patchin Place—then the focal point of the bohemia of Greenwich Village—quickly became a salon for Bourne. “My
is not I presume the case with nervous breakdowns, especially when they are both in the same family.”26 101 102 The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer From a letter to Alyse Gregory written in January 1922, we get a better idea of how things were going in Thayer’s sessions with Freud. You have expressed interest in my affair with the Great Master. As I mentioned in my last letter, there are excellent reasons why I should not want to venture myself at present into any complicated study of our
will in the world and really do not want to be my usually contentious and pigheaded self. Yet I cannot honestly accept the diagnosis. Perhaps I might mention that the diagnosis is distinctly more serious than that given by Dr. Clark and most unpleasant. Of course I realise that herein may lie that cause of my inability to accept the diagnosis. But I do To the Great Master think I am capable of looking at the case critically from the outside and even when I try to do so I cannot accept the
this astounding association. And yet these two millionaires, in the face of the crass stupidity of the Philistine world, in the face of the sneering hostility of a score of pseudo-literary cliques, had managed to produce in America a journal which, without any doubt, is the most distinguished of its kind to appear in the English language since the publication of the Yellow Book. But how quaint it was to see these two working together for the aesthetic enlightenment of the Western world! It was