Body and Soul: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Healing
In Body and Soul: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Healing, biographer Panthea Reid tells the story of her love affair with her husband, John Fischer, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Jonathan Swift scholar. Until John’s sudden death in 2015, they shared a four-decades-long love affair and literary partnership. Body and Soul unveils their deep romantic bond that began in the halls of Louisiana State University, where Reid and Fischer met in 1974. Two years later, they were married. Reid traces their rich literary partnership and shares their scholarly travels in pursuit of academic research. While Reid wove her way from William Faulkner to Virginia Woolf to Tillie Olsen, John deepened his expertise on his lifelong scholarly subject, Jonathan Swift. Together they built a family with Panthea’s son, Reid, from a previous marriage and their daughter, Hannah. Through the ups and downs of academic life and its attendant politics, Panthea and John’s love for each other, for literature, and for their family deepened and grew. After retiring from their teaching professions, the couple moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Panthea had by now completed biographies of Virginia Woolf and would complete another on Tillie Olsen. John pursued his Swift research, eventually taking up the project of completing the manuscript of Swift’s Word-Book—a dictionary Swift created for a female companion named Esther Johnson. Reid narrates the shock of her husband’s untimely death and shares the painful, sometimes amusing, always heartfelt story of her journey toward healing, during which she began writing again and also took up the task of completing the Word-Book, John’s final, unfinished project, continuing their literary partnership even after his death. With a list of suggested resources, Body and Soul provides a roadmap for those also suffering from loss and grief. Despite the heartbreak, Reid’s story ultimately celebrates life and the power of love.
Jonathan Swift’s Word-Book
This Word-Book is presumably the only work of Jonathan Swift’s not in print, until now. Since the 1690s, Swift had been formulating a list of words and definitions for his protégé Esther Johnson, beginning with terms from the Book of Common Prayer. His was apparently an on-going list, kept rather haphazardly, with open spaces for adding new words. About 1710, when Swift was in London, Johnson, in Dublin, set out to formalize the dictionary, copying out Swift’s words and definitions to make an orderly and careful book with no blank spaces. Probably in 1713, when Swift returned to Ireland, Johnson presented her Word-Book to him, but his school-masterly corrections of her work may have offended her. After Johnson’s death in 1728, Swift gave the Word-Book to their mutual friend, Elizabeth Sican. It was passed down over generations, until in 1976, the young American Swiftian A. C. Elias, Jr., bought it, intending to edit it in his old age. Before his early death of lung cancer in 2008, Elias asked John Fischer to assume the challenge of bringing the book into print. Fischer took on the task until 2015, when he too died of a lung disease. His wife Panthea Reid completed the task for her husband. This volume includes illustrations from the original book, a transcript of it with schematic indications of Swift’s corrections, essays and appendices by Fischer and Elias, tracing provenance, exploring the social and psychological milieu in which the book was written, and tracking Swift’s work as a lexicographer. This appearance of Swift’s last book to be printed is a publishing event.
Tillie Olsen: One Woman, Many Riddles
In Tillie Olsen: One Woman, Many Riddles, Panthea Reid examines the complex life of this iconic feminist hero and twentieth-century literary giant.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Tillie Olsen spent her young adulthood there, in Kansas City, and in Faribault, Minnesota. She relocated to California in 1933 and lived most of her life in San Francisco. From 1962 on, she sojourned frequently in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Santa Cruz, and Soquel, California. She was a 1920s "hell-cat"; a 1930s revolutionary; an early 1940s crusader for equal pay for equal work and a war-relief patriot; an ex-GI's ideal wife in the later 1940s; a victim of FBI surveillance in the 1950s;a civil rights and antiwar advocate during the 1960s and 1970s; and a life-long orator for universal human rights.
The enigma of Tillie Olsen is intertwined with that of the twentieth century. From the rebellions in Czarist Russia, through the terrors of the Depression and the hopes of the New Deal, to World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, and the United Nations' founding, to the cold war and House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, to later progressive and repressive movements, the story of Olsen's life brings remote events into focus.
In her classic short story "I Stand Here Ironing" and her groundbreaking Tell Me a Riddle, Yonnondido, and Silences, Olsen scripted powerful, moving prose about ordinary people's lives, exposing the pervasive effects of sexism, racism, and classism and elevating motherhood and women's creativity into topics of study. Popularly referred to as "Saint Tillie," Olsen was hailed by many as the mother of modern feminism.
Based on diaries, letters, manuscripts, private documents, resurrected public records, and countless interviews, Reid's artfully crafted biography untangles some of the puzzling knots of the last century's triumphs and failures and speaks truth to legend, correcting fabrications and myths about and also by Tillie Olsen.
Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf
More than fifty-five years after her death, Virginia Woolf remains a haunting figure, a woman whose life was both brilliantly successful and profoundly tragic. As the author of Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, The Waves, Orlando, and Between the Acts, she helped reinvent the novel for the modernist era. And through A Room of One's Own, Three Guineas, and other writings, she continues to inform feminist thought. Yet this supremely gifted woman of letters endured crippling bouts of depression--the incandescent artist who captivated some of the most noted men and women of her time died alone, wading out into the depths of the river Ouse to drown, hoping to find "rest on the floor of the sea." Until now, we have had no adequate explanation of why she did so.
In this bold and compassionate new biography, Panthea Reid at last weaves together the diverse strands of Virginia Woolf's life and career. In lucid and often poetic prose, she offers a dazzlingly complete portrait that is essential to our reading of Woolf. Rich in detail and imaginative insight, Art and Affectionmeticulously documents how the twin desires to write and to be loved drove Woolf all her life. Drawing on a wealth of original documents, many unfamiliar and heretofore unpublished, including the surviving letters of Woolf's parents and grandmother, the vast collections of letters written among Bloomsbury friends and acquaintances, the manuscripts of Woolf's writing, her suicide notes, and other sources, Reid allows Woolf and her intimates to speak for themselves.
Her findings correct many misconceptions about Woolf's upbringing and her most significant relationships. She reveals, for instance, that recent reports of sexual abuse in Woolf's childhood have been exaggerated--that while the writer was sexually traumatized by her half-brothers and emotionally scarred by her father, she was most deeply wounded by the neglect of her mother (often depicted as the very model of Victorian maternal devotion) and by her love for and rivalry with her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell. Reid describes the competition between the sisters that became for Virginia a contest between their arts, the pen versus the brush. The effects of this rivalry were not uniformly negative--Reid shows that Virginia's jealous preoccupation with modern painting sparked her own aesthetic vision and experimentation with written forms--but the end results were tragic. Virginia's flirtation with Vanessa's husband, carefully documented here, so alienated her sister that after 1910 Virginia never again felt secure of Vanessa's affection. Reid presents powerful evidence that fear of losing both Vanessa's love and her own writing gift ultimately triggered Woolf's final suicidal depression. She also reevaluates Virginia's marriage to the writer and publisher Leonard Woolf. Reid also finds that Leonard was surprisingly supportive of Virginia's erotic relationship with Vita Sackville-West and that his constant devotion provided Virginia with the secure emotional soil in which art and affection could flourish and she could keep at bay, until her fifty-ninth year, the demons of manic-depression. Reid shows how, until the end, Virginia Woolf's own "insatiable desire to write something before I die" most sustained her.
Brimming with new revelations and graced with sixty-six rare photographs and illustrations, Art and Affection is the definitive new account of the triumphs and tragedies that molded Virginia Woolf into one of the most original voices in modern literature.