9780262082518 / 0262082519

Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley


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Publisher:The MIT Press, 1996



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About the book:

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) is best known as an American modernist and pioneering artist of the early twentieth century. But he was also a prolific writer who published dozens of essays and reviews and several volumes of poetry and prose. The autobiographical account of his life in the manuscript collection of Yale¹s Beinecke Library has often been consulted by scholars and curators writing about Hartley. It is the most revealing document he left about his personal life and relationshipsboth for its disclosures and omissionsbut has never been published before.

Transcribed from Hartley¹s own handwritten manuscripts, this edition is accompanied by photographs (some never before published), notes, and an introduction discussing Hartley¹s fascination with autobiography in the context of his struggle with notions of self-representation in art. Susan Ryan also describes the circumstances surrounding the composition of Somehow a Past, and explains the distinctions between this original version and two later ones also in the Beinecke Library.

Somehow a Past is compelling both as historical document and as personal narrative. Although solitary, self-involved, and saturnine, Hartley nevertheless knew nearly every figure of the international avant-garde in his day and unfolds his life largely through a chain of personal encounters. His traffic with such major literary and artistic figures as Alfred Stieglitz, Vasili Kandinski, Gertrude Stein, Mabel Dodge, Eugene O¹Neill, Robert McAlmon, and Charles Demuth is recorded as are his travels both domestic and foreign.

Somehow a Past is gossipy, discursive, and self-distanced. Hartley drafted it several times, truncating the description of his traumatic childhood, and leaving out any overt reference to his homosexuality. Yet there are moments of crystal clear self-characterization and leitmotifs that commemorate his troubled youth.

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