Friday, November 12, 2010

Elizabeth Smart Profile and Full Biography

Born in Ottawa, Ontario, she was the daughter of a lawyer who was a member of the Anglo-Canadian social establishment. She attended Hatfield Hall, a private school, and at eighteen travelled to England to study piano under Katharine Goodson. When she returned to Canada in 1933, she briefly joined the staff of the Ottawa Journal, writing society notes. In 1937, she spent six months as the private secretary to Mrs Alfred Watts, head of the Associated Country Women of the World, on a world tour to promote the organization. With the ambition to become a writer, she submitted poems to Lawrence Durrell's Paris magazine Booster and, at his suggestion, began a literary correspondence with the English poet George Barker. While staying at a writers' colony in Big Sur, California, in the fall of 1940, she secured passage for Barker and his wife to the United States. A passionate love affair ensued. He became the father of her four children.
In 1941 Smart travelled alone to Pender Harbour, British Columbia, where she completed her first novel, By Grand central station I sat down and wept (1945), a prose poem—part incantation and part cry of pain—about passion and the loss of love. (It was reissued in England in 1966, with a Foreword by the English critic Brigid Brophy.) After giving birth in Pender Harbour to her first child, Smart took a job as a file clerk in the British Army Office in Washington, D.C., to be with Barker, who had been barred from entry into Canada on her mother's instigation. She was transferred to the Ministry of Defence in London in 1943, and supported herself and her children for the next two decades by writing copy for fashion magazines like Vogue and Queen, of which she became literary editor.

In 1977, following almost three decades of silence, Smart published a collection of poems, A bonus. After the poetic, incantatory style of her novel, it is surprising in its casual conversational language and clipped rhythms. The poet is less interested in metaphor and image than in theme. The book is largely about writing: the struggle to speak when silence is seductive; the battle against a sense of inadequacy; the release and elation that comes out of the pain of writing. The impulse to order and cultivate is explored in many poems about gardening. The poems in A bonus are not profound, but they are moving in their efforts to examine the problems of the writer who chooses to abandon the distractions of love for the necessary self-absorption of the artist: ‘Growing is the strange death in life that nobody mourns.’

Smart's second novel, The assumption of the rogues and rascals (1978), like its predecessor, is essentially a poetic meditation without a plot structure. Set in postwar England, it explores the psychology of a woman of thirty-one, trapped in despair, who ‘stops at its ardent, obstreperous source, every hopeful passion’, and who cannot decide whether her hell is self-created or life's failure. The novel is structured by means of associations: snippets of conversation, dreams, memories (the fiction of Samuel Beckett provides a precedent). The rogues and rascals of the title—the misfits who at least have the courage to resist the forces of normalcy and mediocrity—are the outlawed. The novel ends with the dilemma of the writer—how and why to write—and offers an archetypal model: Philoctetes, isolated on his island with his body a running and hot scene.
Smart lived in Canada from 1982 to 1984, and, encouraged by the poet Alice VanWart, contemplated publishing her journals. In 1984 she published an interim collection of her writings, In the meantime, which contains the remarkably titled story ‘Dig a grave and let us bury our mother’, written in 1940 while Smart stayed briefly in Mexico with the surrealist painters Wolfgang Paalen and Alice Rahon. It is the story of a love affair between two women, recorded with an erotic intensity that would have been shocking in its day. The book also contains poems and a diary from which the book draws its title: ‘In the meantime: diary of a blockage’. The year before Smart died, the first volume of her journals appeared: Necessary secrets, edited by VanWart. Recording Smart's life from 1933 to 1941, it makes clear that the diary form was—for Smart, as it was for Virginia Woolf—less a space for confession than for rigorous experimentation as she undertook her self-imposed apprenticeship in writing. Some of the lyrical passages about landscape and love from Smart's early entries would eventually appear in her novel By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept.

After Smart's death, a number of new books appeared: Autobiographies (1987), edited by Christina Burridge, a miscellaneous collection of Smart's documents, letters, and journals dating from 1940 to 1982; Juvenilia (1987) edited by VanWart, a collection of early stories written between the ages of eleven and nineteen, with family letters; and Elizabeth's garden: Elizabeth Smart on the art of gardening (1989), which collects some of the columns she wrote for the British magazine Harper's Bazaar, with excerpts from her garden journals. Smart was a celebrated gardener; her garden in Suffolk was featured in an issue of Harper's Queen in 1975. The collected poems, with a forward by the British poet David Gascoyne, was published in 1992 and adds significantly to the material in A bonus. What Gascoyne called her ‘wry’, ‘cheeky’ truthfulness is evident in poems like ‘All I know about why I write’, but the most moving poem in the volume is the harrowing elegy to her daughter, Rose, who died at the age of thirty-five. On the side of the angels (1994), the second volume of Smart's journals dating from the 1940s to the 1980s, was also edited by VanWart. Its often exquisite lyric prose and subject—the intense confrontation with the difficulties of trying to live as mother and writer, explored with such candour as to become universal—confirmed Smart's talent for the autobiographical mode. The aphorisms she crafted to render a compassionate account of life's frustrations, particularly for women, are often brilliant, and make her journals an important contribution to women's writing.

Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom on 5 June 2002 by a gun-wielding stranger who had broken into her family's Salt Lake City home. Smart's younger sister, Mary Katherine, witnessed the crime while pretending to be asleep. In October, Mary Katherine told her parents she thought the kidnapper was Brian David Mitchell, a drifter and street preacher who called himself Emmanuel and had done odd jobs at the Smart home one day in November of 2001. On March 12, 2003, Elizabeth Smart was found alive in Sandy, a suburb of Salt Lake City, after being spotted while walking with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Ilene Barzee. Mitchell and Barzee were arrested, and Smart was reunited with her family. Both Mitchell and Barzee were eventually declared incompetent to stand trial and confined to mental institutions for treatment. In November of 2009 Barzee struck a deal with prosecutors that involved her pleading guilty and cooperating in the case against Mitchell, just as Smart was preparing to leave for France on a mission for her church.

People magazine named Elizabeth Smart one of its '50 Most Beautiful People' in 2005... The Smart investigation initially focused on Richard Ricci, another handyman who had worked for the Smarts. Ricci was never charged with Smart's kidnapping, but in August 2002 he died of a brain hemorrhage in prison while being held on a parole violation from another crime... Smart is no relation to New Hampshire criminal Pamela Smart.


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