Tuesday, November 17, 2015

BOISSEVAIN Gen7 | Eugen–Tough and Tender (Updated Dec. 8, 2016)

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen 
Boissevain. Married in 1923, he died in 1949, 
same year as his sister Olga, my grandmother. 
Edna died in 1950. 
Nov. 8, 2016 update – The questions posed below are starker now that we have lived through a long and dark campaign between a New Woman with a long career in public service and a man who speaks of women in coarse terms.

Nov. 17, 2015–If the New Woman is one  who can do anything and is free to make her own choices among many options, how describe the corresponding New Man?

It's not so clear. Fatherhood is getting new respect, especially when the Mother is on the company CEO track.

We may know it when we see it. People Magazine, seeking to award the title of Sexiest Man Alive, has selected "tough and tender" David Beckham. Queen Elizabeth II seems to agree with the selection.

Multiple Male Masculinities

The "tough and tender" label fits the theory of multiple "male masculinities".  "Maleness" characteristics can appear to be contradictory:
  • A "real" man is a warrior, someone who shows no weakness or fear in the face of danger, and who protects his family.
  • But a good man is compassionate and empathetic, as in a gentleman or priestly figure–a listener who respects the fears of others and seeks to help at the deepest level.
Sexy=Tough &
There should be no contradiction. Someone who is good to have around the house needs to show two faces: a public one, ready to do skilled battle with hostile outsiders, and a private one ready to show empathy to insiders, the denizens of the place.

Hence the attractiveness of the gruff man like Darcy who shows his soft heart warily to the woman he loves.

It's hard in real life to find men who fully combine these seeming opposites. We may just see only one face. Or a man's public face is cowardly in the face of having to decide between two unattractive financial choices, or having to go through all the paperwork for the annual tax filing. Or he is beastly unappreciative about something his partner has prepared for him.

Men Who Supported Genius Wives

Laura Miller went on a hunt for "men who supported genius [women]"–i.e.,  the Great Literary Husband. She had better luck than Diogenes did in his hunt for an Honest Man. As reported in Salon in February 2014, Miller picks out Virginia Woolf's husband Leonard, and certifies him as Great Literary Husband #1. Next, she considers George Henry Lewes, who was good to George Eliot; but the two of them weren't married to each other, so Lewes gets the thumbs-down.

Finally, Miller finds Eugen Boissevain, who was married and devoted to two literary women, Inez Milholland and Edna St. Vincent Millay... and not at the same time. Miller makes him Great Literary Husband #2, and then ends her quest. Two men, Leonard and Eugen. Woolf and Boissevain, rarae aves.

What Was So Special about Eugen Boissevain? 

On August 8, 2015 I talked with an expert on American landmarks, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. She could see Eugen Boissevain as a landmark husband, and asked me:
What was it about Mr. Boissevain that attracted these two women, Inez and Edna?
Her question has interested me. Eugen's two marriages were very different. However, in both he balanced the two qualities of strength and empathy, warrior and priest. A successful businessman, marketplace warrior, with feeling. The physical and emotional needs of his two wives were very different. Eugen was brave and focused in facing them. For example:
  • He forgave them both in advance for any indiscretions with other lovers and told them he would battle to win them back. Inez used this Get Out of Jail Card once and found herself unexpectedly distressed by her own infidelity. Edna used it many times, with little apparent concern on either side.
  • In Inez's case he told her he was prepared to follow her into the next life when she died. It was her wish that he live on and find someone else.
  • In Edna's case he was prepared to take addictive drugs as a way to a better understanding of her persistent addictions.
These offers were not easy to make. They required from Eugen a combination of tenderness in understanding his wife's needs and a toughness in facing death or addiction. Eugen was unafraid of what he might find out about himself when he hiked up to see Carl Jung and went through the wringer with him. Jung himself appears braver and more honest than Freud if, as reported, Jung was willing to be analyzed by Freud, but Freud was unwilling to be analyzed by Jung.

We know that Guglielmo Marconi was in love with Inez Milholland and was engaged to her until his mother forbade the marriage. Marconi passed Inez on to Eugen, according to my mother: "You are strong enough for this woman. I am not." Inez's father was crushed that she did not marry Marconi, but the Irish woman Marconi did marry (with the blessing, this time, of his Irish mother) led a lonely life because Marconi readily chose working on his radio to being with her. Inez said something like: "The radio is wonderful but I wouldn't want to be married to it."

Upton Sinclair and many other men also swooned over Inez. Edmund Wilson, Max Eastman and uncountable young poets were in love with Edna. Eugen went after both of these women with determination.

Why did Inez, a feminist whose friends did not expect her to marry at all, decide that Eugen was the man for her so quickly in 1913? Why did Edna pick him in 1923? [It is my intent to write a fuller story about this. I have been preoccupied with a biography of Will Woodin and the story of the Boissevains.]

Eugen Boissevain
Married well and then again.
First Inéz, for the women's vote,
Then 'twas Edna, the poet to quote.
(Clerihew by JT Marlin.)

Eugen Boissevain's Childhood and Education

Oom Eugen is what my mother called her Uncle Eugen Jan Boissevain. He was married to two of the best-loved women of the first half of the 20th Century.

Eugen Jan Boissevain was born on May 20, 1880 in Amsterdam. His father was the editor of the Algemeen Handelsblad, the leading Dutch newspaper of the late 19th-early 20th century. Charles' father was from a Huguenot family that escaped from the Dordogne after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV.

His mother Emily Heloise MacDonnell was from an Anglo-Irish family in Dublin. Emily's mother – Emily Moylan MacDonnell – could trace her ancestors back to Edward III via two out-of-wedlock births. Emily McDonnell was a remarkable woman who lived all her life in Holland without ever giving up her English language or her Irish ways that Dutch considered wild or at best unconventional. My mother called her grandmother "an Irish rose among the tulips".

Like his other siblings, Eugen was brought up at Drafna, in Naarden-Bussum to the east of Amsterdam, early on by Polly, the family nurse and governess, and then by tutors, and finally in a private school.

As a youth, Eugen was a noted rower, having gotten as far as the Henley Regatta, the World Series of rowing. He was urged to contend for the Diamond Sculls, the stiffest of rowing competitions.

Through a connection of his father Charles, who had published a diary of his visit to the United States, Eugen visited President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House in 1901 and developed an affection for America. In 1912 he started working for Guglielmo Marconi, who had been engaged to marry Inez Milholland and was dissuaded by his Irish mother (related to Eugen's mother), who feared he would emigrate to the United States.

Marriage to Inez Milholland

On his second visit to the United States in 1913, Eugen met Inez and decided to follow the example of his brother Robert and make his home in America. Robert was the first of four children to emigrate to the United States and worked first as a shipping manager for United Fruit (now Chiquita) and then did his own importing from Java of coffee and other products, a business that became very successful.

Eugen met Inez through his brother Robert and through Marconi. Inez and Guglielmo were engaged for a few months after a whirlwind romance on the first Cunard liner to have a wireless-based newspaper.

Eugen and Inez, c. 1914. That is not their daughter.
They did not have children.
During dinner at the Holland House in New York in 1913, Eugen was smitten by Inez and, like Marconi, initiated a whirlwind shipboard courtship. But this time it was Inez who proposed, before the Mauretania steamed into London. They married on July 14 in London, at the Registry in Kensington. They intended to keep the marriage secret and have another formal wedding later, but someone spilled the beans and Inez's father learned of the marriage by reading about it on the front page of The New York Times. Its editorial called Inez "the fairest of the Amazons" and said that the suffragette Milholland was nabbed by "a Hollander".

Inez said she proposed to Eugen three times on board the Mauretania in 1913 before he agreed to a "secret" wedding in London.

Three years later she reportedly died of what would be called today a Vitamin B12 deficiency, but no one knew then what that was.

However, she could have died of the medicines she received on her whistle-stop tour in 1916, with her sister,Vida. Various doctors prescribed doses of strychnine and arsenic. Cumulatively these treatments could have been fatal medicines.

She was also given blood transfusions that could have carried illnesses. She died after a six-week illness in a Los Angeles hospital with her agonized father and husband by her side, competing for her last moments and then for the care of her body, which was brought back to her birthplace in Lewis, N.Y. and is buried there. I have visited the grave site.

Eugen as a Widower, 1916-1923

After Inez's death, Eugen plunged into seven years of money-making, fundraising for progressive causes, and being active on the New York social scene. He would not remarry for seven years.

Eugen was connected with  Mary Elo Pinchot Meyer, daughter of Amos Pinchot (younger brother of Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot) and Ruth Pickering Pinchot.

Amos was a funder of Max Eastman's radical-left journal The Masses and a founder of the ACLU. Like the very different G.K. Chesterton, Amos championed the rights of individuals and small groups against excessive power, private or public. Ruth was Amos' second wife; they married in 1919. After studying at Vassar and Columbia, she became a journalist and worked for The MassesThe Nation and New Republic. She was also very active in the woman suffrage movement.

Florence Deshon and Max Eastman. Eastman introduced
her to Charlie Chaplin and Deshon became Chaplin's lover
for a while. Both Eastman and Chaplin had space in Eugen's
home on St. Luke's Place during his 1916-23 widowerhood.
For many years–between the death of Inez Milholland in 1916 and Eugen's marriage to Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1923 – Ruth "shared a house" with Max Eastman, his sister Crystal Eastman, and Eugen Boissevain (I believe that Eugen owned the house and they rented from him).

Crystal, Inez, Edna and Ruth were all Vassar graduates. Crystal and Inez both attended NYU Law School. (Inez was admitted by the Harvard Law School faculty to study there in 1909, but the administration overruled the faculty, a story told by Phyllis Eckhaus in the Harvard Magazine.

Inez married Boissevain in 1913 but died tragically three years later while on a campaign against Woodrow Wilson for not supporting what was called the Anthony Amendment. After her death, and after a delegation of the National Woman's Party was belittled by Wilson, he changed his mind and supported the amendment. It became the 19th Amendment in 1920.)

Amos and Ruth Pinchot had two children - Mary Elo Pinchot, who married Cord Meyer, and Antoinette ("Tony") Pinchot, who married Washington Post Publisher Benjamin C. Bradlee.

By his first wife, née Gertrude Minturn, Amos Pinchot had two prior children, Rosamond Pinchot and her younger brother Gifford ("Long Giff") Pinchot (not to be confused with their uncle the forestry pioneer and Governor of Pennsylvania). Their cousin was Edie Sedgwick, the sunny center of the group that formed around Andy Warhol.

This photo is identified elsewhere
 as Mary Pinchot, but "Stepper"
says it is model Lee Miller (muse
of Man Ray), war correspondent
 and food writer for Britain's Vogue.
Regular visitors to the Amos-and-Ruth-Pinchot home included Mabel Dodge, Max and Crystal Eastman, Louis Brandeis and Harold Ickes.

Mary Pinchot was a smart (Brearley and Vassar) and beautiful socialite. Her sister Antoinette (Tony) Pinchot married Washington Post publisher Ben Bradlee.

Mary was adventurous. She reportedly took LSD with Timothy Leary at Harvard in 1962, the year I graduated (Leary and I were on the front page of the Harvard Crimson in different stories on the same day).

Mary Pinchot met her husband Cord Meyer when he was a U.S. Marine Lieutenant. He became a World War II hero, losing an eye. But he became a pacifist after he left military service.

Mary P. at Vassar.
They married and both were at the creation of the U.N. in San Francisco in 1945 (as was my father, E. R. Marlin, who was there to represent the Budget Bureau).

A  few years later, worried about the spread of Communism, Meyer worked for the CIA's Operation Mockingbird under Allen Dulles. The couple had three children, but the middle child was killed in an auto accident and one fallout from that seems to have been that the marriage ended in divorce.

Mary Pinchot two years before
her death.
Pinchot is said to have used marijuana or LSD or both with JFK in the White House. JFK reportedly wanted to marry her during his presidency.

In October 1964 she was killed professionally (one bullet to the head, one to the heart, at point-blank range) walking on the C&O towpath in Washington. Details of the unsolved murder are here and a brief video is here.

Mentioned by Burleigh on the same page of her book as Eugen Boissevain are Max Eastman and Inez Milholland. Also mentioned in the book is Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugen's second wife, who grew up in Maine.

Boissevain & Co.

Eugen worked with his brothers Robert and Jan Boissevain, important coffee from Java. From 1917 to 1928, money-making seemed to be easy. The Dutch had the edge in Indonesia, and coffee-drinkers wanted Java coffee. The markup was huge. Eugen said he couldn't believe how much people were willing to pay for the lowly coffee bean.

The S.S. Boissevain was named for the three brothers, who operated their business as Boissevain & Co. Eugen's older brother Robert was the first to emigrate to the United States and lived in upstate New York on a chicken farm. Jan married an actress and they moved to the Cap d'Antibes in the French Rivera. According to Max Eastman, Eugen raised the money for John Reed to go to Russia as a reporter during the time of the Russian Revolution.

Eugen lived in New York City on St. Luke's Place. His tenants included Max Eastman and Charlie Chaplin ("le Charlot").

Eugen was described as follows by Alyse Powys, in the dedication of his novel Impassioned Clay to Eugen, as quoted in Nancy Milford's Savage Beauty (p. 318):
Handsome, reckless, mettlesome as a stallion breathing the first morning air, he would laugh at himself, indeed laugh at everything, with a laugh that scattered melancholy as the wind scatters the petals of the fading poppy. ... One day his house would be that of a citizen of the world, with a French butler to wait on the table and everything done with the greatest bienséance, the next the servants would have as mysteriously disappeared as bees from a deserted hive, and he would be out in the kitchen washing the dishes and whistling a haunting Slavic melody, as light-hearted as a troubadour. He had the gift of the aristocrat and could adapt himself to all circumstances. ... His blood was testy, adventurous, quixotic, and he faced life as an eagle faces its flight.
Eugen Boissevain and his four brothers and their
mother, Emily Heloise MacDonnell Boissevain.
Eugen went into business with two of his brothers,
Robert and Jan. 
Eugen's Best Friends

Five men loom large in the period of Eugen's widowerhood:
  • His brothers Robert and Jan Boissevain worked with him to build up Boissevain & Co. into a major business, buying coffee in Java and shipping it to New York City. A steamship was named after them. They had a fleet at their disposal and a top-floor office in the Whitehall Building in lower Manhattan. 
  • Max Eastman, editor of The Masses, was engaged in anti-war activities until the U.S. Post Office essentially shut down his magazine. Eastman stayed in Eugen's house on St. Luke's Place in Manhattan, presumably a tenant. Eastman later writes glowingly about his friendship with Eugen in his book Great Companions. The circle around Eastman that included Inez Milholland and Eugen also included Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O'Neill (whose daughter Oona married Charlie Chaplin), Upton Sinclair (who had a crush on Inez), Amy Lowell, Mabel Dodge, Floyd Dell, Carl Sandburg, Crystal Eastman and Boardman Robinson.  
  • John (Jack) Reed (Harvard '10) was part of the group clustered around The Masses. In 1915 he met the leftist journalist Louise Bryant. He said: "She is coming to New York to get a job with me, I hope. I think she's the first person I ever loved without reservation." They were married that year. They spent that summer in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, with a group of other writers from Greenwich Village that included Floyd Dell and Theodore Dreiser.  Several of them established the Provincetown Theatre Group at the end of a wharf.  Bryant wrote: "Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place." Other writers like Eugene O'Neill and Edna St. Vincent Millay joined the group in later years. Reed sought money to go to Russia in 1917 to cover the Russian Revolution. Eugen spoke with some of his New York City friends and, according to Eastman, was the person who arranged Reed's funding. Reed wrote back with enthusiastic reports: "I have seen the future." He died in Moscow of an illness in 1920 and is one of only two Americans buried in the Kremlin wall, the other being Bill Haywood, who was Chairman of the American Communist Party and died in 1928 in Moscow.
  • Charlie Chaplin was also a resident of Eugen's house. Born in 1889 four days before Adolf Hitler (his first film with dialog would be The Great Dictator, in which he made fun of Hitler). Chaplin would have been 27 years old when Eugen became a widower in 1916. He was already becoming very well known. In 1917, Chaplin signed with Mutual for $10,000 a week, plus a $150,000 bonus under a contract that required him to make 12 films annually with creative control. In 1918, he signed with First National for $1 million for eight films.  Chaplin founded United Artists Corporation in 1919 with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith. Chaplin after World War II was accused of Communist sympathies and left the United States. He returned in 1972 for a special Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had on making motion pictures the art for and of this century.” The Queen in 1975 knighted him Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin. He lived two more years.
I am still poking around among source materials for this period of Eugen's life – including some unique letters that have been entrusted to me to put into context – and would welcome contact with anyone else who is doing research in this area.
Marriage  to Edna St. Vincent Millay

In 1923, Eugen attended a party of two friends in Croton-on-Hudson where the guests were asked to engage in skits. He was paired with Edna in a charade about city slickers tricked by sly country bumpkins. They were hilarious and they enjoyed each other's performances. This was their first real meeting (a prior meeting with Edna and Norma was perfunctory). The scene, in which two people fell in love in front of an audience, has been written about in several places.

Edna and Eugen were inseparable after that. They were married later that year at Croton-on-Hudson, New York, in a ceremony performed just before she underwent a serious operation. Eugen had been looking after Edna for some time before their marriage.

Eugen continued his business of importing coffee from Java with his two brothers until the Crash of 1929. They also dealt in sugar and copra imports. After 1929, he retired and focused on supporting the career of his wife as a writer and public reader of poetry.

A bio of Edna reports that the farm at Austerlitz was purchased by both Edna and Eugen. If they both chipped in money, the proportions would have been uneven. She was not well off in 1923, despite her Pulitzer Prize, and he prospered greatly since the death of Inez in 1916. The family was well entrenched in the banking and shipping business in Holland – something that was still very important in the 1920s.

Eugen came to own a house on St. Luke's Place on the Lower East Side in New York City that was at the center of progressive activity and then the Jazz Age after World War I – Eugen's tenants or housemates included Max Eastman and Charlie Chaplin. Eugen still owned in in 1921, when his brother Robert (Robbie) stayed there. Selling that house would have been enough to buy up a lot of property in the Adirondacks in 1923.

Eugen Jan Boissevain's grave, in the Millay Colony.
He bought the property in 1923. Photo © by JT Marlin.
Yet at the Millay Colony grave site, when I visited in about 1978 with my wife Alice Tepper Marlin, the graves of Eugen and Edna were labeled on the map of the Millay Colony as "the Millay graves". No mention of the non-Millay at the center of the acquisition of the 600+-acre property.

The chatelaine of the estate, Norma Millay Ellis, had no love of Eugen because during his lifetime he guarded Edna from Norma.

According to my mother Hilda van Stockum, who had good sources (Eugen and Hilda's brother Willem were good friends), Edna banned any other woman but herself from setting foot on their Ragged Island on the coast of Maine. It was strictly off-limits to other females. I was told by my mother that Edna asked Eugen to enforce the ban on any other women showing up. Eugen asked her: "No other woman? What about Norma?" Edna answered: "Especially Norma."

Norma describes Eugen in her Introduction to Edna's Collected Sonnets as a "Dutch importer", which was Bunny Wilson's description of him in The Twenties. Wilson meant it as a put-down, showing his jealousy of a rival for Edna. Norma may have repeated the description for the same reason. But Boissevain & Co. was more than an importing business – it was a shipping company, in a family that had been in shipping for more than a century, with more than one ship named after the family.

Like most investors in American business, Eugen's net worth took a nosedive in 1929, the reported year of his retirement in his New York Times obituary. He turned his attention to becoming Edna's speaking agent to make money in a less risky arena.

Eugen did a good job of booking and Edna did a good job of reading her poetry. She is said to be only one of two U.S. poets in the 20th century who made a living from their poetry, the other being W. H. Auden.
E. L. Bragdon, the long-time Radio Editor
of The New York Sun until 1942, praises 
Eugen's speaking voice. Source: Anne 
Boissevain's photo album.

The Radio Editor of the New York Sun until 1942, E. L. Bragdon, praised Eugen's speaking voice and said he had a natural talent for radio (see clip).

It could be that Bragdon liked the gravelly sound of a smoker, which Eugen was. (He had specialized in selling Turkish tobacco to doctors in 1913.) The smoking doubtless contributed to the fact that Eugen became sick from lung cancer in 1949.

From Steepletop Eugen was taken to Deaconess Hospital in Albany, where the doctors found cancer in his right lung. He rallied from the operation, and appeared to be recovering, but the hospital reported that he then suffered a stroke, which we now know is another side-effect of smoking. He died August 29, 1949, at the hospital.

The NY Times says he was survived by "a brother, and four sisters, in Europe". Only Jan, I think, survived him. Several of his siblings and their spouses died during World War II. His sister Olga, my grandmother, died the same year he did, in Montreal. His youngest sister Teau had died years earlier in 1922, so several Boissevain children died way out of birth order.

Edna and Inez - Similarities

Eugen had two marriages that had some common features. Both of his wives were talented, beautiful and famous – and both were impulsive feminists who nonetheless married him For Keeps.

Both marriages took place within weeks of the couple's first connecting. (I'm not counting the first time Eugen met Edna, when her sparkle was dampened by the presence of her not-so-beloved sister Norma, as described by Floyd Dell in Homecoming, 1933. and by me here.) Eugen's story is a good antidote to the hookup culture exemplified by Tinder that is described vividly (don't read this if you have a frail digestive system or are feeling queasy) in an article in Vanity FairIf it were a movie, the article would be rated R or X.  After seven years of bachelorhood, Eugen was married again in 1923, to Edna St. Vincent Millay. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Dorothy Parker, one of Edna's many admirers, once said:
Millay did a great deal of harm making poetry seem so easy that we could all do it but, of course, we couldn't.
Both Inez and Edna were feminists. Edna once went to hear Inez speak at Vassar on feminist issues as an alumna. In 1928 Edna dedicated to Inez a feminist poem she had written in 1923.

Neither woman professed interest in marriage. Yet both were aggressively interested in Eugen, who himself professed not to be interested in the institution of marriage.

Differences - American Involvement in Europe's Wars

But they had very different attitudes on some things. My Dutch relatives fell in love with Inez when they met her, and her first name survives in Holland, surely from her connections with Eugen's family. The family was not so keen on Edna personally, although they greatly admired her poetry.

My mother described Eugen's first marriage with Inez as one between "two wild horses galloping together in a field" whereas his second marriage with Edna was one of "slavish devotion, with him carrying her upstairs."

On peace and war, they were polar opposites.
  • Inez was a fierce opponent of the United States joining the Great War in Europe - she had studied in Berlin in preparation for admission to Vassar, and was a pacifist at heart, although a warrior on behalf of women's rights. She sent pacifist reports back from Italy when she was sent there in the summer of 1915 as America's only female war correspondent. As a result, she was declared persona non grata by Italy and she had to leave. 
  • Edna was a fierce advocate of the United States entering World War II once the Nazis invaded Holland, since she had gotten to know many of Eugen's Dutch relatives and took the invasion of Holland personally.
Eugen was equally willing with both of his wives to accept their past and future infidelity. He promised to win them back and he considered it a pleasant challenge.
  • Inez preached free love but during her marriage to Eugen she was unfaithful once and, as is reportedly common among married women who have been unfaithful, felt unexpectedly guilty about it. 
  • Edna wrote poetry about her undying love to many younger male poets (never to two of them at the same time, to my knowledge, but it would not surprise me if I later find out she was writing love poems to two of them at the same time). She thereby may have helped their careers. But in the wake of her addictions to alcohol and drugs, she was in fact indiscriminate in her infidelity.
Despite her prodigality with her sexual favors, Eugen and Edna were married for 26 years, until 1949, when he died after an operation for lung cancer, from a post-operative stroke. (He had been a smoker.) Edna died a year after her husband, in 1950 - she was famously found by a friend, the woman who described herself as the "Postmistress" of the small Austerlitz, N.Y. post office.

The Neglect of Eugen's Memory

Dorothy Stickney as Millay, at
Stanford in 1973.
Looking up Dorothy Stickney's "Lovely Light" one-woman show on Millay's poetry (see 1973 program), I ran across another such show featuring Millay by Julie Carlson, in Mill Valley, Calif.

In April (National Poetry Month) 2014, Carlson read out a collection of Millay's letters and poems.

The Carlson poetry reading is described as "partly the story of two poets", Edna and her life-long friend Arthur Ficke, who lived near Eugen and Edna in Austerlitz:
It is meditation on life, death, passion, art and of course, love, as we follow Miss Millay from the age of 20 to her death in 1950. (My emphasis added.)
Arthur Ficke was a romantic, and, like Lord Byron, a poet who committed suicide. The way these stories are told, that gets Ficke lots of points for passion. George Dillon was another poet with whom Edna had an affair; this one is said to have produced Edna's book of poems, Fatal Interview.

Eugen and Edna, on board ship, c. 1924.
However, the younger poets with whom Edna had affairs were many, and her husband was singular. She always came back to him. He had a passion, Eugen did, for Edna, forgiving her everything in advance. There is a passion - "and of course, love" - in a man who helped her live through her addiction to morphine and offered to join her in taking the drug, just so that he could better understand her addiction.

Pity my great-uncle didn't get even a footnote in the poetry reading announcement. That was a pretty long marriage, the only one for her although many men were crazy about her and wanted her to marry them–like Edmund ("Bunny") Wilson, author of To the Finland Station, whom I met in 1961 in Cambridge, Mass.

My mother told me stories about Edna:
  • That she once asked Eugen to drive back from Harmon to New York City to pick up her satin sheets, and he did it. 
  • That he used to carry her upstairs whenever she felt tired. 
But who wants to listen to a story of a devoted husband, when stories about affairs with lovers are on offer? Ironically, stories of devoted wives like Zelda Fitzgerald and Jane Vonnegut are popular; but there are few signs yet of an equivalent men's liberation audience to support a plain vanilla story of a devoted husband.

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen
Boissevain on their
honeymoon, 1923.
In the biographies of Millay, her infidelities are acknowledged–they were well known–but in one of them Eugen is also identified as having a lover (lovers?) on the side, without further information. I am curious to find a source and name(s) for that.

Such infidelity was not true of his marriage to Inez, who had a one-night infidelity with an Italian soldier when she was a news correspondent in Italy. Eugen laughed off the infidelity (his family motto is Ni regret du passé...), but Inez said later she was surprised by how extreme was her subsequent regret about it.

After Eugen's death, Edna had a nervous breakdown. She was hospitalized and released, but continued to use alcohol heavily and–although off her morphine addiction–took Seconal, a barbiturate, with a prescription.

What makes students of Edna's life think she might have committed suicide in 1950 is that a glass of wine was left upright on the top step of the stairway. When found by her friend the Postmistress, according to Nancy Milford, her head was on top of a notebook page with a penciled draft of one last poem. The final three lines had a ring drawn around them:
I will control myself, or go inside. / I will not flaw perfection with my grief. / Handsome, this day: no matter who has died. / First Fig...
Before she died, Edna wrote Eugen a farewell note: "All I ever did for you was survive you. But that was much."


This post is expanded from what I originally posted as information about my great-uncle Eugen Boissevain on the Boissevain Family website in 1999. Links to other chapters of a planned biography of him in the pipeline are here. If I live long enough. If not, maybe someone else will pick this up. My notes for a bio of Eugen are posted here and here.

Julie Carson Program: Her web site.
Hilda van Stockum Quotes: Personal recollections.
"Millay Graves": Map of the property provided on author's first visit to the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, NY.
Obituary of Eugen Boissevain: New York Times, Aug. 31, 1949.
Quote, Millay's last poem: Nancy Milford, Savage Beauty.
Quote, Alyse Powers: Nancy Milford, Savage Beauty.
Mary Pinchot: Nina Burleigh,  A Very Private Woman, a biography of Mary, p. 40.
Rosamond Pinchot (Mary Pinchot's half-sister): Gaston, Bibi (2009), The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter's Search for Home, HarperCollins.


Letters of Emily Heloise MacDonnell: See post on this blogsite. I have all the originals of these letters as the executor of my mother's estate.
Album and Certain Letters of Anne Deterling Boissevain, given to her sons Fergus and Alfred and subsequently entrusted to me. They should go eventually to a library or museum with other material on the poetry of Millay or the suffrage contribution of Milholland, or both.

© John Tepper Marlin 2013-2016. For permissions or other information, contact the author at john@cityeconomist.com.

Related posts: Men's Leagues for Woman Suffrage . EUGEN JAN BOISSEVAIN Posts

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