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Elinor Wylie, 1922,  Carl Van Vechten Papers, Wylie inscribed this photo to her friend Carl Van Vechten: “Carl from Elinor, For God’s sake, look at the hands!”Elinor Morton Wylie (September 7, 1885 – December 16, 1928) was an American poet and novelist popular in the 1920s and 1930s. "She was famous during her life almost as much for her ethereal beauty and personality as for her melodious, sensuous poetry."[1] Wylie and her husband William Rose Benét, poet and editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, were central figures in early-twentieth century New York’s elite literary circles; their friends included Sinclair Lewis and Marianne Moore.

Elinor Wylie was born Elinor Morton Hoyt in Somerville, New Jersey, into a socially prominent family. Her grandfather, Henry M. Hoyt, was a governor of Pennsylvania. Her aunt was Helen Hoyt, a poet.[2] Her parents were Henry Martyn Hoyt, Jr., who would be United States Solicitor General from 1903 to 1909; and Anne Morton McMichael (born July 31, 1861 in Pa.). Their other children were: Henry Martyn Hoyt (1887–1920) who married Alice Gordon Parker (1885–1951); Constance A. Hoyt (1889–1923) who married Ferdinand von Stumm-Halberg; Morton McMichael Hoyt (1899-1949), three times married and divorced Eugenia Bankhead, known as "Sister" and sister of Tallulah Bankhead; Nancy McMichael Hoyt (1902-1949), romance novelist who wrote Elinor Wylie: The Portrait of an Unknown Woman (1935), married Edward Davison Curtis.

Because of her father's political aspirations, Elinor spent much of her youth in Washington, DC.[3] She was educated at Miss Baldwin's School (1893–97), Mrs. Flint's School (1897–1901), and finally Holton-Arms School (1901–04).[4] In particular, from age 12 to 20, she lived in Washington again where she made her debut in the midst of the "city's most prominent social élite,"[3] being "trained for the life of a debutante and a society wife".[5]

"As a girl she was already bookish—not in the languid or inactive sense but girded, embraced by books, between whose covers lay the word-perfect world she sought. She grew into a tall, dark beauty in the classic 1920s style. Some who knew her claimed she was the most striking woman they ever met."[6]

The future Elinor Wylie became notorious, during her lifetime, for her multiple affairs and marriages. On the rebound from an earlier romance she met her first husband, Harvard graduate Philip Simmons Hichborn[5] (1882–1912), the son of a rear-admiral. She eloped with him and they were married on December 13, 1906, when she was 20. She had a son by him, Philip Simmons Hichborn, Jr., born September 22, 1907 in Washington, D.C. However, "Hichborn, a would-be poet, was emotionally unstable",[5] and Elinor found herself in an unhappy marriage.

She also found herself being stalked by Horace Wylie, "a Washington lawyer with a wife and three children", who "was 17 years older than Elinor. He stalked her for years, appearing wherever she was."[7]

Following the death in November 1910 of Elinor's father, and unable to secure a divorce from Hichborn,[3] she left her husband and son, and eloped with Wylie.

"After being ostracized by their families and friends and mistreated in the press, the couple moved to England"[8] where they lived "under the assumed name of Waring; this event caused a scandal in the Washington, D.C., social circles Elinor Wylie had frequented".[5] Philip Simmons Hichborn Sr. committed suicide in 1912.

With Horace Wylie's encouragement, in 1912 Elinor anonymously published Incidental Number, a small book of poems she had written in the previous decade.[5]

Between 1914 and 1916, Elinor tried to have a second child, but "suffered several miscarriages ... as well as a stillbirth and ... a premature child who died after one week."[5]

After Horace Wylie's wife agreed to a divorce, the couple returned to the United States and lived in three different states "under the stress of social ostracism and Elinor's illness." Elinor and Horace Wylie officially married in 1916, after Elinor's first husband had committed suicide and Horace's first wife had divorced him. By then, however, the couple were drawing apart."[5]

Elinor Wylie's literary friends encouraged her to submit her verse to Poetry magazine. Poetry published four of her poems, including what became "her most widely anthologized poem, 'Velvet Shoes'", in May 1920. With Benét now acting as her informal literary agent,[5] "Wylie left her second husband and moved to New York in 1921".[8] The Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB) says: "She captivated the literary world with her slender, tawny-haired beauty, personal elegance, acid wit, and technical virtuosity."[5]

Elinor began spending time in literary circles in New York City—"her friends there numbered John Peale Bishop, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Van Vechten, and William Rose Benét."[5]

In 1918, Alyse Gregory opened a teashop in Greenwich Village, the “bohemian” center of New York City. The shop promptly became a gathering place for William Rose and Stephen Vincent Benét, and Scofield Thayer. Through these friends she met Elinor Wylie and Laura Benét, as well as Marianne Moore, who was to become her close friend.

In 1921, Wylie's first commercial book of poetry, Nets to Catch the Wind, was published. The book, "which many critics still consider to contain her best poems," was an immediate success. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Louis Untermeyer praised the work.[5] The Poetry Society awarded her its Julia Ellsworth Ford Prize.[4]

In 1922 Elinor Wylie moved to New York, where she rented a large, high-ceilinged room on the parlor floor of One University Place, still one of the great old houses overlooking Washington Square.

Wylie's last marriage (in 1923)[9] was to William Rose Benét (1886–1950), who was part of her literary circle and brother of Stephen Vincent Benét.

In 1923 she published Black Armorr, which was "another successful volume of verse".[5] The New York Times enthused: "There is not a misplaced word or cadence in it. There is not an extra syllable."[10]

1923 also saw the publication of Wylie's first novel, Jennifer Lorn, to considerable fanfare. Van Vechten "organized a torchlight parade through Manhattan to celebrate its publication".[5] She would write "four historical novels widely admired when first published, although interest in them diminished in the masculine era of the 1940s and 50s".[6]

According to Carl Van Doren, Wylie had "as sure and strong an intelligence" as he has ever known. Her novels were "flowers with roots reaching down into unguessed deeps of erudition."[3]

She worked as the poetry editor of Vanity Fair magazine between 1923 and 1925. She was an editor of Literary Guildd, and a contributing editor of The New Republic, from 1926 through 1928.[5]

Wylie was an "admirer of the British Romantic poets, and particularly of Shelley, to a degree that some critics have seen as abnormal".[5] "A friend claimed she was 'positively dotty' about Shelley, not just making him her model in art and life but on occasion actually 'seeing' the dead poet."[6] She wrote a 1926 novel, The Orphan Angel, in which "the great young poet is rescued from drowning off an Italian cape and travels to America, where he encounters the dangers of the frontier."[5]

By the time of Wylie's third book of poetry, Trivial Breath in 1928, her marriage with Benét was also in trouble, and they had agreed to live apart. She moved to England and fell in love with the husband of a friend, Henry de Clifford Woodhouse, to whom she wrote a series of 19 sonnets which she published privately in 1928 as Angels and Earthly Creatures (also included in her 1929 book of the same name).[8]

Elinor Wylie's literary output is impressive, given that her writing career lasted just eight years. In that brief period, she crowded four volumes of poems, four novels, and enough magazine articles to "make up an additional volume."[3]

Wylie suffered from very high blood pressure all her adult life. As a result, she was prone to unbearable migraines and died of a stroke at Benét's New York apartment at the age of forty-three. At the time, they were both preparing for publication her Angels and Earthly Creaturess.[5]

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elinor_Wylie