In history, there have been a lot of famous bromances. And in literary history, there have been a shit-ton. John Keats and Charles Armitage Brown. Alfred Tennyson and Arthur Henry Hallam. Kerouac and Ginsberg (probably definitely boned). Affleck and Damon (probably made out a couple times). Sometimes a dude and another dude can just be best friends. It’s complicated affection, but it’s real. And it’s totally not gay.
And I’m of the opinion that when a pair of expats dives into this crazy thing we call manlove, the general lack of beer/America in which said pair is immersed only serves to make the bromance that much more complicated and affectionate (but still totally not gay). Which brings us to MRG’s very own installment of Expats Week, in which she will try to tackle two giants of Modernism who fucking hated America but loved hugging when no one was looking: T.S. ELIOT AND EZRA POUND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
Now these two were fucking heavy hitters in the whole “literature” thing, but they also hit a lot of international tail. So I’m going to try to do them the justice they deserve. Or just do them.
Let’s start with Tom Stearns Eliot (note that it’s one L and one T – pet peeve), shall we? I feel like you should know that I, like so many humanities undergrads, love his poetry. And not the mainstream shit (which is not shit at all). And all this despite the fact that Andrew Lloyd Webber, asshat to the stars, fucking based Cats on Eliot’s late whimsical work. Not children’s work, mind you. Fucking whimsical. Anyway so yeah just go see Cats, I’m sure it’s a literary thrill ride. I’d rather throw myself into a vat of boiling oil.
Sweet Tommy was born and raised in St. Louis, so naturally he looked around, realized he was an artist, realized that artists don’t fucking live in Missouri, and got the hell out. So after working at Harvard for a little, he went to the Sorbonne in Paris and then Merton College at Oxford. But he “didn’t like university towns” so he fucking dropped out. FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS. We all got ’em.
Anyway, it was about this time that Tommy realized he was just where he fucking wanted to be. Meaning not America. And he wanted to stay in not America as long and as legally as possible, so he looked to the left, looked to the right, looked back to the left, and saw a totally hot governess who would bang and marry him, probably in reverse order because he was RULL Catholic (or he eventually became rull Catholic. Whatever. Unimportant). Her name was Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Bet she made ol’ Tommy’s Wood rise pretty Haigh, AM I RIGHT?! (When they had sex, you guys).
This is where young Ezra comes in – he was working in London (more on that in a sec) and totally got Prufrock published for Tommy in 1915. And Ezra was like “Tom, you’re a poet. So you gotta stick your D in Viv’s V, you know, because of feelings, and then you gotta make an honest woman out of Viv, you know, because of Catholicism.” So acting on Poundie’s (I don’t like that, I’m sorry I did it) advice, they got hitched. And then shit was ROCKY like Balboa for a long-ass time. Turns out she was just the tiniest bit manic-depressive, and she had a little (big) affair with the philosopher Bertrand Russell. And after 18 years of that bullshit, Tommy was like HELLS NO and quietly arranged for a separation that he hoped would be amicable. But it was exactly the opposite, because Viv became even more batshit crayzay and started following him around to all of his readings in London. Carrying her dog. Wearing all black. An all black Fascist’s uniform. Love is a many splendored thing.
So they never get a divorce, and Viv’s crayzay lands her in a sanitarium, where she kicks the bucket in 1947. Which is a little sad, but you know, Fascist’s uniform. And in the meantime, Tommy has become super famous and super religious, so he’s like FINALLY I can get my dick wet again! Cause of the morals and the ethics and such. So he spends 10 years on the market and, at 68 motherloving years young, marries like his assistant’s assistant, the very foxy, totally not gold-digging, 32-year-old Valerie Fletcher. In secret. With only her parents as witnesses. At 6:15 AM. For to keep it secret. To be fair, Val (who’s still alive) has dedicated her life to getting new editions of Tommy’s work published. But she also definitely had sex with a really old (talented, brilliant, anthologized as fuck, but old) dude, probably because he’s famous. Hey, we’ve all got our junk.
KNOW WHO ELSE HAD JUNK (LIKE, PENIS JUNK)?????? EZRA POUND!!!!!1
But first, an intermission, because this post is damn long. Pee and get yourself a snack.
Okay we’re back.
Ezra Pound was hot. I said it. Tommy didn’t have the face genes and he was a little bit of a bitch, but Ezra? Damn. And he was also exponentially more scandalous than Tommy, so I’m going to try to werq this shit out.
Okay, so LHB told us all about Gertie Stein and how she basically invented Hemingway and Wilder and all those expats. Ezra sort of did the same thing for Eliot (which is how the bromance began) and James Joyce and Robert Frost because he was a literary agent. But he was also a writer himself (and a damn good one) and invented his own branch of literary aesthetics, you know, just shooting the shit. He called it Imagism, and it was a reaction to Romanticism and Victorian poetry – it was stripped down and simple.
KNOW WHAT ELSE WAS STRIPPED DOWN? EZRA’S PALE, FRAIL BODY WHEN HE HAD LOTS OF PROMISCUOUS SEX.
Okay, so before he became an expat, Ezra was wicked smaht and got into UPenn (not this one, but this one) at 15. I got waitlisted there at 18. Apples to apples. And while at Penn he started boning an astronomy professor’s daughter, Hilda Doolittle. So more like the University of PEEN, am I right?!
Hilda was a hottie. They were too hot for their own good, and definitely too hot for America. She said that their lives were “inextricably entwined,” and she followed him to Europe in 1908. He had proposed the previous summer, but her dads struck that shit right the fuck down (with his telescope, because he was an astronomer). So when they got to London they were living in sin, and also he was Pound-ing a couple other expat ladies (he tried to put a ring on one of them, too). He headed back to ‘Merica and got a teaching job at some shitty college in Indiana that he called “the sixth circle of hell,” and he hated it so much that he just fucking broke every rule there was. And he was caught “in flagrante” (meaning “with his P in a V”) several (meaning “dozens of”) times. Sex and high academia don’t mix, so he got REAL fired REAL fast and headed on back to Europe and back to Hilda’s vag. But then Hilda ended up banging Richard Aldington, who was sort of kind of a lot hotter than Ezra, and they got married in 1913, leaving Ezra all alone. You know, except for all the casual sex with prostitutes. And non-prostitutes.
BUT THEN he met the daughter of W.B. Yeats’ former lover Olivia Shakespear, both of whom you totally remember from LHB’s Pulitzer winning* post on 20th Century Hipsters. So you know that young Dorothy Shakespear came from goodly slampiece stock. They boned a lot, and then they got married in 1914. April of 1914. Just a few months before that whole Franz Ferdinand assassination-sensation. Also, they moved in with Hilda Doolittle and her new husband. Oops. The war and the I’ve-seen-your-significant-other-naked thing made everyone a little antsy, so by 1920 Ezra and Dot moved to Paris, where they met Hemingway, Gertie Stein, and also where Ezra immediately started Pounding Olga Rudge, who had an unfortunate name, low-self esteem, and a nice face.
Now pay attention, because shit’s about to veer into Maury territory and I’m not sure if you’re ready for it.
Dot and Ezra move to Rapallo, Italy, because of the war and probably definitely because of the affair with Olga. Soon after, Olga shows up at the villa molto prego (which actually means “very you’re welcome” in Italian, and I meant very pregnant, you get it, shh) with Ezra’s baby. She gives birth to little Mary Pound in 1925, who is subsequently handed over to some German lady in the hills whose own baby has just died. Which is nice, but real fucking convenient for Olga, who heads back to Paris but continues to get Pounded. Dot’s reasonably pissed about the whole thing, she goes on a little year-long Egyptian sojourn with her MILF, and comes back pregnant. Hmm. Ezra’s in Paris for the premier of this opera he’s written in which Olga is playing the lead (priorities), so Hemingway has to drive Mrs. Pound to the hospital for the birth of young Omar Pound. Who is a) not Ezra’s, and b) also promptly handed over, this time to Olivia Shakespear to grow up in sexy luxury in London.
Before we know it, WWII is going on and Ezra decides that this Ben Mussolini guy’s on the right track, and Olga drinks the Kool-Aid and buys a house in Venice. She also starts seeing little Mary from time to time, although like NO ONE knows about this weird Italian/German kid who looks a lot like Ezra Pound. In the meantime, Ezra and Dot find themselves being evacuated from or kicked out of their house (there’s debate, but he was an enemy alien, so I’m going with the latter) in Rapallo, so ol’ enterprising Pound is like “DOT, I GOT A FRIEND IN VENICE. A SEXY FRIEND WHO WILL LET ME POUND HER. WE’RE GOOD.” And Dot’s like “Stop it with the Pound jokes. And I guess I owe you one because I got knocked up by some Egyptian man but my illegitimate child can grow up in high society with my fierce mom but yours has to eat worms or whatever.” So Ezra, Dot, and Olga ALL FUCKING MOVE IN TOGETHER IN VENICE FOR A COUPLE YEARS. And during that time Ezra starts writing anti-Semitic literature for Italian newspapers, which he signs “Hiel Hitler.” Nice.
After the Allied Invasion/assassination of Mussolini, Ezra’s arrested for all kinds of treason and put in solitary until he goes a little crazy. He’s transported to St. Elizabeths Hospital in DC, and upon release he and Dot MOVE BACK TO OLGA’S, but this time they bring along the very young and very fetching teacher Ezra met in the hospital, Marcella Spann. So he is living with three women, one of whom is his wife, three of whom he wants to Pound. That rascal!
Dot and Olga manage to get the fresh meat (fresh Pounded meat, mind you) sent back to America, but they still hate each other. Ezra loses more and more of his mental faculties and probably starts to smell like pee, which is sad. Dorothy’s like “BITCH, he’s yours,” by 1961, and she moves to Rapallo with Omar – remember him? So finally, finally Olga’s the only one left and she’s at his bedside when he dies on his 87th birthday in 1972.
PHEW. I need a Gatorade. Or absinthe. Or opiates. But definitely not a Pounding.
Eliot and Pound loved like six ladies between them. But I think we can agree that guy-love, that’s the greatest love of all.
Yes. I admit it, okay!? I’m taking an Irish history course and a lot of my posts (ok, just two of them now) have been inspired by class lecture. So there. Deal with it. Irish history: potatoes (or lack thereof), alcohol, oppression, and apparently a lot of sex.
Let’s set the scene, shall we? It’s turn of the century Ireland and instead of being all into political independence (overrated — am I right, Canada?) a lot of artists, writers, and intellectuals are all about reviving Gaelic culture. People are learning to speak Irish, they’re writing Irish poetry, they’re learning traditional Irish dance and theatre and art. They even re-popularized a Gaelic form of football. They were so alternative, so hip. If these people were around in the US today, they’d be living in DUMBO or Williamsburg. Do you catch my clove cigarette-induced drift? These people were the hipsters of 20th century Ireland and they knew it.
But let’s get to the good stuff. The dirty stuff. And to do that, we’re going to have to filter out the weak and get to the hippest of the hip. Yes, I’m talking about magical-society attending, over-sized scarf-toting, dark-rimmed glasses wearing, poetry-writing, espresso-sipping Maud Gonne and William Butler Yeats.
Maud Gonne was English, but she had lived in Ireland for a while and thought that the Irish were sort of being oppressed or whatever so she was like, “That sucks!” and then converted to Catholicism and became a hard-core Irish Nationalist. She moved to France and met a very sexy (married) politician named was Lucien Millevoye (sounds like LUCIUS MALFOY!!!) Even though he was married, separated at the time (but still!), Lucius Malfoy had to get what was his. So he left his wife for good (but not before he and Maud did it a bunch) and they were married. They had two children, but only one survived, the girl, Iseult who, just like mommy, became wrapped up in a couple of literary sex scandals herself. More on that later.
Yeats met Gonne in Paris (where else? so hip.) after her divorce from the mustached Lucien and he instantly fell in love with her. But the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual. He proposed to her at least 4 times in the first few years of their friendship and she coyly (I imagine) refused each time. To Yeats’ horror, Gonne married the Irish Nationalist (and world-class asshole) John MacBride who shortly after supposedly molested Gonne’s daughter, Iseult, then only 11 years old. They were already divorced in, like, 1905, a few years after their “I Do’s” so they weren’t really hanging out together much in 1916 when MacBride was hung for his role in the Easter Uprising of 1916 — and by hung, I mean executed, get your mind out of the gutter.
Yeats, with his ever perfect timing, swooped in right after MacBride’s execution and proposed to Gonne AGAIN! Smooth, Yeats. You don’t want to seem too desperate or anything. Especially since they had already had a brief affair in 1908 after which Gonne wrote him a really nice letter saying the early 20th century equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me. Maybe we should just be friends.” So. Yeats. Apparently not such a good lay.
Well, maybe that was just what Maud thought. Because, guess what, here’s a little bonus factoid for everyone. Although, Yeats was pretty much in love with Maud for his entire life, for about a year, in the late 1890s, he had an affair with a woman named Olivia Shakespear (no, I didn’t spell it wrong, she only has the two e’s.) He knew this girl, Olivia, who was, you guessed it, married with children, who he thought was pretty hot and smart. So he was like, “Well, Maud’s not into me right now, I’ve already proposed to her 4 times, maybe I can get this Olivia chick to come out of town with me for a little bit and we can do it for a while until Maud comes around again.” But he was sort of pussy-footing around and was having sort of a rough time of it getting up the nerve to go make shit happen with her. (So sensitive. So hip.) But when he finally did get over to Olivia to ask her to go away with him, she was like, “Yeats! DUH! I’m totally in love with you, I’ll risk everything — my financial security, my children, my social standing, everything, just to do it with you, you LITERARY STALLION!” So she legally separated from her hubby, not a divorce, and they shacked up together for, like, a year.
But then Yeats went back to Ireland and Maud came back in town and he started to follow her around again with his beautiful, bespectacled, puppy-dog eyes. Olivia lived with her daughter, Dorothy, for most of the rest of her life. And then Dorothy married (drum roll please) Ezra Pound.
Which brings me to a final little tale that makes this story of sex and scandal inter-generational, motherfuckers!!
Gonne’s daughter, Iseult (remember her? I told you we’d come back to her) and had grown up in the Irish freedom fighting circle doing a bunch of badass shit, so it’s not really surprising that she PROPOSED to a 52 year old Yeats when she was just 15. Yeah! She proposed to him! What a badass! And then he turned around and proposed to her, because Yeats was a fucking gentleman, OK? But that whole thing didn’t end up working out because, you know it, it’s gross and he was, like, the only father figure she had throughout her life so it’d sort of be weird if she married him. And Maud wasn’t into it, understandably. But then Iseult had a steamy little affair with (drum roll please) Ezra Pound (!!) before settling down with a young Australian writer 6 years her junior. Her love letters to Yeats and Pound are published and now on my summer reading for fun list. (Holy crap balls! Just look at that link — the book costs $100! Bitch better be juicy.)
So, I don’t know if you noticed, but SHIT JUST WENT FULL CIRCLE.
Shall we review?
Maud Gonne (had an affair with/was proposed to multiple times by) WB Yeats (who had an affair with) Olivia Shakespear (whose daughter) Dorothy (married) Ezra Pound (who once had an affair with) Isuelt (Maud’s daughter, who proposed to) WB Yeats (who was in love with her mother) Maud Gonne.
That’s a lot of scandal for just 6 people. But that’s how bitches were rolllin’ in early 20th century Europe. They were sexy. They were smart. They were hip.
But perhaps most important for this blog, they were D. T. F.