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Edna St. Vincent Millay and Anne Sexton: The Disruption of Domestic Bliss

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 April 2004

University of Athens (School of Philosophy, Faculty of English Studies), Greece.


Popular perceptions of Edna St. Vincent Millay do not generally see her as a poet interested in so-called “domestic poetry.” On the contrary, Millay is most commonly described as the female embodiment of the rebellious spirit that marked the 1920s, the “New Woman” of early twentieth-century feminism. Until the late 1970s, the subject of domesticity seemed incompatible with the celebrated images of Millay's “progressiveness,” “rebelliousness,” or “originality.” But then again, by the 1970s Millay was no longer seen as particularly rebellious or original, and the fact that she had also contributed to the tradition of domestic poetry was not to her advantage. Domesticity may have been an important issue for second-wave feminists, but it was discussed rather selectively and, outside feminist circles, Millay was hardly ever mentioned by literary critics. The taint of “traditionalism” did not help Millay's cause, and the poet's lifelong exploration of sexuality, femininity and gender stereotypes was somehow not enough to generate sophisticated critical analyses. Since Millay seemed to be a largely traditional poet and a “politically incorrect” feminist model, second-wave feminists preferred to focus on other figures, classified as more modern and more overtly subversive. Scholarly recognition of Millay's significance within the canon of modern American poetry did not really begin until the 1990s.

Research Article
2004 Cambridge University Press

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