Poet, seer, muse, and occasional Fury, Laura (Riding) Jackson is back among us, mercifully and pitilessly, as a writer of fictions. A new edition of her Progress of Stories, first published in 1935, reprints the original text unamended, together with twelve other early stories, one later one, and a new preface and commentary by the author. The book has long been unavailable, and its reappearance is to be welcomed; indeed, in a wiser world, its publication date would be declared a national holiday. There seems no point in trying to conceal my own enthusiasm.
Mrs. Jackson’s history deserves a few words, very few—“we must treat of it briefly, in order not to return to the matter again, if possible.” She was born in New York in 1901. She began publishing in 1923, using the names Laura Gottschalk and Laura Gottschalk Riding until 1927 and Laura Riding from then until 1939. After that she signed her work Laura Jackson or Laura (Riding) Jackson. Between 1926 and 1939 Mrs. Jackson produced a considerable body of poetry, criticism, and fiction (as well as an enthralling assemblage, Everybody’s Letters); she wrote almost nothing between 1939 and the mid-Sixties, when a series of contributions to the magazine Chelsea concluded with The Telling (published as a book in 1973), a prophetic work in prose of heartbreaking and astringent power. Since then she has chosen and prefaced Selected Poems in Five Sets (1973), and two years ago the Collected Poems of 1938 was reprinted.
Mrs. Jackson lived abroad from 1926 to 1939, first in England, then in Majorca, where Robert Graves was her companion and frequent collaborator. Two years after her return to America, she married Schuyler Jackson, with whom she lived and worked, until his death fourteen years ago, in what seems to have been a relationship of exceptional devotion and esteem.
Progress of Stories has two author’s names on its title page: Laura Riding for the stories themselves, Laura (Riding) Jackson for the new material. Her chronology explains this rare occurrence, as well as the name she finally chose. Her new surname denotes loyalty to her husband, the parenthetical Riding reminds older readers who she was. But in referring to the author of Progress, a reviewer has a problem: Mrs. Jackson did not write the book, and Miss Riding no longer exists. Her names fortunately have one element in common: Laura; and that is how I shall refer to her, for simplicity’s sake, and with anything but disrespect.
When Progress of Stories first appeared in 1935, several years before Laura’s renunciation of literary activity, she was a well-known and influential writer, and the book was widely reviewed and acclaimed. When one reads it now, it seems incredible that it should have been forgotten for so long. No doubt Laura’s lengthy withdrawal from the literary world partly explains this neglect. So may her occasional Furiousness: it hardly surfaces in Progress, but elsewhere Laura has been harsh with writers and readers who she feels are…
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