Margaret Barbour Gilbert: On Elinor Wylie

Elinor Morton Hoyt was born on September 7, 1885, into a socially prominent Philadelphia family and educated at private schools. Her elopement in 1911 with a much older married man, Horace Wylie, created a scandal, which was published in newspapers throughout the country. The couple fled to England to live, leaving behind Wylie’s first husband, an admiral’s son, whom she married in 1905 and who later committed suicide, and their tiny son to be cared for by others for the rest of his life. Following in the footsteps of his father, Wylie’s son committed suicide in 1936.

In England she and Horace Wylie lived together unmarried until 1916, when they returned to the United State because of the war, and were married. Their return coincided with the publication of Elinor Wylie’s first book of poems, Nets to Catch the Wind, in 1921, a compilation she had worked on for ten years. In the United States they lived in the capital, where Horace Wylie found a minor government position. Elinor’s brother, the painter Henry Martin Hoyt, introduced her to Yale friends Sinclair Lewis and William Rose Benét, and through their influence, her poems began to appear in important American magazines of the day: Century, Nation, Poetry, New Republic, and Vanity Fair.

The critical acclaim that greeted Nets to Catch the Wind led her to move to New York City, where she lived for the rest of her life. She would periodically travel to Connecticut, to England, or to the MacDowell Colony for artists and writers in New Hampshire, where she wrote many of her poems.

In 1923 she divorced Wylie and married William Rose Benét. She then worked for a time as a poetry editor at Vanity Fair. In 1923, that same year, her second book of poetry, Black Armour, received even better reviews than her first, Nets to Catch the Wind. She had turned to novel writing to supplement her income, and in 1923, Jennifer Lorn, the novel she had written at Benét’s suggestion, became a best-seller. Three more novels were to provide a steady income. Jennifer Lorn was followed by The Venetian Glass Nephew in 1925. The Orphan Angel was Wylie’s most popular novel and a Book of the Month Club selection in 1926. When Trivial Breath, her third book of poems, appeared in 1928, Wylie had already had one heart attack and suffered increasingly from frail health. Still she was able to complete her last novel, Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard, in 1928 and a final book of poems, Angels and Earthly Creatures, published in 1929.

Though she had been in poor health since 1914, she spent her last years collecting books and Shelley letters, buying Paris clothes, and enjoying a celebrity that the writer Carl Van Doren likened to that of a “white queen.”

Elinor Wylie died suddenly of Bright’s disease on December 16, 1928, on the very day she finished her last volume of poems, Angels and Earthly Creatures. Her novels and many of her poems dramatize the sexual conflict in fiction and poetry that Wylie felt throughout her life in her three marriages.

Gilbert, Margaret Barbour. American Women Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Laurie Champion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 371-2.


Title Margaret Barbour Gilbert: On Elinor Wylie Type of Content Biographical
Criticism Author Margaret Barbour Gilbert Criticism Target Elinor Wylie
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 10 Aug 2014
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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