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By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (original 1945; edition 1992)

by Elizabeth Smart

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5921416,592 (3.64)35
Member:gaskella
Title:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Authors:Elizabeth Smart
Info:Flamingo (1992), Paperback
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:
Tags:Novella, Fiction, TBR

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By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart (1945)

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» See also 35 mentions

English (13)  Swedish (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Started off thinking I’d hate this modern classic, having read Brigid Brophy’s foreword describing it as a masterpiece of poetic prose. We’re in love triangle territory, with the underlying tale running from seduction to abandonment, although the reader has to pull the pieces together. The focus is on the narrator’s emotions and she lays claim to a grand passion with extravagant but precise language and imagery drawing on biblical texts and classical myths. As promised (threatened?), this book is more concerned with language, imagery and metaphor than story. However, I’m left with sharper pictures in my head than I ever get from detailed descriptions in straightforward narratives. And while By Grand Central Station could be entirely self indulgent, its unflinching honesty saves it. I enjoyed this book after all. ( )
  Bernadette877 | Feb 22, 2015 |
Prose poems about how bloody exhausting it is to be in love.
For some of the people / some of the times, I mean (being old enough to know those who have made it into something sustainable).

This has survived as a cult book largely thanks to Morrissey. Grand Central Station has over a hundred times more readers on here than the memoir of the affair by Smart's lover George Barker. You've won, Liz... Though - as they remained, tempestuously and non-exclusively, involved until her demise - she'd no doubt think he was woefully underappreciated now. From the little I've read elsewhere, it sounds like his former fame had much to do with personal charisma, which meant it waned after his death in old age.)

Brigid Brophy's intro celebrates Smart's juxtaposition of high-flown dramatic romance and the mundane, whereby a person can be a middle class housewife and Isolde at the same time: “it is tomorrow's breakfast rather than the future's blood that dictates fatal forbearance”. A concept which is very Moz. (I thought of Pulp first: to me this concept is quintessentially theirs, though also generally a 90s / Britpop phenom, and it has another parallel history in camp. And I realised – I suspect I have before and then forgotten – that it must be my very particular preference about voices that meant I never liked Smiths/Moz quite as much as many friends do, and why I like Pulp better.) The British lyricists improved on Smart's juxtapositions by taking them further, by making that 'housewife' working class, perhaps with a drugdey part time job and sticky-fingered kids ('Acrylic Afternoons'). The 'Grand Central Station' of the title is still too grand a replacement for the river of Babylon. Whereas Wigan Wallgate, say, would be sufficiently opposite to cause a smile if one knew the reference – and would also bring out the misery and ignominy of the weeping that could be hidden by a more obvious glamour.

Brophy compares Grand Central Station to Jean Genet – I had picked this up on a whim instead of reading the Genet I'd already started. I've had a few of these odd coincidences recently, some which are evidently due to something I'd read before and not consciously remembered: e.g. starting Orfeo and going over to The Book of Disquiet whose author was involved with a magazine called Orfeu - but I only got this a few months ago and hadn't read the intro...perhaps it's background to the intention of reading music memoirs (Morrissey & Patti Smith), but this was chosen just because it was in a stack of very short books; I'd got it after reading Smart's story in a biography of Jeffrey Bernard; she was part of the same Soho scene in the 50s and 60s.

For me, these prose poems are too full of imagery that doesn't grab like the song words it helped inspire; classical mythology, and redwoods and so forth, but perhaps more special to those who love those landscapes.

Nevertheless he first three chapters could overwhelm with the volume of the chords they struck (I gave in to underlining, very rare, weakened by reading a successsion of 5 ebooks just prior.) It's high drama of a sort that will inevitably irritate some. e.g. But he never passes anywhere near me without every drop of blood springing to attention. (Love the queerness of this too.) The tremendous gentleness of that moment smothers me under; all through the night it is centaurs hoofed and galloping over my heart; the poison has got into my blood. I stand on the edge of the cliff, but the future is already done. It is written. Nothing can escape. There was less later, though still some. Things I'd forgotten: even to recline reminds me of the stances of love, and I am unable to bear the pain of so much remembering (especially when something had never before been anyone else's favourite as it was mine). But if you do me the wrong of thinking … I can take calamity better than anyone else, remember, truly, it is only you who bestow even these gifts upon me. Though she, likewise, survived independently without significant mishap, no doubt feeling she was like a dead siamese twin being dragged around by life - but also by some autopilot hoovering and shaving between all the howling. This following made me feel so sorry for her: There is never anywhere to cry. The walls are always too thin and the sobs so loud that they echo down the street and across salt water bays. Can't even let go and be sad at home.

Sentences like those above were like some drug of addiction, and in chapters without (many) I found myself bratty and chair-kickingly bored from withdrawal, and had to consciously adjust to paying more attention to the world and difference to see the peculiarities of her experience. When she comes up against what Brophy more succinctly calls that extraordinary American law against crossing a state boundary with sexual purposes. Her parents getting involved – at her age (but this was the 1930s and 40s). Pregnant and miserable during the London Blitz. In the early chapters there were still things I didn't 'get' as much as the above paragraph, I half-lost them in the emotional melee (that she'd be jealous of him pulling a boy; possibly carrying on in front of his wife, who was definitely not agreeable to it – biographical details are hazy on that, and this is poetry, not straight autobio after all).

Thanks to Wikipedia, my opinion of Angela Carter yoyos yet again:
When the book was reissued in the late 1960s, novelist Angela Carter praised the novel in a Guardian review as “like Madame Bovary blasted by lightning” but later wrote privately to her friend, critic Lorna Sage, that one of her motivations for founding the feminist press Virago was "the desire that no daughter of mine should ever be in a position to be able to write By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept [sic], exquisite prose though it might contain. (By Grand Central Station I Tore Off His Balls would be more like it, I should hope.)
Er, yes, because the potential to access political power and publishing obviously stopped the overblown passions of Alfred de Musset, and Verlaine and Rimbaud, and the young Goethe. Nope, not the right variable, though parenting may have been one of the factors. Smart was already well-educated and had a job in which she was able to support herself. Still, I would be embarrassed and worried if some hypothetical child of mine acted like such a groupie (we can say groupie only because it turned out he fancied her...) as to decide to have a relationship with someone after reading their book and then went to track them down; one would hope they knew that the chances of this working, unless perhaps they are already an established artist in their own right who moves in the same circles, are 99.99% against, and much higher are those of being an annoying nuisance or even criminal.

Oh, but nonetheless this book has some exqusite(ly stomach-churning) moments, and fascinating vignettes of its time, and led to some great, great lyrics. Another similarity with Genet (so far, not having finished that) - over all, preferring the works and artists it inspired to the thing itself. ( )
  antonomasia | Feb 10, 2015 |
Loved this when I read it in my 20s. Depressing but so well-written. ( )
  Winspear | Dec 27, 2013 |
To me this short novel is a bit of a conundrum, and I can see both why it was half-abandoned by the public and then turned into a cult classic.

It's written in highly metaphorical, poetic language, and captures the semi-autobiographical story of this woman who falls madly in love with a married man and ships both him and his wife over to America to live with her. She has a passionate affair with him, gets pregnant by him, and ultimately, it all unravels in violent, tragic ways. The language is a mixture of annoying melodramatic somewhat immature phrases that belong in the romantic era, rather than a modernist novel, such as "true love" and "fate", but also some very creative, fascinating images that make you think deeply about the ideas she's communicating and force you to read the novella very slowly.

It's also easy to forgive the talk of "true love" precisely because of the very modern way that the plot turns in very dark directions, with prostitution, the sordid and emotionally fraught nature of this effectively polyamorous relationship, and the very realistic way it disintegrates. The last quarter of the novel, for me, makes it, and elevates it up considerably - but I never completely forgage the author her over-exuberant earlier romantic cliches. ( )
1 vote RachDan | Apr 7, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Smartprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brophy, BrigidForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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to Maximiliane von Upani Southwell
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I am standing on a corner in Monterey, waiting for the bus to come in, and all the muscles of my will are holding my terror to face the moment I most desire. Apprehension and the summer afternoon keep drying my lips, prepared at ten-minute intervals all through the five-hour wait.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586090398, Paperback)

Elizabeth Smart's passionate fictional account of her intense love-affair with the poet George Barker, described by Angela Carter as 'Like MADAME BOVARY blasted by lightening ...A masterpiece'. One day, while browsing in a London bookshop, Elizabeth Smart chanced upon a slim volume of poetry by George Barker - and fell passionately in love with him through the printed word. Eventually they communicated directly and, as a result of Barker's impecunious circumstances, Elizabeth Smart flew both him and his wife from Japan, where he was teaching, to join her in the United States. Thus began one of the most extraordinary, intense and ultimately tragic love affairs of our time. They never married but Elizabeth bore George Barker four children and their relationship provided the impassioned inspiration for one of the most moving and immediate chronicles of a love affair ever written - By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Originally published in 1945, this remarkable book is now widely identified as a classic work of poetic prose which, more than six decades later, has retained all of its searing poignancy, beauty and power of impact.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:39 -0400)

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