Monday, September 19, 2011


If your beloved husband has written one of the finest literary autobiographies of the century, how should you respond in your own writing?

Write a memoir of your life together, recognizing how radically different were you ways of shaping a comprehension of a shared world.

And succeed triumphantly...

Whereas Edwin Muir sought the cohesiveness of myth to explicate the unity of the world, Willa Muir felt her way into a 'belonging to the universe'. Willa was more satisfied with a recognition of the limits to our understanding. Edwin was always seeking the transcendent sources of his vision.

But 'Belonging' refers not only to this felt patterning of being at home in the world, it refers to their being together: it was a resonant, meaningful marriage.

It is a memoir that, unlike Edwin's autobiography, is extrovert and takes in the particular contours of history.

It is beautifully evocative of arriving in Prague, for example, after the First World War, two innocents abroad for the first time in a city in the throes of its awakening into a new nation. Or working with A.S. Neil, the educationalist, in a village outside Dresden at an international school that hoped to build a new world, oblivious to the early signs of a renewed, deepened storm.

It is a memoir of a clear eyed love. She does spare her husband's failings, yet seen with acute psychological insight comes perfect understanding comes forgiveness.

Nor can she write without recognizing the sacrifice of her own work necessary to create a space for Edwin's. There is a deep irony here: a feminist writer yet one who failed to fill her potential because she chose her husband's work over her own.

Neither she nor I would think that was not a choice worth making even as she would not be human without periodically wishing it could have been different.

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