May 12, 2015

Angela Carter reviews “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept”


grand centralIt’s been seventy years since the publication of Elizabeth Smart‘s prose poem By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Jonathan McAloon wrote about the love affair between Smart and poet George Barker for The Independent yesterday. Which is as good an excuse as any to share this sick burn from Angela Carter.

Barker’s work doesn’t get much attention these days, but Smart says she fell in love with him the first time she read “Daedalus.” She was in Better Books on Charing Cross Road. (Hey, we’ve been there.)

She had written in her journal well before that that she intended to fall in love with a poet. “It is the juicy sound that runs, bubbles over, that intoxicates til I can hardly follow,” she gushed about Barker’s poetry.

Their love affair was rife with drama that still makes it into headlines. And Smart channeled it into her well-loved book. (Barker did leave his first wife after his affair with Smart, and they had a child together, though they never married.)

When the volume was reissued in 1966, the great Angela Carter reviewed it for The Guardian. She declared the book “like Madame Bovary struck by lightning.”

But she admitted to friends that the submissiveness of the main character was depressing to her. In a letter to the critic Lorna Sage, she said the book went against all of the reasons she founded Virago press. She is seized by …

…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.)

One can only imagine how Carter would review the likes of Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.