In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding
In her poetry, fiction, essays, and public statements, Laura Riding, the author of twenty-three books, tackled feminism, communism, sexuality, Freud, language and belief, and the coming-of-age of the American dream. In her personal relationships she was often at the center of a circle of friends and artists whose activities she inspired and sometimes controlled. Her extraordinary range of associates included writers as diverse as Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein, Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. During a long and “scandalous” affair with Robert Graves, she watched over his most productive period and guided much of his best work. Together they launched the New Criticism.
Laura Riding, who died in 1991 at the age of ninety, was a deeply divided woman whose ability to create a personal mythology and continually reimagine herself could be both astonishing and maddening. The frequent subject of outrageous rumor and intense controversy, she has been portrayed as a megalomaniac, a sexual libertine, a femme fatale, even a witch.
In this biography, Deborah Baker considers Laura Riding in the context of her background, her times, and, most importantly, her work. She removes the layers of conjecture, bias, and sometimes sheer nonsense that have distorted Riding’s life, reputation, and scale of achievement.