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May Sarton is the pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton (May 3, 1912 – July 16, 1995), an American poet, novelist, and memoirist. Many of her works reflect the lesbian experience.



Sarton was born on May 3, 1912, in Wondelgem, Belgium. Her parents were science historian George Sarton and his wife, the English artist Mabel Eleanor Elwes. In 1915, her family moved to Boston, Massachusetts. She went to school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and started theatre lessons in her late teens.

In 1945 she met her partner for the next thirteen years, Judy Matlack, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They separated in 1956, when Sarton's father died and Sarton moved to Nelson, New Hampshire. Honey in the Hive (1988) is about their relationship.[1]

Sarton later moved to York, Maine. She died of breast cancer on July 16, 1995. She is buried in Nelson, New Hampshire. [2]

Works and themes

Sarton's 1961 novel The Small Room was an acclaimed meditation on teaching and a shrewd analysis of the price of excellence in women's education. Set at an all-women's college in New England loosely modeled on such schools as Radcliffe College, Smith College, and Mount Holyoke College, The Small Room focuses on the plight of a talented senior, Jane Seaman, protegee of a powerful faculty member, Professor Carryl Cope, who is discovered to have plagiarized an essay by Simone Weil, "The Iliad: The Poem of Force," for her own essay that was published in the college literary magazine. The resulting controversy roils the college community, posing issues of justice, fairness, and the need to take psychological issues into account in assessing a student's conduct in violation of the code of academic conduct. A subtheme of this book is the longstanding and intimate lesbian relationship between Professor Cope and Ollive Hunt, a trustee of Appleton College. Hunt opposes the college's decision to hire a psychiatrist to serve the needs of such students as Jane Seaman and it is implied that, when the college takes that step, she will refuse to leave her fortune to the college; in addition, that decision impliedly helps to sever the relationship between Carryl Cope and Ollive Hunt. The story's viewpoint character, a young professor named Lucy Winter, discovers the plagiarism, realizes that it was caused by Jane Seaman's psychological ill-health, and helps her colleagues and the college administration chart a course through the resulting controversy. The novel bears traces of its origins, chiefly in the remarkably frequent resort the characters have to cigarettes and martinis, and its occasionally mannered writing can leave it feeling quite dated for modern readers.

When she published her more openly lesbian novel Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing in 1965, Sarton feared, rightly, that writing so strongly about lesbianism would lead to a diminution of the previously established value of her work. "The fear of homosexuality is so great that it took courage to write Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing," she wrote in Journal of Solitude 1973, "to write a novel about a woman homosexual who is not a sex maniac, a drunkard, a drug-taker, or in any way repulsive, to portray a homosexual who is neither pitiable nor disgusting, without sentimentality ..."


Poetry books

  • Encounter in April (1937)
  • Inner Landscape
  • The Lion and the Rose
  • The Land of Silence
  • In Time Like Air
  • Cloud, Stone, Sun, Vine
  • A Private Mythology
  • As Does New Hampshire
  • A Grain of Mustard Seed
  • A Durable Fire
  • Collected Poems, 1930-1973
  • Selected Poems of May Sarton (edited by Serena Sue Hilsinger and Lois Brynes)
  • Halfway to Silence
  • Letters from Maine
  • Coming Into Eighty (1994) Winner of the Levinson Prize
  • May Sarton's Well (edited by Edith Royce Schade)


  • I Knew a Phoenix: Sketches for an Autobiography
  • Plant Dreaming Deep
  • Journal of a Solitude
  • A World of Light
  • The House by the Sea
  • Recovering: A Journal
  • At Seventy: A Journal
  • Writings on Writings
  • After the Stroke
  • May Sarton: A Self-Portrait
  • Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year


  • The Single Hound
  • The Bridge of Years
  • Shadow of a Man
  • A Shower of Summer Days
  • Faithful are the Wounds
  • The Birth of a Grandfather (1957)
  • The Fur Person
  • The Small Room (1961)
  • Joanna and Ulysses
  • Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing
  • Miss Pickthorn and Mr. Hare
  • The Poet and the Donkey
  • Kinds of Love
  • As We Are Now
  • Crucial Conversations (1975)
  • A Reckoning
  • Anger
  • The Magnificent Spinster
  • The Education of Harriet Hatfield

Children's books

  • Punch's Secret
  • A Walk Through the Woods


  1. ^ Pobo, Kenneth (2002). "Sarton, May". Chicago. Chicago: glbtq, Inc.. Retrieved 2007-08-29.  
  2. ^ "May Sarton". Academy of American Poets. Retrieved 2009-05-10.  

External links

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