Amy Lowell by Marcia Dinneen

Topics: Poetry, Amy Lowell, John Keats Pages: 6 (2424 words) Published: June 5, 2013
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Amy Lowell's Life and Career Marcia B. Dinneen (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/amylowell/life.htm) Amy Lowell was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the daughter of Augustus Lowell and Katherine Bigelow Lawrence. Both sides of the family were New England aristocrats, wealthy and prominent members of society. Augustus Lowell was a businessman, civic leader, and horticulturalist, Katherine Lowell an accomplished musician and linguist. Although considered as "almost disreputable," poets were part of the Lowell family, including James Russell Lowell, a first cousin, and later Robert Lowell. As the daughter of a wealthy family, Lowell was first educated at the family home, "Sevenels" (named by her father as a reference to the seven Lowells living there), by an English governess who left her with a lifelong inability to spell. Her first poem, "Chacago," written at age nine, is testament to this problem. In the fall of 1883 Lowell began attending a series of private schools in Brookline and Boston. At school she was "the terror of the faculty" (Gould, p. 32). Even at Mrs. Cabot's school, founded by a Lowell cousin to educate her own children and the children of friends and relations, Lowell was "totally indifferent to classroom decorum. Noisy, opinionated, and spoiled, she terrorized the other students and spoke back to her teachers" (Heymann, p. 164). During school vacations Lowell traveled with her family. She went to Europe and to New Mexico and California. On the latter trip she kept a travel journal. Lowell enjoyed writing, and two stories she wrote during this time were printed in Dream Drops; or, Stories from Fairyland (1887), by a "Dreamer." The volume was published privately by her mother, who also contributed material, and the proceeds were donated to the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Lowell's schooling included the usual classes in English, history, French, literature, and a little Italian. As Lowell later noted, "My family did not consider that it was necessary for girls to learn either Greek or Latin" (Damon, p. 87). She would also describe her formal education as not amounting to "a hill of beans" (Benvenuto, p. 6). School ended in 1891, and Lowell made her debut. Described as the "most popular debutante of the season," she went to sixty dinners given in her honor. Her popularity was attributed to her skills in dancing and in the art of conversation, but her debut did not produce the expected marriage proposal. Although Lowell had finished formal schooling, she continued to educate herself. Unfortunately, higher education was not an option for Lowell women. She put herself through a "rigorous" reading program, using her father's 7,000-volume library and the resources of the Boston Athenaeum (her great-grandfather was one of the founders). Later Lowell would successfully speak out against the proposed relocation of the Athenaeum; this would also become the subject of a poem. Lowell's love of books themselves began with her first "Rollo" book, Rollo Learning to Read, which her mother gave her when she was six. This gift marked the beginning of an enthusiasm for book collecting that would last throughout her life. In 1891 she made her first major purchase of a set of the complete works of Sir Walter Scott with money she had received as a Christmas gift. It was, however, her collection of Keatsiana, including a rare first edition of Lamia inscribed to F. B. from J. K. (Fanny Brawne from John Keats), that put her in the forefront of international book collectors. Following her debut, Lowell led the life of a prominent socialite, visiting, going to parties and the theater, and traveling. Her mother, who had been an invalid for years, died in 1895. A disappointment in love prompted a winter trip to Egypt in 1897-1898. Lowell had accepted the proposal of a Bostonian whom she loved, but before the engagement was formally announced he "became entangled elsewhere" (Damon, p. 120). "The family could do...
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