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Kay Boyle

Kay Boyle and Caresse Crosby: Devoted Friendship



Le 19 mai 1928, Eugène Jolas présente Caresse Crosby à Kay Boyle au Bal Nègre, un célèbre nightclub de Montparnasse. Harry et Caresse Crosby, couple flamboyant, cherchent à établir à Paris leur réputation de poètes et mécènes. Or, si elle a déjà publié dans plusieurs magazines littéraires d’avant-garde, telsBroom, Poetry, This Quarter et transition, Boyle traverse une mauvaise passe financière. Grâce aux Crosby, elle publie son premier recueil de nouvelles (1929) et Mr. Knife, Miss Fork (1931), sa traduction du premier chapitre du roman de René Crevel, Babylone, chez Black Sun Press. En 1932, trois ans après le suicide de Harry Crosby à New York, Caresse publie The Devil in the Flesh, une traduction du roman de Radiguet par Boyle, ainsi que son troisième roman, Year Before Last, aux Crosby Continental Editions fondées en 1930. Son amitié avec les Crosby inspirera également à Boyle certains épisodes de son quatrième roman, My Next Bride (1934). De dix ans son aînée, Caresse Crosby joue le rôle de confidente et de grande sœur auprès de Boyle. Pendant plus de quarante ans, les deux femmes entretiendront une amitié sincère basée sur le respect et l’admiration. Tandis que Boyle connaît une brillante carrière d’écrivain et de militante, Crosby poursuit ses activités d’éditrice et de mécène, et s’investit activement en faveur de la paix dans le monde. Tout au long de leur existence, elles n’auront de cesse de se dresser contre le diktat des conventions, qu’il s’agisse d’amour, de mariage ou de maternité. Veillant mutuellement sur leur réputation et leur carrière, elles laissent le souvenir d’une amitié véritablement altruiste.

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1Caresse Crosby published her third volume of poetry, Painted Shores, in 1927. The collection articulates some private conversations Crosby was having about the various dramas of her life, and how she was reconciling herself to the conflicts they created. But Crosby acknowledged that her writing was still mired in “easeful cliché and well-worn rhyme” (Crosby, 165). Crosby preferred the avant-garde poetry and prose that was appearing in literary magazines such as transition published by Eugene Jolas between 1927 and 1938. Her husband, Harry Crosby, and Jolas had drafted a manifesto “The Revolution of the Word” that she was eager to sign. It feverishly announced that modernist writers had finally found the new language the world so desperately needed. The document addresses many issues that concerned twentieth-century poets, including the right to manipulate grammar and syntax, the importance of the irrational and hallucinatory in the creative process, and the rising conflict between art and politics. Among the cosigners was Kay Boyle who later expressed embarrassment for having lent her name to this particular revolutionary tract because of its bombastic style and pitch that undercut any possible impact. Still, it was one of the first occasions where Kay Boyle and Caresse Crosby would be associated with each other.

  • 1  Kay Boyle, “The Crosbys: An Afterword” (ICarbS Spring/Summer, 1977), p. 19.

2Eugene Jolas introduced Kay Boyle to Harry and Caresse Crosby on May 19, 1928 at the Bal Nègre, a smokey Montparnasse nightclub famous for black jazz. Kay Boyle’s first image of Caresse and Harry that evening—an ultramodern, raffish couple with an entourage, sipping champagne, poised against the railing of a balcony that appeared ready to collapse momentarily—remained with Boyle forever in a “white blaze of the nightclub’s lights that have never dimmed.”1 Jolas led her up the stairs, and their meeting at the Bal Nègre marked the beginning of a mutually devoted friendship.

  • 2  Boyle was technically married to Richard Brault, a French engineer.

3Kay Boyle was twenty-six when she befriended Caresse and Harry. Caresse was thirty-six and Harry was twenty-eight. Before her arrival in France five years earlier, Boyle had made small but significant contributions to the avant-garde literary scene in the United States: she had published book reviews in  The Dial and a poem in Poetry and worked as an editorial assistant to Lola Ridge for Broom. By 1928, she had made a reputation for herself in This Quarter and transition. However, despite her emerging literary success, she was in dire financial circumstances. Her great love, Ernest Walsh, poet and cofounder with Ethel Moorhead in 1925 of This Quarter, had died of tuberculosis, leaving her as a single mother of a daughter, Sharon.2  

4For a while, Boyle lived comfortably as the secretary to Gladys Palmer, heir to the Palmer biscuit company fortune and currently the Princess or Dayang Muda of Sarawak. Boyle, however, was drawn to a commune outside Paris in Neuilly organized by Raymond Duncan, brother of Isadora Duncan. Sharon would be cared for at the commune (she was not permitted to live with her mother in Palmer’s home) in exchange for Boyle’s managing the shop on the boulevard Saint-Germain where the togas, sandals, and scarves presumably produced by Duncan’s colony were sold. Harry often visited Kay at the shop, episodes that provided Boyle with material for a number of scenes in her fourth novel, My Next Bride (1934). There was gossip that Harry’s frequent visits to the boulevard Saint-Germain were not merely shopping expeditions, and that a ménage à trois or a lesbian relationship between Kay and Caresse existed. None of these speculations were ever confirmed, although Boyle dedicated My Next Bride to Caresse partly to dispel suspicion (Spanier 89; Mellen 126). While not strictly autobiographical, the book sheds light on the early relationship between the Crosbys and Boyle.

5The plot revolves around Victoria, the Kay Boyle figure, who is living in a colony like Duncan’s—Duncan is called Sorrel—and who sells batiks in a Paris shop. Like Kay Boyle, Victoria gets pregnant at the time and cannot be absolutely sure of the father’s identity because she has been bedding down with more than one man. Fontana and Anthony Lister—the Crosbys—give her the money so that she can have an abortion. While Boyle would claim that the book is about women’s friendships and “material inequality” (Mellen 188), critics preferred to see it as yet another book about the 1920s that glorified people of little consequence. If the book fails to mask Boyle’s romantic perspective on this period, it can be appreciated for its lively portrayal of Caresse as Fontana.

  • 3  Boyle, My Next Bride (London: Virago, 1986), p.164. All quotations are from this edition.

6Like Harry Crosby in one of his possessed moods, Anthony describes Fontana with fantastic terms, as someone who appears like a bride, in white satin slippers and a lace veil, “but otherwise she forgets to dress.  I never remind her because it is not necessary to wear clothes if you carry a bouquet. Fontana carries five or six bouquets because she always stops and gives one away to anyone who asks.”3 Anthony extols her beauty, fidelity, and innocence, yet he regards her as a maternal figure also, someone to whom he can confess his peccadilloes and affairs, as Harry did to his own mother Henrietta, and to Caresse. During one fantasy scene on a boat that resembles an actual barge on the Seine that belonged to friends of the Crosbys, Fontana comes looking for Anthony, who is trying to seduce Victoria. Fontana reminds him to come back after he runs away with Victoria because they have a trip scheduled to the United States that cannot be changed. She is the all-forgiving earth mother: supportive, understanding, and appropriately tolerant. He is pleased that she never carries a handbag, wears gloves, or gets her hair curled, and that neither of them is attached to material objects: “we eliminate everything we might forget or leave behind” (99-100).

7Fontana appears in a sharper, less idealized light when she is alone with Victoria.  At first she pretends that she does not suspect that an affair is brewing between Anthony and Victoria. She is dressed in a chic black-and-white outfit, looking youthful and boyish. “Fontana was talking, as well-bred women talk, of everything else but of what was before them,” Victoria reports (290). She sounds buoyant and tolerates Anthony’s eccentricities to a point. She finally confides to Victoria that she is determined to maintain her sense of well-being no matter how outrageously Anthony behaves. She will remain impervious to anything that would cause her pain: “I wouldn’t let them get me, I mean none of the things that put their arms around you and get you down… I would be very cunning from absolutely the crack of dawn until going to bed at night. I made up my mind to outwit things as fast as they come up, one after another. But I would do it incredibly as Rimbaud did it. Not a niche left open in the armor” (322). Here is a vision of an embattled Caresse who understands the consequences of preserving her marriage: self-imposed inner isolation.

8Boyle’s perspective, however, as sympathetic as it may have been, was not easily shared by Caresse. In her memoir, The Passionate Years, she recalls occasionally in bald terms the nature of her predicament. She admitted, for example, that during the latter part of 1928, she was growing distraught over Harry’s infidelities, his “search for clandestine fires” as she puts it. “He made me believe,” she continues, “that our children balanced our account. Though beleaguered, I felt safe, still centered in the widening circle of his interests, and I knew it would be treason to even wish for a simpler love” (Crosby, 236). A suit of armor does not get any thicker. In time, Boyle would eventually revise her romanticized vision but not entirely.

  • 4  Kay Boyle to Caresse Crosby and Harry Crosby, Box 33, File 6, Morris Library, Southern Illinois Un (...)

9When they first made acquaintance, Boyle and the Crosbys were reserved. In her initial correspondence, Boyle addressed them as Mr. and Mrs. Crosby despite their raucous introduction and the Crosbys’ immediate concern with Boyle’s welfare. In several letters from this period, Boyle expresses great yearning to see the Crosbys and deep regrets for missing dates with them. She also confides that she has found a new love, poet and aircraft pilot Laurence Vail, known as the “king of Bohemia,” and who at the time was married to Peggy Guggenheim. “I am as happy as Harry looks when he is so—every atom of him radiant—for I’ve never known anyone who could shine with it as he does so absolutely.”4 An intimacy continued to develop among Boyle and the Crosbys. On another note, Guggenheim and Crosby were casual friends through the years, rising above whatever rancor might have existed between them. Two former husbands of Guggenheim, Laurence Vail and Max Ernst, married two of Crosby’s good friends, Boyle and Dorothea Tanning.

10From the start then, a kindred feeling existed between the Crosbys and Boyle, and their emotional involvement intertwined with their interest in mutual literary, artistic endeavors. The Black Sun Press would publish Boyle’s first collection of short stories and publish her translation of René Crevel’s Mr. Knife, Miss Fork.  Later, in 1932, Caresse published Boyle’s translation of Raymond Radiguet’s The Devil in the Flesh and her novel Year Before Last under her own imprint, Crosby Continental Editions.

11When the Crosbys traveled to the States in the fall of 1928, Boyle provided them with letters of introduction to William Carlos Williams, Charles Sheeler, and Alfred Stieglitz. During subsequent visits with various relatives in New York and Boston, the Crosbys extended to Boyle the use of their chauffeured car, complete with sable seat blanket. Also, when Boyle discovered that she was pregnant and could not be certain about the identity of the father, she managed to pay for an illegal abortion with 5,000 francs from Caresse and Harry (Mellen 126) as alluded to in My Next Bride. The Crosbys also provided the first, albeit brief, stopping place for Boyle and her daughter after they fled the confines of the Duncan colony where life had become increasingly oppressive, void of the idealism that had attracted Boyle in the first place. The escape plot of several stages took place at the very end of 1928.

12First, Boyle smuggled their belongings out of her quarters in Neuilly, and into the apartment of the Princess of Sarawak. Then on December 30, 1928, nine of the children from the colony were invited there for lunch. They arrived in two taxis, but after eight of the children disembarked, one of the cabs drove away with Boyle and daughter Sharon. They stopped at the hotel room of Robert McAlmon, a great friend of Boyle who helped design the plot to flee Duncan’s colony. With William Carlos Williams, McAlmon had started Contact magazine and on his own published writers such as H.D., Mina Loy, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. McAlmon knew that the Crosbys had returned from the States and were about an hour’s drive away in Ermenonville, at a country home they had purchased in 1928. He suggested that they go there for New Year’s Eve.  Caresse’s children, Polleen and Bobby, would be home for the holidays (MacAlmon 326). Boyle could not think of a better destination. Although it turned out to be a safe place at the moment, the scene there was hardly tranquil.

13Le Moulin de Soleil was Caresse and Harry’s escape from the daily intensity of Paris life, where the routine was structured for work in the morning and play in the afternoon, evening, and night. The setting for The Mill was pastoral, even magical since it was rumored that the three buildings built around the courtyard were haunted. The Crosbys had leased the uninhabited property for twenty years. The walls of the main building were whitewashed, the ten little bedrooms painted in the colors of the rainbow, and a swimming pool was dug out so that it could be fed by a nearby waterfall (Conover, 27-28). The cobblestones on the ground floor were left bare, and a long trestle table turned the space into a dining room. A terrace off the attic, a haven for bats, served as Harry’s sunroof, and the cellar and washroom were converted to a large kitchen. A regular menagerie was installed: burros, whippets, schnauzers, Afghans, cockatoos, pigeons, a parrot, even a cheetah. Caresse furnished the rooms to resemble a summer camp in the Adirondacks. At the front gate, signs indicated the various trails that visitors could follow through the forest. Guests were asked to leave their signatures in colored paint on the whitewashed wall under the staircase near the entrance to the main building. There was also a cannon in the hayloft that was hauled down and fired in honor of distinguished guests (Crosby, 252-53).

14New Year’s Eve festivities were in full swing by the time Boyle, her daughter, and McAlmon arrived. Boyle was far less shocked by the situation than McAlmon. She understood that Harry and Caresse’s frivolous antics concealed a more serious agenda that forged a personal ethic into a quality small press. They added twelve books to their list in 1928, including a French and English edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Birthday of the Infanta. Nevertheless, their parties attracted a significant number of people more interested in rejecting propriety, respectability, and sobriety than in realizing any kind of artistic or moral integrity.

15Sophisticated as their tastes were—they gravitated toward classical art, literature, and history along with Dada and jazz and Eastern cultures—Caresse and Harry were remarkably naïve about the tantalizing image they presented to the Parisian world. Although they constantly urged friends and acquaintances to visit Le Moulin, they were surprised by the chaos that resulted. Undoubtedly, they sought pleasure, but occasionally they were so exhausted by their guests that Paris appeared to be a better retreat than Ermenonville. On New Year’s Day, McAlmon beat a hasty retreat from Ermenonville. Boyle remained and a few days later Hart Crane arrived in one of his more raucous states of drinking and carousing. Boyle and Crane got into an argument after she criticized his behavior in front of the other guests at the Mill. (She had recently written a mean spirited review of Crane’s White Buildings for transition which could have contributed to Crane’s rancor.) In any event, Boyle would continue to visit the Crosbys at Le Moulin, and their relationship became more secure than ever. The first title published in 1929 by the Black Sun Press was Boyle’s Short Stories.

16Harry Crosby’s life came to a spectacular and tragic end in New York, in December 1929. He was found dead in the Hotel des Artistes with a bullet through his head and beside his lover Josephine Rotch Bigelow, whom he shot to death. It was weeks before the press lost interest in the sensational details. As soon as she was able, Caresse returned to Paris where she hoped to recover some kind of normalcy. James Joyce, Sylvia Beach and Kay Boyle were among the writers who sent telegrams of condolence to Caresse. Kay Boyle wrote: “Here is my devotion and my love and my homage forever and ever” (Mellen 142-43).

17There was something manic about Caresse’s determination to conduct business as usual in the months that followed Harry’s death. She kept her despair at bay by carefully supervising the publication of Harry’s oeuvre, and her own poetry, testaments to her life with Harry and her enduring devotion to his memory. She wanted to prove once and for all that she was more than Harry’s helpmate. She would continue the Black Sun imprint, deluxe letterpress editions distributed through subscription, and she would launch another kind of operation altogether, a new line of inexpensive editions of contemporary and avant-garde literature in English, a good proportion translated from the French. Its nearest competitor was Tauchnitz, the series of paper editions of classic literary works established by Christian Bernhard Tauchnitz in 1841, in Leipzig. When it ceased operations in 1943, nearly six thousand titles by British and American authors had been published. Caresse called the press Crosby Continental Editions.

18Among the titles she published for the deluxe Black Sun Press relevant to this discussion of the friendship between Crosby and Boyle, was the publication of Raymond Radiguet’s The Devil in the Flesh, which was translated by Kay Boyle (with an introduction by Aldous Huxley). Crosby also published Louis Phillipe’s Bubu de Montparnasse, with an introduction by T.S. Eliot. The translation was by Laurence Vail, now Boyle’s second husband after he left his wife Peggy Guggenheim. Crosby Continental Editions soon took over the majority of Crosby’s publishing efforts.

19She succeeded in acquiring rights to Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time and Torrents of Spring, William Faulkner’s Sanctuary, a reprint of Dorothy Parker’s Laments for the Living, a collection of short stories that included well known “Big Blonde,” Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, translated by Stuart Gilbert and with a preface by André Gide. In addition to publishing the already mentioned Year Before Last by Kay Boyle, Crosby published The Indefinite Huntress and Other Stories Stories by Robert McAlmon, edited with much tug and pull by Kay Boyle.

  • 5  Fadiman’s confidential comments, dated March 18, 1933, can be found in Box 67, File 10, Morris Lib (...)
  • 6  See Richard L. Simon to Caresse Crosby, March 6, 1933, Morris Library.

20However, Caresse could not support two presses with her own private resources, even if they were supplemented by Harry Crosby’s estate. She attracted the interest of both Random House and Simon and Schuster. Random House, however, wanted to share the Black Sun imprint with her, which she refused. Clifton Fadiman of Simon and Schuster offered Crosby her own imprint but insisted the company could veto any of her selections. The authors on her primary list were not household names in the United States: Kay Boyle, René Crevel, and Emmanuel Carnevali, the writer and critic Boyle wanted to promote because her first great love Ernest Walsh had been devoted to him. Actually, Boyle had already insisted that Crosby give Carnevali, suffering from encephalitis and at death’s door, an advance for his novel The First God (Mellen 174-76).Fadiman rejected outright Crevel and Carnevali. He speculated that in ten years, Boyle’s “tremendously sensitive, poetic” prose would probably build a “large cult audience, exactly similar to Virginia Woolf’s.”5 In a face to face discussion about their possible collaboration, Fadiman suggested that Crosby go after Katherine Anne Porter and Willa Cather, two writers that left her cold. The meeting took place in the office of Richard L. Simon, who was not only editor and publisher, but one of Caresse’s lovers. Indeed, during a romantic month’s excursion in France, Dick (Richard Simon) and Caresse had visited Kay Boyle and Laurence Vail. If Crosby expected special consideration from Simon and Schuster, she was not going to get it. Although Simon had told Crosby that Boyle would be a future Pulitzer Prize or Nobel Prize winner, he did nothing to persuade Fadiman to sign on her authors, short of disagreeing with Fadiman on one or two minor points about Boyle’s talent and marketability. Angry and frustrated, Crosby stormed out of Simon’s office, severing her ties to the company and its editors.6

  • 7  Simon and Schuster would publish five books by Boyle in the 1940s.

21Boyle was not about to let her close friendship with Crosby interfere with getting a contract for herself or for others.7Ann Watkins, Boyle’s agent, who was privy to Crosby’s negotiations with Simon and Schuster, and who bore allegiance to neither Crevel nor Carnevali (Mellen 175-76), was instructed by Boyle to sign a contract only if Carnevali and Ernest Walsh (but not Crevel) would also be provided for. Watkins managed to land contracts for Boyle, Carnevali, and Walsh (who was no longer alive), not with Simon and Schuster but with Harcourt.

22Ironically, Boyle’s My Next Bride was the book Harcourt agreed to publish. As described earlier, Boyle had drawn on her early days with the Crosbys to write the book. Indeed, in a passionate letter to Crosby (September 30, 1933), Boyle insisted that she had written the novel for Caresse, that it was “in every way” Caresse’s book, and that she was “absolutely heartbroken” over the possibility that her decision to go with Harcourt might jeopardize their relationship. Caresse agreed that Boyle should go with the highest bidder—that is, cut her ties to Black Sun, Crosby Continental Editions, and Simon and Schuster—if she wanted to protect her career. And much later, in an August 2, 1967 letter, Boyle mentions that she would never have allowed Ann Watkins to take her proposal to Simon and Schuster, as Crosby suggested she did in her memoir The Passionate Years. Crosby knew that Boyle was as usual desperate for money, and the friendship was sustained. In the end, Harcourt defaulted on its contract with Carnevali (Mellen 213). Crosby maintained her enthusiasm for Crevel’s work, but Mr. Knife, Miss Fork, the first chapter of Crevel’s novel Babylon, translated by Boyle and illustrated by Max Ernst, remained the only Crevel that the Black Sun Press ever published.

23Crosby had another opportunity to publish Boyle, although not until the end of World War II when she established Portfolio, a fluid, cross-disciplinary journal. If the Black Sun Press had flourished in the decade following World War I by providing the first international outlet for writers such as James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Hart Crane,  Marcel Proust, and Kay Boyle, Portfolio would provide a forum for writers, artists, and cultural critics to share their work with an aim towards maintaining a lasting peace between nations. Portfolio would be one of several projects which Crosby would develop with the goal of fostering a permanent world peace. The third edition included Boyle’s short story “Military Zone.”

24Crosby’s interest in social justice had emerged long before in less obvious ways. During the mid-1930s, Caresse traveled to Germany and the south of France, scouting for Crosby Continental Editions and to visit friends such as Kay Boyle when she was on the Riviera or in Kitzbühel with Laurence Vail and her children. At Boyle’s prompting, Caresse became briefly involved with helping Alexander Berkman obtain the documents he needed to stay in France, and eventually to return to the United States. The Russian American anarchist had been deported with Emma Goldman from the United States for the attempted assassination of industrialist Henry Clay Frick in 1919. Taking advantage of her well-placed connections, Crosby spoke on Berkman’s behalf to the attaché at the Ministère des Affaires Etrangères and ascertained that Berkman would be able to stay in France for the next five years. In a letter dated only “Sunday,” from Villa Coustille, Col-de-Villefranche, Nice, Boyle expressed her gratitude. “How can you be such a great-hearted woman and such a beautiful one besides?” she asked her loyal friend.

  • 8  Kay Boyle to Caresse Crosby, Box 33, File 13, Morris Library.

25During the 1950s Crosby endlessly lobbied officials in Washington, D.C. and abroad with a document she called the World Citizen Constitution and Credo. She created an organization called Women against War and wanted to establish a Center for Peace and abolish national passports. After numerous misadventures, during the 1960s she succeeded in establishing a colony for writers and artists in a dilapidated but grand castle thirty miles northeast of Rome. Roccasinabalda would serve also as headquarters for the Center for Peace, art classes, literary happenings and political rallies. Crosby never lost interest in what she liked to call mondialization. She continued to write tracts on the subject, and Rocca attracted writers, artists, and academics, some more well-known than others including Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, Charles Olson, Judith Malina and Julian Beck, Desmond O’Grady, Harry Moore, and Frances Steloff. Visitors often paid room and board according to what they could afford. Rocca was not an open house. In a letter to Caresse dated August 23, 1966, Kay Boyle insisted that she turn away outright Robert Gessner, professor of film studies at New York University.8 Gessner had broken off an affair with Boyle, creating much bitterness.  Caresse did not hesitate to honor her friend’s wishes.

  • 9  Box 18, File 2, Morris Library.
  • 10  Kay Boyle to Caresse Crosby, January 17, 1957, Box 33, File 12, Morris Library.

26Throughout these years she traveled extensively between the United States and Europe, managing to stay in touch with Boyle, one way or another. After an exhibit at Brown University devoted to the Black Sun Press, Crosby was asked to speak in a number of venues about her history as a patron of the arts. Gratified by the attention, she did turn down one invitation from the University of Texas. Dean Harry Ransom had rescinded his offer of a position in the faculty of classical languages to Joseph Franckenstein, to whom Boyle was now married. Boyle and Franckenstein had recently won a long battle with the State Department’s affirming their allegiance to the United States, but apparently their image was too tarnished for the University of Texas (Mellen 378-387). Crosby told Boyle that in addition to her letter of refusal to Ransom, she would send William Morris, editor of the Daily Texan, the World Citizen Credo for comment.9 Still in serious financial straits, Boyle received help from Crosby. Crosby sent her a portion of the check she had received for reprint rights to Boyle’s translation of The Devil and the Flesh. Crosby also sent Boyle six Matisse photographs. Boyle was able to sell two for $150 each to friends, one to the University of Rochester for $125. She gave one to a McGraw-Hill editor to whom she felt indebted, and another to her dentist in exchange for care of her children’s teeth. The sixth remained on sale in a Madison Avenue gallery.10

27During this tumultuous period in Boyle’s life, a great tragedy occurred in Caresse’s: the death of her son Billy. Caresse herself did not write immediately to anyone about her son’s death. There are few letters of condolence among the files of correspondence she saved. Even Kay Boyle did not learn of Bill’s death for several months. Billy died on January 25, 1955. He was in charge of the Paris office of American Overseas Airlines. He and his wife, Josette, lived in a third-floor walk-up on rue du Bac. Heating was minimal, and the small stove they depended on leaked so badly one night that Billy died of asphyxiation in his sleep, two weeks short of his thirty-ninth birthday. Josette fell comatose but was revived in hospital. “Poor darling,” Boyle wrote on June 7, 1955, “you, for so much courage has been asked of you, and you have somehow summoned.” Boyle also knew how to maintain a brave front. Fifteen years later, when she underwent a radical mastectomy in 1968, she shared her grief and misery with only a few close friends. Crosby was one of them. As Joan Mellen states, to the rest of the world Boyle pronounced her chief concerns were “peace in Vietnam and race relations” (Mellen 405).

28Over the following two decades, Boyle’s reputation flourished as a talented and prolific writer and social activist, and Caresse continued her efforts to promote world peace and support the work of numerous artists and writers. The altruistic friendship that existed between them warrants emphasis. Boyle and Crosby wanted success in love and life and work for one another. Caresse was the older, wealthy sister but there was no sibling rivalry between the two. Boyle was as eager to protect Crosby’s honor and publishing interests as her own. In the late 1960s, Boyle alerted Caresse that editorial and permissions problems might arise when Two Windows Press proposed publishing a volume of poems by Harry Crosby along with introductions to Harry’s poems that had been written by T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Stuart Gilbert, and D.H. Lawrence, introductions that Caresse herself had solicited in the 1930s for Black Sun editions. Kay Boyle had also been asked to contribute to the Two Window Press project, but she refused unless Caresse granted permission for the volume to be published. Like a lioness protecting her cub, Caresse halted further progress on the work, and allowed only an edition of Harry’s poems alone to be published.

29Both women rejected convention’s dictates about romance, marriage and motherhood. They were not always certain of each other’s immediate whereabouts and activities, but their devotion to one another remained intact to the end of Caresse’s life. After Caresse died on January 24, 1970, Frances Steloff held a memorial at the Gotham Book Mart in New York City on February 18, 1970. In San Francisco and unable to attend, Boyle sent a recorded testament to Caresse. And Boyle made clear in a heated missive to the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle that the obituary they ran on Caresse sorely misrepresented Caresse’s place in modern literary history (Mellen 179).

  • 11  MacLeish file, Box 57. File 4, Morris Library.

30Boyle also made public her disapproval of what she regarded as Geoffrey Wolff’s unflattering portrayal of the marriage between Harry and Caresse in Black Sun, his biography of Harry Crosby (Mellen 495). However, there was a catch to Boyle’s appraisal of Caresse’s actions following Harry’s death. During a trip to North Africa in 1925, Caresse had given Harry a gold sun ring which he wore as a wedding band. Boyle was convinced that to the end of her days Caresse was in possession of the ring; however, it was found crushed flat in a room at the Hotel des Artistes, the site of Harry’s murder of his lover and his own suicide. Caresse had been desperate to retrieve the ring, and begged Archibald MacLeish to look for it during his death watch over Harry’s corpse. In a telegram, MacLeish confirmed that the police had taken the ring. “Believe me,” he begged her.11 Yet in her memoir, The Passionate Years, Crosby states that after Harry’s death, she wore the ring on her own finger (Crosby 206). Boyle would not question whether or not Caresse was telling the truth or reclaiming the ring as a golden symbol of the love that Caresse thought would last forever. Perhaps Caresse retrieved the ring from the police and a jeweler pounded it back into shape—although Caresse did not say that is in fact what happened. What counts for the purpose of this discussion is that throughout her life and beyond, Caresse had a staunch ally in Boyle. And it is fair to say that Boyle knew that Caresse had been as loyal and faithful a friend as a woman could want.

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BOYLE, Kay. My Next Bride, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1934.

CONOVER, Anne. Caresse Crosby: From Black Sun to Roccasinibalda. Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1989.

CROSBY, Caresse. The Passionate Years. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968.

HAMALIAN, Linda. The Cramoisy Queen: A Life of Caresse Crosby. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005.

MELLEN, Joan. Kay Boyle: Author of Herself. New York: Farrar Straus, 1994.

McCALMON, Robert. Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930.Revised with supplementary chapters and an afterword by Kay Boyle. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984.

SPANIER, Sandra. Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.

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1  Kay Boyle, “The Crosbys: An Afterword” (ICarbS Spring/Summer, 1977), p. 19.

2  Boyle was technically married to Richard Brault, a French engineer.

3  Boyle, My Next Bride (London: Virago, 1986), p.164. All quotations are from this edition.

4  Kay Boyle to Caresse Crosby and Harry Crosby, Box 33, File 6, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

5  Fadiman’s confidential comments, dated March 18, 1933, can be found in Box 67, File 10, Morris Library.  He states that “Gentleman, I Address You Publically,” one of Boyle’s short stories, “is about fairies and lady lovers.”

6  See Richard L. Simon to Caresse Crosby, March 6, 1933, Morris Library.

7  Simon and Schuster would publish five books by Boyle in the 1940s.

8  Kay Boyle to Caresse Crosby, Box 33, File 13, Morris Library.

9  Box 18, File 2, Morris Library.

10  Kay Boyle to Caresse Crosby, January 17, 1957, Box 33, File 12, Morris Library.

11  MacLeish file, Box 57. File 4, Morris Library.

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Linda HAMALIAN, « Kay Boyle and Caresse Crosby: Devoted Friendship », E-rea [En ligne], 10.2 | 2013, mis en ligne le 18 juin 2013, consulté le 25 octobre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Professor of English at William Paterson University of New Jersey
Linda Hamalian is the author of The Cramoisy Queen: A Life of Caresse Crosby, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth, editor of Rexroth’s revised and expanded An Autobiographical Novel, and coeditor of Solo, a collection of short stories.

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