The Modern World of Neith Boyce: Autobiography and Diaries

Yet another bundle of memories about a turn of 20th century woman, this time via a somewhat poorly-executed collection of Neith Boyce’s works. From the included autobiography and diaries, you get hints that this was an extraordinary woman who was experimenting with the rest of the modernist movement, writing plays, novels, short stories, poetry. Largely remembered now as part of a Greenwich Village literary couple (Mrs. Hutchins Hapgood), she was published in “all the literary standard-bearers of her time” – national magazines and small California works. She made her living through writing but disappeared from the world’s stage after 1920. Born in Indiana in 1872, all her siblings die of diphtheria in 1880 yet she survives, moves with her mother and father to Los Angeles where her father co-founded the LA Times. They move again to Boston, then to New York where Neith starts publishing stories for Vogue and becomes a reporter for Commercial Advertiser in 1897. At this last publication her coworker Hapgood starts pursing her, but she doesn’t want to get married and give up her writing or autonomy. Spoiler alert, she ends up marrying him and having 4 children. They live in New York, Chicago, Florence (Italy), finally settling in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In Italy she becomes friends with Gertrude Stein and helps her get her first book (Three Lives, 1909) published. She’s also pals with Dos Passos & Hemingway.
This book itself is a terrible way to introduce yourself to Neith’s writing. Her autobiography is written with made up names and contains very little in the way of interesting or likeable writing. Ditto for Italy Diary. Only parts I enjoyed were related to Gertrude Stein, due to my current obsession with her. I need to find a collection of Neith’s other writing to give it a chance.

Italy, 1903 July:
We enjoyed Gertrude’s visit, though she rather got on my nerves at times by her habit of not bathing and wearing the same clothes all the time. She talks amusingly… Most astonishing thing about Gertrude is that she sits out on the hillside at midday in the full sun, without a hat, sits there for an hour or more and comes in literally streaming with sweat, can’t see how she does it, even Italians fear the midday sun. She doesn’t like baths in the tub, perhaps that’s her way of bathing!

Italy, 1903 June:
Gertrude Stein came in the afternoon and we all went to walk in the Cascine. It was hot but the river, trees and all were lovely. Gertrude dined with us – we had a separate table and a bad dinner, as we were very late. After dinner went to Cascine again, to hear nightingales, which didn’t materialize – then drove down to Gambrinus’ and had coffee and ices. Gertrude smoked – not usual in public! A pleasant evening – she is intelligent and easy.

Italy, 1903 July:
Gertrude Stein appeared unexpectedly after dinner… She comes from Rome, where the people are much amused by the death of the Pope she says…. She says what amuses the Italians is that he was elected Pope because he seemed likely to die at any moment but he lived 25 years! She gave me some valuable pointers on pneumonia and food for infants. Some jolly walks in afternoons with Gertrude. One day to Lugliano which seemed more beautiful at second sight. Even Gertrude enthusiastic. Discussion about atmosphere in Italy and the picturesque and the beautiful. G said there was no paintable atmosphere in Italy as compared with France or England, which were picturesque with low skies, etc. while Italy was just beautiful.