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Without compromise: Holly Baggett explores lives of iconoclasts Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap
by Matt Simonette
2024-03-04

This article shared 14307 times since Mon Mar 4, 2024
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Jane Heap (1883-1964) and Margaret Anderson (1886-1973), each of them a native Midwesterner, woman of letters and iconoclast, had a profound influence on literary culture in both America and Europe in the early 20th Century. They are both at the center of historian Holly A. Baggett's new book Making No Compromise: Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap and the Little Review, a book delving not only into their tumultuous relationship but their contributions to intellectual history as well.

Among the couple's most important accomplishments was heading up the Little Review, an avant-garde literary journal that Anderson founded in Chicago in 1914. Among the authors the journal published were Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats and Djuna Barnes. Little Review was the first publication to serialize James Joyce's Ulysses for American readers, for which the couple found themselves in legal trouble.

Other scholars "did not want to deal with" Heap and Anderson's story, Baggett said. "It was far too complicated—so I decided I had be the one to deal with it. It only took me 25 years," she added, laughing.

"I was working on my dissertation and, was about three-quarters of the way through," Baggett recalled. "I found out that a woman—who was a dog-groomer in Hollywood, California—had all these Jane Heap letters in the back of her business. She was a lesbian who had been interested in Anderson and Heap as a young woman. She was an elderly woman by this time."

The University of Delaware, where Baggett wrote her dissertation, ultimately bought those letters. Eventually she utilized those for editing her first book, which focused on letters between Heap and Florence Reynolds, briefly Heap's lover but ultimately her lifelong friend as well. But Baggett was convinced that there was more in Heap's story that hadn't been sufficiently told, particularly her relationship with Anderson. She also wrote about when Heap and Anderson's story took a turn for the unusual, and they became adherents of a Russian mystic named George Gurdjieff.

Anderson fortunately wrote three autobiographies, and her letters were all over the country, allowing Baggett to do a great deal of archival research. She traveled to London, for example, where she interviewed individuals who were students of Heap, who taught Gurdjieff's philosophy there during World War II.

The book also delves into gay and lesbian life in Chicago in the early 20th Century. Baggett describes the scene in the bohemian enclave Towertown on the Near North Side at length, for example.

"There were [gay] people out at bars—people very clearly knew who they were," she explained. "The Chicago vice commission wrote a very detailed report about how there were these perverts in Chicago. So everyone was aware."

People were also very aware that Anderson and Heap were a couple. They were rarely confronted about that publicly, but they were often denigrated behind their backs, especially by male writers who frequented the Little Review's offices, such as Ben Hecht and Sherwood Anderson.

The couple moved to New York in 1917; Heap wasn't on board for the idea. Baggett said, "Margaret Anderson wrote that, when they got to New York and the hotel, [Heap] threw herself on the bed and was in the same position when Anderson came back from trying to find housing for them."

Ezra Pound, Little Review's foreign editor, brought Ulysses to Anderson and Heap's attention while they were in New York. They ultimately decided to serialize Joyce's then-beguiling novel.

"They recognized right away what was going on" with Ulysses, Baggett said. "They understood the book." Indeed, Anderson announced to Little Review readers that Joyce's work was "a prose masterpiece."

Baggett said, "Then, they started getting all these letters from their readers, asking, 'What in the world is this? Are these the ravings of a madman?' But [Heap and Anderson] knew what Joyce was up to," Baggett said.

After Anderson and Heap published the Ulysses chapter entitled "Nausicaa"—which described the lead character masturbating as he watches a nearby woman exposing herself—New York authorities pressed obscenity charges. Anderson and Heap were found guilty, with each having to pay a $50 fine. They were represented in court by a flamboyant attorney, John Quinn, who was a patron of Irish writers. Baggett noted that he too was a misogynist not above insulting his lesbian clients in letters to Pound.

Heap and Anderson, unaware of the letters, at least "had John Quinn's number," Baggett said, and they appreciated his theatrics in the courtroom. Anderson would later write that their attorney was "better than a prima donna."

The couple moved again, from New York to Paris, where they ultimately parted ways. The Little Review kept going through 1929, when Heap shut it down.

Heap and Anderson were posthumously inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 2006. According to the Hall of Fame's website, "Their professional and personal partnership was centered in Chicago for only a few years, but their impact was far-reaching and historic."

Baggett said that Anderson and Heap were indeed a "dynamic duo" when they were together. "They were not fearful of anything. Anderson was not afraid of anyone, and Heap couldn't care less about anyone."

Making No Compromise is now available from Northern Illinois University Press.


This article shared 14307 times since Mon Mar 4, 2024
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