Inside Jane Heap’s Boudoir “the best conversation the world has to offer”

Visual artist Barbara Weissberger's photograph in response to the description of Jane Heap's Boudoir.

Much of the twentieth century’s most innovative writing made its first appearance on the pages of little magazines—Poetry, The Dial, The Egoist, Close Up, and The Little Review—all of which were edited by women. The editors of these journals shared a commitment to challenging artistic, social, and linguistic boundaries, which linked experimentalism and feminism. Women writers for these small magazines regularly read, edited, and reviewed each other’s work and offered one another patronage both financial and literary. They created a rich discursive network, where conversations about aesthetic innovation, begun in one little magazine, often spilled over onto the pages of others.

In fact, Margaret Anderson’s express reason for starting The Little Review in 1914 was boredom with life that didn’t include “inspired conversation every moment.” Demanding “that life be inspired,” she began publishing her magazine in order to “spend [her] time filling it up with the best conversation the world ha[d] to offer.”[1]

Anderson and her partner and co-editor, Jane Heap, consistently promoted the work of artists concerned with challenging patriarchal and institutional authority and frequently embodied the criticism they sought to promote. Indeed, during the early days of The Little Review, Anderson camped out on the shores of Lake Michigan for six months, as a statement against high rent costs—and as a means of sustaining the journal’s publication through times of financial crisis. The editors’ ongoing commitment to providing a space for inspired conversation (as well as their penchant for stagecraft) is evidenced in their careful preparation of “Jane’s room” at their 24 West Sixteenth Street residence. It was “a special, haunting, poignant, dedicated room,” recalls Anderson, with gold Chinese paper on the walls, pale cream woodwork, a dark plum floor, and “a large divan hung from the ceiling by heavy black chains.” “Here,” Anderson recounts, “poets, writers, painters came to see us seeking an entry into the Little Review.” It was in this inner sanctum, a realm blurring boundaries between public and private, “that all Little Review conversation would take place.” “In this room,” explains Anderson “the Little Review entered into its creative period.” [2] By locating the realm of intense production in Jane’s boudoir, Anderson alludes to the intimacies of the editing process as well as to the libidinal charge behind “criticism that is creative.”

The Little Review was in every way conceived as an intervention in the way that criticism functioned and in the form that it took. Anderson complained, however, that “criticism as an art has not flourished in this country [the US]” and repeatedly called for an art of “response” to be demonstrated by artists and critics alike.[3] To the editors’ minds, however, this call was not adequately taken up by artists and critics of their generation, and in their infamous September 1916 issue Anderson and Heap symbolically left thirteen pages of the journal blank. “Because,” they charged, “You didn’t send in the content.”[4]

In many ways, however, this challenge remains open to artists and critics of subsequent generations.

 

[This micro-editorial emerges from an excision and some extractions from ‘Towards ‘a criticism that is creative,’” an article that appeared in Pétunia (FR) and Ment . . . (DE), issue 05, on feminist generations.]

 

[1] Margaret Anderson, My Thirty Years’ War (New York: Horizon Press, 1969), 35.
[2] Ibid.,152-3.
[3] Margaret Anderson, “Announcement,” Little Review 1, no.1 (1914): 1.
[4] Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, “The Little Review Hopes to Become a Magazine of Art …” Little Review 3, no.6 (1916): 1 .

 

For more on Barbara Weissberger’s work visit: http://barbaraweissberger.net