Stevie Smith

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Stevie Smith (20 September 1902 – 7 March 1971) was an English poet and novelist.

Contents

Life

Stevie Smith was born Florence Margaret Smith in Kingston upon Hull, the second daughter of Ethel and Charles Smith. She was called "Peggy" within her family, but acquired the name 'Stevie' as a young woman when she was riding in the park with a friend who said that she reminded him of the jockey, Steve Donaghue. When she was three years old she moved with her mother and sister to Palmers Green in North London, after her father left home (his business as a shipping agent, which he had inherited from his father, was failing, as was his marriage, and he ran away to sea, becoming a ship's purser). Stevie saw very little of her father as a child, he appeared seldom and sent very brief postcards ("Off to Valparaiso, Love Daddy"). She resented the fact that he had abandoned his family. Later, when her mother became ill, her aunt Madge Spear (whom Smith called "The Lion Aunt") came to live with them, raised Smith and her elder sister Molly and became the most important person in Smith's life. Miss Spear was a feminist who claimed to have "no patience" with men (as Smith wrote, "she also had 'no patience' with Hitler"). Smith and Molly were raised without men and thus became attached to their own independence, rather than what Smith described as the typical Victorian family atmosphere of "father knows best". When Smith was five she developed tuberculous peritonitis and was sent to a sanatorium near Broadstairs, Kent, where she remained, off and on, for several years. She related that her preoccupation with death began when she was seven, at a time when she was very distressed at being sent away from her mother. Death fascinated her and is the subject of many of her poems. When suffering from the depression to which she was subject all her life she was so consoled by the thought of death as a release that, as she put it, she did not have to commit suicide. (She wrote in several poems that death was "the only god who must come when he is called").

Smith was educated at Palmers Green High School and North London Collegiate School for Girls. She spent the remainder of her life with her aunt, and worked as private secretary to Sir Neville Pearson with Sir George Newnes at Newnes Publishing Company in London from 1923 to 1953. Despite her secluded life, she corresponded and socialized widely with other writers and creative artists, including Elisabeth Lutyens, Sally Chilver, Inez Holden, Naomi Mitchison, Isobel English and Anna Kallin. After she retired from Sir Neville Pearson's service following a nervous breakdown she gave poetry readings and broadcasts on the BBC that gained her new friends and readers among a younger generation. (Sylvia Plath became a fan of her poetry — "a desperate Smith-addict", and made an appointment to meet her but killed herself before the meeting could occur.)

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