Bingham, Sarah (Montague) 1937-
BINGHAM, Sarah (Montague) 1937-
PERSONAL: Born January 22, 1937, in Louisville, KY; daughter of Barry (a newspaper publisher and editor) and Mary (Caperton) Bingham; married Arthur Whitney Ellsworth, 1958 (divorced, 1963); married Michael Iovenko (an attorney), 1965 (divorced); married Tim Peters (a construction company owner), 1983 (divorced, 1989); children: (first marriage) Barry Bingham; (second marriage) Christopher Caperton, William Bingham. Ethnicity: "Anglo." Education: Radcliffe College, B.A. (English; magna cum laude), 1958. Politics: "Liberal Democrat." Hobbies and other interests: Ballroom dancing, skiing, hiking, Pilates, gardening.
CAREER: Writer. Teacher of English and creative writing at University of Louisville and the College of Santa Fe. Founder, Kentucky Foundation for Women, The American Voice, and Santa Fe Stages. Founder, Sallie Bingham Archive for Women's Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham, NC, and Women's Project and Productions, New York, NY. Former director of the National Book Critics Circle.
MEMBER: National Book Critics Circle, Authors' Guild, Dramatists' Guild, Poets & Writers, Kentucky Foundation for Women.
AWARDS, HONORS: Dana Reed Prize, Radcliffe College, for short story "Winter Term"; fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Yaddo Colony, the Virginia Center, and the Vermont Studio Center.
FICTION; UNDER NAME SALLIE BINGHAM
After Such Knowledge (novel), Houghton (Boston, MA), 1960.
The Touching Hand, and Six Short Stories, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1967.
The Way It Is Now (short stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1972.
Small Victories (novel), Zoland (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
Upstate (novel), Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1993.
Matron of Honor (novel), Zoland (Cambridge, MA), 1994.
Straight Man (novel), Zoland (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
Transgressions (short stories), Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2002.
Contributor to books, including The Best American Short Stories, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1959; Solo: Women on Women Alone, edited by Linda Hamalian and Leo Hamalian, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1977; From Mt. San Angelo: Stories, Poems, and Essays, edited by William Smart, Associated University Presses, 1984; Here's the Story: Fiction with Heart, edited by Morty Sklar, The Spirit that Moves Us (Iowa City, IA), 1985; American Wives: Thirty Short Stories by Women, edited by Barbara H. Solomon, New American Library (New York, NY), 1986; New Women and New Fiction, edited by Susan Cahill, New American Library (New York, NY), 1986; The Beach Book: A Literary Companion, edited by Aleda Shirley, Sarabande (Louisville, KY), 1999; and Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature and Culture, edited by Lorraine Anderson, Scott Slovic, and John P. O'Grady, Longman (New York, NY), 1999. Also contributor of fiction to periodicals, including American Voice, Mademoiselle, Redbook, Ms., Atlantic Monthly, Louisville Review, Southwest Review, and Glimmer Train.
OTHER; UNDER NAME SALLIE BINGHAM
Milk of Paradise (play), first produced in New York, NY, at American Place Theatre, March 3, 1980.
Paducah (play), first produced in New York, NY, at American Place Theatre, April 22, 1985.
Passion and Prejudice: A Family Memoir, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989, published with introduction by Bingham, Applause Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Also author of plays In the Yurt, The Act, Couvade, No Time, Family, and Country Boy. Book editor, Louisville Courier-Journal, 1982-84.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Treason, a play on the last years in the life of Ezra Pound; Throwaway, a play.
SIDELIGHTS: Sallie Bingham is the author of short stories, novels, and plays characterized by themes of loneliness, isolation, and mismanaged personal relationships. As the daughter of a wealthy Kentucky newspaper publisher, she grew up in an atmosphere of privileged comfort, but as an adult, she has been embroiled in a bitter family fight over control of the Bingham communications empire established by her father. Bingham wrote about her experiences with family infighting in her Passion and Prejudice: A Family Memoir, in which she also tried to correct misconceptions about her after she was portrayed by her family as a villain.
Such family tensions are also evident in much of her fiction, as is a sense of tragedy that some have guessed stemmed from her own personal sense of loss over the deaths of two of her brothers in tragic accidents. Difficult relationships between husbands and wives are also a common theme in Bingham's books, a problem that the author can write about with the authority of one who has gone through three divorces. In addition, she has written of the complex problems of class, sexism, and racism, especially in her play, Paducah, her memoir, and several of her novels.
Bingham's early writing in such works as the novel After Such Knowledge and the short story collections The Touching Hand, and Six Short Stories and The WayItIsNow focus on the emotional pain in her characters. Critics of these books noted especially Bingham's deftness with the short story form. As a contributor for Contemporary Southern Writers expressed about her story collections, "These works show her mastery of the short story form through precisely constructed episodes that can be compared to works by Katherine Mansfield and Eudora Welty." The tales typically feature well-to-do women who find their lives to be unsatisfying. "Often, the women occupy a superior position, either because of their social class or their education, but this inequity does not always work to their benefit," commented Patrick Meanor in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "The sexes, drawn together by money, desire, and, sometimes, simple loneliness, are forever negotiating accommodation."
After Such Knowledge, published when the author was just twenty-three years old, features Mona Tate, who marries after becoming pregnant. The story also involves Mona's decision to encourage her daughter to have an abortion, a subject that was quite controversial when the novel was published in 1960. Quoted by Alanna Nash in Working Woman, Bingham described the book as a story of despair experienced by a wealthy, "rather sheltered woman who realizes that her life is not worth living."
Bingham's early story collections The Touching Hand and The Way It Is Now have received praise from many critics for their astute social and psychological observations. New York Times Book Review contributor Josephine Hendin felt that "Miss Bingham writes beautifully, constructing her stories with precision and finesse"; however, she faulted The Way It Is Now for its heroines, who are all "curiously alike—all irritable and unfulfilled, all poor little rich girls." The critic added, "Her remarkable virtuosity only heightens the fact that nearly all her heroines are look-alikes and feel-alikes who are hopelessly … unable to escape the dead center of themselves." But another New York Times Book Review writer, James R. Frakes, had unqualified praise for Bingham. Citing an unsentimental, "unblinking gaze" as her greatest literary strength, Frakes asserted that Bingham "binds her collection [The Touching Hand] together with sheer talent," and he characterized her prose as "a skillfully suggestive amalgam of Katherine Mansfield and Eudora Welty."
By the 1970s, the short story form was becoming less popular, and Bingham consequently began to focus on the novel form. In Small Victories Louise Macelvens is a single woman in her mid-forties whose main pleasure in life is taking care of her mentally handicapped sister, Shelby. However, her family lives by a creed of emotional detachment, and her cousin Tom, a state senator, pressures Louise to send Shelby to a mental hospital. But Louise eventually manages to overcome her family's domineering ways and frees Shelby from the hospital. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer complained that Bingham "is capable of communicating bone-deep truths, but spoils them through florid overwriting," Meanor asserted: "Petty and inexorably discordant family relations form the core of the story, showing Bingham's masterful creations of these kind of situations and enhanced by individualized character personalities: Big Tom is a humorous character despite his dominant bearing."
Bingham's next novel, Upstate, involves an estranged couple. The wife returns during an auction to sell their home's contents. Ann, the narrator, then reflects on her marriage and her affair with a married man, Edwin. Unlike After Such Knowledge, however, it is not Ann's husband but Ann herself whose need for vengeance after being rejected by Edwin tears both married couples apart. "This blistering, often unpleasant portrait of a bitter, angry woman gains an appropriate intensity from Bingham's heated, urgent prose," commented a Publishers Weekly critic.
Family is once again Bingham's subject matter in Matron of Honor, about a young man's attempts to move up the social ladder by marrying wealthy Apple Mason. Straight Man is an interesting study of one man's emotional descent into violence. The central character is Colby Winn, a professor who has taught at Ivy League schools but who has now come to Kentucky to teach at a state college after his divorce. Feeling alone and alienated, he becomes obsessed with a hitchhiker named Ann Lee Crabtree. Their already tense relationship disintegrates as emotions of his troubled past involving an abusive father begin to emerge in Colby, who is consequently transformed from a likeable character into a creepy predator. Using "sharp insights about the many forms that possessiveness takes," said a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Bingham writes with a "quiet authority" that makes "her story disturbing, and disturbingly real."
Passion and Prejudice: A Family Memoir explores five generations of a family whose rise was accelerated by the death of Mary Lily Kenan Flagler, whose brief marriage to the author's grandfather resulted in death and a bequest which allowed Robert Bingham to buy and consolidate the newspapers in Louisville, Kentucky. Writing in the New Yorker, Liz Harris calls Passion and Prejudice a "lively account … that gives the reader the sense of being in a past milieu that has been rescued from oblivion by an observant participant."
With her more recent book, Transgressions, Bingham returned to publishing story collections. As the title implies, the short stories here focus on acts of self-betrayal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "Bingham explores the unexpected and sometimes disconcerting underside of experience in these pages, revealing an admirable gift for subtlety and understatement." Wade Hall wrote in the Courier-Journal, "Her sharp craftsmanship brings to the stories the economy of poetry, the dramatic intensity of a tightly written play, and the broad spectrum of contemporary relationships." Awarding the collection its 2002 Book of the Year Award, ForeWord magazine wrote, "In Sallie Bingham's third short story collection, unconditional love is juxtaposed with the crossing of societal boundaries—of transgression. Each of the eleven stories is a delicate portrait of individuals who make choices, particularly in regard to their relationships, that reveal their perhaps unspoken fears about getting older and being alone. … Bingham achieves this with her clear, quiet prose."
Sallie Bingham contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
In The Prelude, William Wordsworth writes, "I made no vows, but vows / were then made for me; bond unknown to me / was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly, / a dedicated spirit." When I was a small child, vows were made for me—long before I was aware of them—by my parents and perhaps even by the universe.
I was born into a family of newspaper people, women and men who owned, and at times worked for, a news monopoly in Kentucky that for three generations provided the state with its only large-circulation morning and evening newspapers; a clear-channel radio station; and a CBS-affiliated television station. Children in my family were expected to play parts as adults in these companies; the "boys"—my two older brothers—were trained to become publisher and stationmanager, while the futures of the younger three children were less clearly defined. It did not need to be said, in those days, that my sister and I would play no role in the family business other than as minority shareholders.
Perhaps partly because of this prohibition, I had the great good fortune to attract my parents' attention early; they became my mentors and critics in my intense involvement with words.
I don't know where or how this involvement began—surely before I actually taught myself to read, at five or so; but the fact that I was surrounded by storytellers and readers-aloud had a great deal to do with it.
My father read to me every evening for an hour, beginning when I was about seven and continuing until I was twelve; I was the only one of his five children to suffer and enjoy this special attention. He worked his way through a substantial list of nineteenth-and early twentieth-century novelists, including Dickens and Thackeray and such oddities as "Zuleika Dobson." I did not notice that he read me no novels written by women because I was not aware of their existence. Later, he read—not to me, but to himself—contemporary women authors, especially British writers such as Iris Murdock. His interest did not extend to the then-flourishing Southern women writers; I don't remember hearing Flannery O'Connor or Carson McCullers mentioned.
My mother was a devoted blue-stocking and something of a martinet; she took my grammar and spelling in hand, and her blue-penciled corrections often appeared on my early stories. Before that, though, she had started me on another path by reading me poetry. My childhood copy of Palgrave's Golden Treasury, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, is here beside me, deeply worn. Mother and Daddy, I wrote on the flyleaf, gave it to me on my birthday when I was nine, and I added, in careful, inked printing, "I like these poems very much. I have larned some of these. I think it is a wountderful book. I read it a lot. The poem I like the best is, 'Lord Ullin's Daughter,' page 213, by T. Campbell." Perhaps some notion of a higher use for poetry inspired me to add, "p. 111, L'allegro, by J. Milton."
I was given poems to memorize about this time, replacing the whippings that had been a fearful part of my early childhood. Memorizing was a pleasure, and I still know lines from "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," all of which I memorized for some forgotten misdeed. At the same time, I was writing poems—my first effort to put words on paper—which my mother edited and improved. I remember going up to her study in the afternoon, after a long, hot nap, reciting words which she wrote down. Later, I copied them laboriously into a red leather blank-page book with gilt edges and my name on the cover, which my father sent me from wartime London. The red leather book was my proudest possession.
These early poems show a sense of rhyme and rhythm, if nothing else. I carefully printed their titles on the flyleaf of The Golden Treasury:
Daddy come home.
The wind was crying 'round the house
I added, "Some others that don't have names.
They are in my red book with very fine pages,
which Daddy gave me to write them in."
How puzzled I would have been had I known that my father, in a wartime letter to my mother, wrote, "Can it be that we are harbouring another Emily Dickinson?" At the time, I had never heard of her.
Poems were soon almost entirely replaced by my early attempts at stories. Proudly, I wrote in The Treasury, "I have written some storys. The one 'The mistory in the old stone garvell' was given at school." (I am at a loss now to interpret the meaning of "garvell"—perhaps grave?) This was my first foray into theatre; I organized the other children to "put on" this story—something I continued to do for the rest of my early years, presenting heavily edited versions of three of Shakespeare's plays, until the little girls finally rebelled.
I was being regularly terrified not only by Dickens and Thackeray (the drawing of Becky Sharpe hanging like a fury over her husband has stayed with me) but by the ghost stories my father relished reading: Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," James' "The Turn of the Screw," and various horrifying Grimm fairy tales, especially "The Boy Who Didn't Know How to Shudder." I believed my father surely did not know how to shudder, while I was transfixed with terror when, after one of these readings, I had to thread the huge darkened front hall and make my way up the giant staircase to bed. I was tormented all during my childhood by insomnia and sleepwalking, and was once found a good distance from the house, in my nightgown.
The other penetrating influence, although not acknowledged at the time, came from Lizzie Baker. Lizzie was a short, gnarled old black woman who had been my father's nurse (perhaps—the lineage of the people who worked for us was never entirely clear). Now, in semi-retirement, she rocked around the house on small, bent feet, wearing the striped uniform, white apron and cap that surely will never be seen again in the South or anywhere else. She was a great authority. Her throne, a stool in the large closet when she kept sheets and towels in immaculate array, was also the place where she sat to tell her stories. When I was ten or so she stopped telling them, perhaps because of a reprimand.
Her stories were funny, and they were subversive. She knew all about the earlier doings in the family, especially the escapades of my father's brother and sister.
Like all sensitive children, I was aware of currents in the family, mysteries that lay below words, and that in fact the relentless verbal acuity of the family was at least in part meant to disguise. These mysteries had to do, usually, with money and sex. The source of "our" money was a woman whose name was never mentioned; the source of the troubles and scandals that the family tried hard to repress was often sex. Lizzie Baker never directly addressed these subjects—she was far too canny—but her tales whetted my appetite for the mysterious, the hidden, the unspeakable.
Uncle Robert, my father's older brother, whom I only met once, had been Lizzie's favorite. He had teased her mercilessly, telling her he'd lost a bedroom slipper and then, after she'd spent the day looking for it, revealing that he was only fooling. He had lived in a sort of garconniere in the attic, with a pool table, where all sorts of goings-on were allowed. As a teenager, he'd been given latitude—Lizzie chuckled and shook her head—but as an adult, he apparently failed in some way that made him unacceptable. My parents visited him now and again in Reno, where he lived in mysterious exile with his third wife and tried ("In the desert!" my father would exclaim) to raise roses.
Even more colorful were Lizzie's tales about my Aunt Henrietta, Father's older sister, who did visit occasionally, but was permanently exiled, finally, due to her drinking. On one of her last visits, Henrietta retreated to bed, drunk, with an electric heating pad that badly burned her leg. This, Mother felt, was the limit. After that, she used to make periodic sorties into the guest bedroom to dig out hidden bottles. She was inflamed with fury, it seemed to me, against this once-beautiful sister-in-law whom my father adored.
Lizzie chuckled and shook her head over all this, too: "Miss Henrietta just wore out." I think it was Lizzie's attitude that allowed me to find Aunt Henrietta's distaste for me interesting rather than wounding; "I am the only Miss Bingham," she was said to have announced, and she appropriated the blue-flowered dolls' tea set my grandfather had sent me from London.
Perhaps the most valuable tool a writer can acquire—and it needs to be acquired early—is the ability to enjoy character, rather than to judge. Lizzie had no power to reform the white people she worked for, and judging them would have embittered a woman who had to wash their underwear, clean their toilets and change their sheets. She thought of us all, I believe, as harmless eccentrics, privileged beings rather like angels dancing on the heads of golden pins. I am in awe still of what she taught me.*
There were other people working in the household, more muted than Lizzie but almost as powerful in their effect on me. Ollie Madison never spoke of her past, but her husband, Curtis, whom I believed lived in the basement next to the huge coal-burning furnace for which he was responsible, somehow let me know that he had fought in the First World War in France. He was an expert cabinetmaker and could copy Mother's eighteenth-century French antiques.
Outside, there was mysterious tree-trimmer named Omar, whom I believed lived in the trees, and Luebell Ritter, settled with his wife and sons over the garage. Luebell never said much, either. I thought he was as permanent as the black man who came in the spring, with his mules, to mow the grass. But Luebell was fired when his seven-year-old son was found playing with my younger sister. This event, although shrouded in secrecy, perhaps provoked the commiseration I expressed too freely. Mother reprimanded me for it; it embarrassed her to hear me call the people who worked for us "poor."
More vocal, and more beloved, were two white people. Captain Bud Withers, who had been a police officer, was laid on at our house after the Lindbergh kidnapping when, for a period, we had guards night and day. After that scare subsided, Captain Bud stayed on for the rest of his life, in charge of an unruly tool room in the garage. He repainted my brothers' wooden trucks and blocks every spring, and made and installed a new windmill in our play area which, because of its previous occupants, was called the Duck Yard. He lived in a dim garage apartment, whose curious smell I remember to this day; after a while I stopped visiting him there. He drove what was actually a Tin Lizzie until he crashed it, drunk, coming home from his day off.
Closest and most beloved was the white woman who enabled me to survive all this: Lucy Cummings, whom we called Nursie. She was a poor woman from a Central Kentucky farm who'd been severely burned as a child. The lower portion of her face was scarred to a degree that caused people to stare. How I hated that staring, which seemed to deny her value! Substantial, solid, grounded, she won my heart not so much with her words as with her absolutely reliable presence—after a while, she seldom took her days off because my younger brother mourned her absence—and her teaching about the world outside the house.
She took me on my first walks and introduced me to the details of the natural world—acorns, leaves, stones—which we collected in what she called a Critter Box. She also knew how to make costumes from crepe paper, how to grow an avocado pit into a flourishing plant, how to cause a lump of coal to sprout a miniature forest of pastel crystals, and many other feats of what seemed to me to be magic.
She was not, in words, a story-teller; perhaps she felt her life as a girl growing up poor was not worthy of stories. But she was in herself a story: of survival, of flourishing.
Finally, there was my grandmother, my mother's mother, Helena Lefroy Caperton, a powerful writer in the Gothic genre, one of whose two short story collections was given an introduction by Dorothy Parker with words to the effect that no one would expect such stories from a nice southern lady.
"Tales of Old Virginia," the collection I remember, was full of semi-mythic figures my mother believed Munda had copped from her Irish nurse, Curtie. Certainly these stories are dark, vivid, and apparently straight out of some deeply-shadowed subconscious. Under the rhetoric of romance, cruelty, lust and ambition lurk. I remember being much impressed by a description of a spurned woman kicking her lover in the mouth, from horseback.
Other stories came from Munda's childhood in antebellum Virginia. The family was poor but pretentious, and their plantation, Oakland, apparently kept its former slaves. "Nigger Foot" (later retitled, piously, "Negro Foot"), based on the notion that black people have flat feet, figured a biracial marriage. Other stories were straight out of Poe: a murdered woman is discovered in a cask of brandy because her long red hair is growing out from under the lid.
Munda made money from her writing—she used to say proudly that she supported her six children after their father's early death—and found magazines like the Ladies' Home Journal sympathetic to her style. She published an essay there called, "The Care and Feeding of Sons-in-Law," after having acquired five. She believed, passionately, in the absolute necessity of marriage for pretty girls without reliable incomes, and equally passionately in the childishness and ultimate unreliability of all men. That being the case, a potential husband must have both money and social status to balance his drawbacks. She turned one suitor away from her door with the words, "I don't know your people." Her five daughters lived in such awe of her that their unhappy marriages ended in divorce only after her death.
Crisp, even cynical, her wisdom made an impression on me as an unfamiliar version of the truth. When I mentioned the handsome appearance of one of my first boyfriends, a cadet at a local military school who came to church gleaming with medals, Munda remarked sourly that he "looked like a Christmas tree."
The stories she told me during her month-long visits were dark fairy tales, some of them at least partly true—or so she claimed. The tale of the ancestor who sailed to China with Perry and fell in love with one of the emperor's concubines was supported by the bandana she'd embroidered for him (before being split in two for her betrayal). Munda kept the bandana in a glass-fronted cabinet in her small brick house in Richmond. She also had the gold ring, inscribed with date and initials, that proved a bride had died, during the civil war, shut up in a shot tower, but she did not claim to be able to substantiate Tom, with his love of sugar and his near-death by ogre, or the Princess Discontent, who lost out on marriage to a prince because of her sulkiness. These were morality tales, meant to impress the importance of right behavior on a girl who didn't have much of a sweet tooth but was certainly inclined to moods.
Munda's other ancestor, the writer Lady Mary Wortley Montague, was seldom mentioned, outshone by an uncle who was Bishop of India and another relation who'd been one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting. All I heard about Lady Mary, renowned since the eighteenth century for her letters, was one apocryphal story. When reprimanded for her dirty hands, she was supposed to have replied, "You should see my feet"—a remark relegating her to the legion of uppity girls that included the Little Colonel and a brat who remarked when told to eat with her fork, "Fingers were made before forks."
In addition to these stories, I was deeply influenced by the large prints which, by some happenstance, hung in my childhood bedroom. It had been a guest room during my grandfather's lifetime, and perhaps the prints had been acquired then. One of them, Velasquez' "Las Meninas," had been cut down to the portrait of the Infanta Marguerita, but I sensed the presence of the ugly dwarf and the figure lurking in the doorway (even more powerful in Goya's version. The pink-and-white Infanta was, I thought, surrounded by some kind of unseen threat.
The other print, I believe an Ingres, of a sad-looking young woman seated lethargically at a window seemed a warning about my possible future.
These stories and these pictures were almost more vivid to me than my parents, who were very busy with their own lives and often absent. I did not really miss them. The life around me was abundant—crowded, even—and it seemed to me a good deal more interesting than the formal lives of the grown-ups. Most of my first short stories, written as a teen-ager, were about the hired people, black and white, whom I loved.
My first published collection of short stories, The Touching Hand and Other Stories, came out three years after I graduated from college. It included "Moving Day," creating the character of the magisterial black man who was to turn up, many years later, in my play, Paducah. I had never known a black servant who exercised overt authority—it would not have been tolerated—but I knew authority was not lacking, only permission for its practice.
In my story, Winston is in charge of his two feckless white employers; he guards their morals and their behavior. Looking at the head of the household, Winston thinks, "He was wearing the terrible old red wool bathrobe Winston had been trying to get away from him for years. Twice he had laid it out for the Good Will and Mr. Jack had found it." As the household goods are divided up in preparation for the move ("A move is a chance to leave things behind," Mr. Jack observes), Winston helps his beloved Miss Ada with decisions that will affect her future.
"When we came here, I thought I could have a baby. You know that, Winston?" Miss Ada said. "Every stitch in that house was put in for a child."
"Don't talk to me, Miss Ada," Winston said. "Lord! Don't talk to me." He was very tired, and for a minute he did not see how he could go on. It was that made him answer her, when ordinarily he would have pretended not to have heard."
(From "Moving Day," in The Touching Hand, and Six Short Stories.)
The title story in this book, "The Touching Hand," is about the voyage of a nurse named Lutie and her two young charges on a Cunard Liner heading for England, where the children's parents wait. Lutie, the nurse, knows that she will no longer be needed when the boat lands. The first sentence of the book reflects this painful understanding: "Oh no indeed, they're not mine." But during the voyage and the many adventures the three encounter—a strange, perhaps dangerous man, the ship's apparent sinking, the girl's first brush with adolescence—it becomes clear that the children desperately need Lutie, and that she needs them. The separation looming at the end will be a disaster for all three, and yet it is inevitable.
At the end of the voyage, seeing the parents waiting on shore, "Lutie took a firm grip on the children's hands. 'All right,' she said. 'Foreward march.' And she started them down the stairs to the gangplank." Lutie's courage, the courage of a woman who has no choice, is a quality of character I return to as a writer again and again.
This novella is all I have to repay the genius and love of the woman who, literally, saved my life in childhood and who continues to influence me to this day. Her departure in the winter of 1949, when the family had moved to Paris, was my first major loss. I blamed my mother for Nursie's exile, perhaps unfairly. In a letter written to her mother, several months earlier, Nursie had stated, "Their parents being who they are, the children are going to need more polish than I can give them." Instead of polish, she gave us love.*
That year in France was richly rewarding to me. I had hardly been out of Louisville before except for summer trips to Cape Cod, and suddenly I was plunged into a great city, seeing for the first time art that moved me deeply: the gilded equestrian statue of Joan of Arc on the Rue de Rivoli, the headless Greek goddess who used to stand at the top of the main staircase in the Louvre. Mother laid aside Thursday afternoons to take me on excursions around Paris; we spent together there some of our happiest hours, exploring the book stalls along the quais, finding treasures in the flea market, buying me my first grown-up desk.
And I learned to speak French. My first foray into the big world, while terrifying—I rode the city bus to and from the convent school where I was one of two girls who spoke English—armed me with competence: I learned how to manage on my own. I felt the narrowness of my background, and when we returned to Kentucky, the accents and the hideousness of the old downtown shocked me. I would never feel entirely at home there again.
Noticing my sadness, my parents bought me my first horse, which allowed me to widen my explorations. Riding became more than a hobby for me; it was an escape into solitude, for which I had developed an enormous appetite. I called Nursie several times a week, hiding in the dark of the linen closet, although no one had told me not to telephone her. The governesses who replaced her remained remote, for me, and I never felt my younger brother and sister formed much of a bond with these discreet, fleeting presences.
"The Touching Hand" represents my surmise, years after the event, that my younger brother, Jonathan, had been badly hurt by Nursie's abrupt departure. By that time, I had had the advantage of her presence for almost thirteen years, but Jonathan, a neglected younger son, was deprived of that longer nurturing. I have often thought his early death in what appears to me to have been a suicidal accident was inevitable from the day he came home from school in 1949, in Paris, pale, tremulous, and very thin, and was told that his beloved Nursie was gone.
The other stories in "The Touching Hand" reflect my move, at seventeen, into what promised to be a wider world: Radcliffe College, where I was, for the first two years lost and miserable.
A Southerner—for in those days Kentucky seemed to Easterners to be the South—a private day school girl, shy and insecure, I did not feel that anyone there cared whether I lived or died. And indeed, in those days before easily-available birth control or legal abortions, we girls lived under the shadow of something as fearful as death: pregnancy, which could only have a disastrous outcome. Either shame and banishment, or an illegal abortion with potentially deadly results—these were the only two choices available to us. While sexual activity was frowned upon, and controlled to some extent by a system of "parietal rules"—girls had to be back in their dormitories by a certain time, dating rooms on the first floor of these dorms had no doors, and so forth—nothing can prevent thousands of young men and women from engaging in affairs.
This seemed so obvious to me, and so damaging in its inherent contradictions, that the first of my stories to bring me attention, "Winter Term," is about just such a relationship.
The story was considered shocking, or titillating, and one of the deans asked me to purge it of references to Cambridge. I did—for the first and last time expurgating what should never be, for any reason, expurgated. I was terrified; Harvard boys were asking me out on dates—I did not know how to deal with the attention the story had inspired.
No one who did not live through the dark times of the 1950s can imagine the horrors of that period for girls. My first novel, After Such Knowledge, grew out of my terrified understanding of the time's secrets and abuses.
Urged by Ann Barrett, an estimable editor at Houghton-Mifflin who'd read some of my stories in the Harvard Advocate, to write a novel, I completed one before graduation which Ann, kindly and wisely, refused to publish.
All during these years, my stories were being published in the Harvard Advocate, and eventually I won the Dana Reed Award for Fiction, the first time it was awarded to a female undergraduate.
The writing classes I took at Harvard—Radcliffe had no faculty of its own—were intimidating. I was usually the only girl with fifteen or so boys, most of them already secure in their achievements. I don't remember anything the various professors said—Archibald MacLeish seemed to spend his time staring out of the window—but I do remember the boy students' comments on my work, which were, to say the least, scathing. ("Triteness and unreality," one of these young men wrote about "The Banks of the Ohio," subsequently included in the O'Henry Collection.)
This was the period that produced Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, and the boy-writers I knew, even those who never went on to publish, seemed to possess the world, as Bellow and Roth did. I could not hope to possess any world except the small one of my imagination, and that, they belittled. Perhaps it was too obviously the world of a girl, and a cloistered, Southern girl at that.
The greatest harm they did me was to scare me off writing poems. This was partially accomplished in those classes—one of my poems, about fish swimming up a stream, was compared uproariously to sperm in a vagina—and when I "tried out" for acceptance as an editor at the Harvard Advocate. This involved a terrifying examination by a tableful of Advocate boys. They sat in darkness; I was brilliantly lighted while the quizzed me about some complicated modernist poem. My answers were inadequate, I was reduced to tears, and I was not elected. Later, someone told me it was just as well. Girls at that time were assigned to clean the Advocate's bathroom. Better that the editors published my short stories.
College was grim, but it was also curiously exhilarating. At last I was on my own. Riding out to the country on my bike each weekend, writing new stories, meeting new people, I was being willy-nilly prepared for the curious, searching, lonely life of a professional writer.
My early training had been tough, and college was tough, indeed, but I don't believe the imagination is sharpened against anything softer than steel.
I began to receive fan letters as well as good reviews, none of which did much to allay my fear that I was not living up to my potential. One unknown woman "read and re-read" "The Banks of the Ohio," and "became a nuisance asking my friends to read it, and under its influence I managed to write my 2000 words this week." An editor at the Atlantic Monthly wrote of After Such Knowledge that it "kept me up half the night. It has a kind of 'drive,' I can't put it more exactly, which is perfectly extraordinary."
I never wrote about Cambridge again, or life at college, after "Winter Term"—later published, expurgated, in Mademoiselle, earning me a summer internship—and the almost equally agonizing publishing of Jonathan Kozol's "The Fume of Poppies." His first and only novel was said to be about me. We had known each other for a while, and had spent a flirtatious but innocent weekend one winter in a cabin up north.
The girl in his novel, which I read in proofs while working at Mademoiselle, was a relentless and merciless flirt, a southern babytalker too closely related to the retarded southern stripper I'd played to my horror and dismay in Arthur Kopit's undergraduate play, On The Runway of Life You Never Know What's Coming off Next. Humiliated and terrified, I asked Jonathan to delete some obvious references to me and to the man I was about to marry. He did, which only increased my shame.*
I had met Whitney Ellsworth in college. He was my first editor, even trying to introduce a note of humor into the grim "Winter Term." When we married, immediately after graduating, we both imagined a shared literary life. He was going to work for Ted Weeks at the Atlantic Monthly and I was going to write that novel for Ann Barrett at Houghton-Mifflin.
First, though, we took a pre-wedding trip to Greece and Italy, which shocked my parents; only reluctantly did they give their consent. That trip shimmers in my memory. Whitney's aunt Florence wrote, "Greece, while you are still young and together, is like fulfilling a dream over again for me." Both families were concentrating their benevolent attention upon us. I was too young to appreciate it.
We began married life in a small white apartment in Boston, later moving to a tall, dark brownstone; Whitney left almost immediately for a year of basic training, and I began to spend my days at the typewriter. During those months, I became so immersed in my novel that the real world nearly disappeared, and it became an ordeal to go out to buy groceries or see friends.
After Such Knowledge grew in a way that seemed vegetable-like to me, a sweet-potato vine climbing the dark window of my Boston kitchen.
I began it with a few rules in mind: stung early by criticism of my writing as being autobiographical, I made a decision to refer in no detail to my own life. The novel, which begins in 1929, would exist outside of what I knew from my own experience; it would embrace the life of an impoverished, socially ambitious mother and her daughter, and their turmoil when the daughter becomes pregnant. The dark issue of abortion, which lay outside of any fiction I'd read, was at the center of the novel: would the mother advise her daughter to marry and have the child, in obedience to the rules of that time, or would she somehow procure her an illegal abortion? The mother's life had been shadowed by her decision about a pregnancy; would that shadow be extended to her daughter?
Glancing at the novel, now, I am surprised and delighted by the ease and flow of the writing. I had learned a great deal about style in those early years of my apprenticeship. The little girl, Mona, who is ten at the start of the book, is a prematurely wise and sad child; she knows what her mother wants and she tries, wholeheartedly, to please her. I sense the influence of the writers I was reading outside of the college curriculum: Elizabeth Bowen's "The Death of the Heart," Kipling's stories about childhood, especially "Ba, Ba, Black Sheep," and Carson McCuller's A Member of the Wedding. The true tragedy of childhood is the child's passion to fit in, to conform in any way the implacable adult world requires. The knowledge which makes later forgiveness so difficult is the knowledge of adult deception and sadism, accepted, even embraced, by the hungry child.
The novel ends with a redemption, foreshadowing the novels I would write fifteen years later, especially Small Victories, where the brutality of life is redeemed through love and the sacrifice of self.
Houghton-Mifflin did me proud with the publication of the novel, with its attractive green-and-yellow cover and the Paul Brook photo of me in a long blond bob on the back; the critics were equally kind, and the launching of my career could not have been more propitious. However, I was not old enough to realize how important, and how unusual, such early success was and is. The book did not, as far as I could see, affect the world. It was a drop in a very large ocean. My dismay and disillusion—I can still taste it—were partly the result of the loneliness and deprivation of that year of steady writing. I was too young to live such a restricted life, and I was deprived of the companionship of my young husband during the time when we should have been building a life together, a decision on the part of the universe that had dire consequences. I feel now that we never really recovered from that year apart.
At the time, though, it was easier to imagine that the birth of a child would ease me into something more real, more sustained, than the glimpse I'd had of the literary life, and so was born my beautiful blond son, Barry, who taught me more in the first months of his life than I'd learned in the previous twenty-five years.
It was a tough lesson—the lesson all young mothers learn: grueling and apparently endless service and self-sacrifice. I knew from the moment he was born that I must breastfeed (then an uncommon practice) and care for him myself. Through this practice I grew; through this practice I began to determine to change my life.
It seemed that writers only flourished in the atmosphere of a big city—specifically, the atmosphere of New York, where since childhood I'd imagined the brightest lights shining. And so, we moved, helter-skelter, one hot early summer when Barry was a year old, and, subsequently, the marriage begun in such hope failed.
My parents responded movingly to my decision. I'd been afraid to tell them of the divorce, for fear of their criticism, but their letters brought me nothing but understanding and love. Today, when they have both been dead for many years, I reread their letters, written in nearly identical handwriting on pale blue notepaper.
Mother wrote, "It is, I'm sure, one of the saddest of all the vicissitudes of this life—so much promise dissipated, so many interwoven strands and memories and shared moments wrenched up by the roots. I am sorry, sorry. I only wish I could help, and yet can only send you my love and tell you how sorrowful I feel for you both."
Father wrote that he respected "the dignity and integrity of your struggle," calling our divorce, "a private thing between two intelligent, sensitive people."
Nursie, forever the optimist, wrote, "Though it may all look dark now I believe that you yourself have a spark of hope and I think deep down in your heart you want your marriage to work out." She added, "I love you very much and knowing that you love me is a great joy and blessing to me."
My early years in New York came at a time when the sixties were bursting into riotous, multi-colored bloom. It was a frightening time for a young woman alone with a small child. The people I'd known in college had all moved to New York, and their parties went on until dawn; drugs were not yet in evidence, but alcohol was, and the wild bohemianism of middle-class children ejected into adulthood. No one had much money, but our ambitions were feverish; no one had children (I was the exception), and so the life they led had no space for such responsibilities. I was intrigued. I was also terrified. My life seemed to be flying out of control.
A few years later, married again and pregnant with my second son, Christopher, I was able to establish myself more securely in the city that still seemed the only possible home for a writer. My second husband, a lawyer, was proud of my ability as a writer, but our two sons, Christopher and William, as well as Barry, necessitated a life constructed around child-rearing in an era when fathers did not spend a great deal of time at home.
We were comfortably off—I had come into a trust fund established by my grandfather, and Michael Iovenko made a good income—but I was not willing to hire full-time help. I felt, and still feel, my mother's loss, turning her children over to others to raise—a loss she herself perhaps never consciously felt. And so, striving to do my best, striving to give my children attention and love, cook two dinners every night (one for the children, one for the adults), and getting up at four a.m. to write, I began to spiral into exhaustion. It was simply too much, and yet there was nothing I was willing to give up, to spare myself. In therapy for the first time, I tried to put the pieces together.
I had broken my three-book contract with Houghton-Mifflin on moving to New York, and my next collection of stories, The Way It Is Now, was published in the early seventies by Viking Press. Those stories are imbued with the darkness of my struggle. Several had been published in the women's magazines—Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, even the short-lived Playgirl—that during those years carried serious literary fiction, due to the efforts of a handful of editors like Rita Smith at Mademoiselle. This was also the beginning of the modern women's movement, and Ms. published several of my stories, introducing me as well to a way of life and a mode of thinking that would deeply influence me.
One of my themes was the sadness of women's lives, well-off, even privileged women who in the common parlance "had everything." My first example had been my mother, who in her extraordinary competence and fierce ambition ruled a kingdom; but she had always seemed to me to be dying of a broken heart. Perhaps this was because of childhood wounds never healed, or because my butterfly father had so many other interests and concerns; whatever the cause, her subdued unhappiness was familiar to me in many of the other women I knew, growing up, and now it reappeared in my young friends, struggling with marriage and children and the early desecration of perhaps unrealistic dreams. But what dreams are not by their nature unrealistic?
Beloved children who imposed, inevitably, unbearable challenges and burdens were frequent in my stories of the 1970s. The nascent women's movement liberated us, for the first time since the comedies of the fifties, to speak openly of our conflicts around child-bearing and raising, but this was no "Don't Eat the Daisies." The conflicts were central, and excruciating, as many women who were trying for the first time in our history to lead dual lives soon found. The society we lived in may have been transparently supportive, our husbands may have given their approval, but the internal and external mechanisms didn't exist: good, affordable childcare, pediatricians who understood women's complexity, child-rearing manuals that gave room to a woman's dreams, husbands who did more than stand by, relatives who could make an extended family to relieve a young mother. Instead, we were alone, with our demons.
It was no coincidence that Julia Child's first cookbooks, and her television show, appeared during this time. I was cooking meals even my mother, with help, would hardly have dared to take on, baking bread (my children suffered through the results), canning and pickling in the heat of a New York summer, sewing baby clothes and maternity outfits, determined to make each detail of life perfect, from Child's Vitello Tonnato to the shape of my pinned-up chignon. And while the wild parties of the sixties were over, the sobersided domestic entertainments of the seventies took almost as much time and energy, particularly when our group of friends began to migrate to upstate New York on weekends and in the summer. I remembered driving up to Rhinebeck one feverish Friday, with a dozen cats and kittens broiling in the back of the station wagon and my youngest son by my side. With one hand, I was holding the steering wheel, and with the other, his bottle, while the two older boys rollicked in the back seat.
My marriage, roiled by the demands of the children and my increasing frustration—it was now several years since my last book had been published, and my short stories were no longer being accepted—began to fail. After ten years, it seemed to me we had nothing left to go on. Disappointments and deceptions we had no ability to deal with separated us, and finally, a divorce seemed the only possible outcome.
The children's stability was destroyed. Barry departed to live with his father. My two younger sons, lost and desolate, moved with me back to Kentucky—I'd been seduced by the possibility of grandparents' aid, which did not materialize. Instead, I found myself in a suburban ranch house, with a view through trees of the massive chimney of the house where I'd been born. I was, for the first time in my life, a poor relation, my books out of print, my children unhappy, my future clouded.
My return followed by a few years the deaths of my older brother, Worth, in an accident involving a car and a surfboard, and of my younger brother, Jonathan, in an attempt to rewire an old barn. These deaths tore the family apart in a way that has never been, and possibly never can be, repaired.*
In Kentucky, issues left dangling when I left home at seventeen surged toward resolution. I was reunited with the land—that scrabbly suburban land with its thin woods, honeysuckle tangles, groundhogs and songbirds, which survived in the midst of suburbs and throughways. I walked in the remnants of a wildness stretching back to the first frontier, when Kentucky had been the starting point for journeys west. I felt the river, the great muddy ungainly Ohio, never far out of view; I felt the presence of first-growth woods, now cut down, the weedy reminders of fields long gone to waste. And out of that perception of the land, I began to reconstruct my childhood, free, now, to imagine its magic as well as its desolation, to rejoice in its riches rather than confining myself to its injuries.
Long devoted to the theatre, I found myself turning in that direction as publishing possibilities seemed to end. My first play, Milk of Paradise, about the magic and isolation of my childhood, was produced, gloriously, by the Women's Project and Productions in New York, to praise by Harold Clurman. The play introduced me to my future: a life in the theatre, as well as a life in books, a life that would celebrate my past as well as my present and create, by the way, my future.
The novels that followed, written furiously during the hours when my two younger children were in school, were not published until the nineties. They remain among my proudest accomplishments: Small Victories, enshrining my memory of the two sisters who survived in the wreckage of the old Bingham Military School in Asheville, North Carolina, where my father's family had its roots; Matron of Honor, built around my sister's marriage and memories of my own, and of the suffocating, fascinating family that formed us both; Straight Man, about a man of my generation, unable to come to terms with his aversion and attraction to women—a theme that would come to me again in other terms. All three books were published by Zoland Books, a fine independent publisher, in the early nineties.
At the same time, my novella from the hard times of the seventies, Upstate, was published by Permanent Press. A difficult book, it remains one of my best. The women's movement had liberated me to deal with anger—a woman's anger, perhaps the most terrifying aspect of our secret life.
All four novels were well-reviewed, and their modest sales created me, again, as a writer. I am forever grateful to Zoland and Permanent Press for taking on my fiction at a time when no one was interested in me except as a sort of minor celebrity, a woman who had become entangled with an archetype through family dissention and break-up.
The story of that dissention and break-up, which led to the sale of my family's companies in the late 1980s and years of criticism and alienation, will never be told fairly in my lifetime. The three books written by ambitious journalists did not aim to understand the complexities of my role as a minor shareholder who refused to be bought out at an enormous discount. My own memoir, Passion and Prejudice, was tarred and feathered after my mother (who had told me she would never speak to me again if I mentioned Mary Lily Flagler, my grandfather's second wife and the source of the family fortune) commissioned a telephone-booksized disclaimer which was sent to all the reviewers.
Some misunderstandings run too deep to be resolved. For me, the issue was one of fairness. Some day, that issue will be reconsidered, and the history of that time will be rewritten, but I do not expect to live to see it.
Meanwhile, Passion and Prejudice, beautifully presented by Knopf, remains one of my best books, and my first foray into nonfiction. Determined to be as objective as possible, I launched into a year of research that proved far more fascinating than I could have imagined. The men in my family had left copious records—speeches, textbooks, letters—but the women were largely forgotten. Attempting to recreate these women, who for three hundred years had produced inheriting sons, allowed me to use what I had learned to flesh out the portraits of those whose names I read in a tumbled-down North Carolina graveyard.
As for Mary Lily, whose records had been destroyed, I imagined her from the portraits that remained, and from research into her times:
Since her trustees controlled the principal of Henry Flagler's estate, Mary Lily was dependent on their goodwill. The operations of Standard Oil were always conducted in the deepest secrecy, and as a director, she did not inquire into their practices …
When she went out in Palm Beach, wearing her collar of diamonds or her famous pearls, Mary Lily managed to maintain the discreet, ironic detachment from her wealth that is so important in a woman who has inherited a fortune. Something in her demeanor and in her small stature conveyed the impression that she knew her prosperity was only on loan; she was still an example of Henry Flagler's shrewdness, a woman decorated for a man. But now there was no man, and the jewels seemed to take on a life of their own, glaring and flashing, signaling a dangerous change in ownership. To whom did they belong, to whom did she belong now that the old owner was gone?
(From Passion and Prejudice: A Family Memoir.)
Records of the trial following Mary Lily's death, a trial in which my grandfather stood accused of murder, were also impossible to come by, and the Kenan family, which had ordered her body exhumed for a postmortem, claimed they no longer had the result of that inquiry. So, again, it was necessary to imagine, using my highest standards to try to get at the truth.
A few days before her death, Mary Lily after much persuasion made a codicil to her will, giving my grandfather (always called the Judge) five million dollars. I imagined the scene:
She gave the Judge the codicil that night, after dinner, when they were sitting with their coffee on the terrace. … Itwas dark, and she could not see the Judge's face, but he leaned across the table and kissed her hand …
After that it did not seem worthwhile to dress when the day would be so long and hot. … After Dr. Ravitch came to give her one of his famous treatments—massage, a new lotion for her skin, occasionally a hypodermic to get her system working—she would spend the rest of the day in bed, drifting in and out of sleep …
At last she began to slip away altogether—she knew it was happening, she even formed the words: I am slipping away altogether. The sheets rested lightly on her body and the patch of ceiling over her head faded to a piece of the sky …
The Judge came and knelt by her bedside and kissed her hand. Then he looked at her face. She looked much younger now, with all that tension and confusion wiped away; she looked like the pretty young woman he had first known at Chapel Hill.
At the funeral service, the Judge imagined that there was a great deal of whispering and meaningful looks …
(From Passion and Prejudice: A Family Memoir.)
It was as close as I could come to imagining the family's great secret, wrapped for three generations in shame. Dealing with it cost me my mother's affection (of which I had never been very sure) and my one remaining brother's acceptance. My father died not long after the sale, having somehow let me know, in spite of months of silence, that I was still his daughter and in some curious way, beloved. My sister and I have been able to repair our differences, and for the next generation—my children and their cousins—the sale is simply something they don't discuss.
I used a part of my profits to start the Kentucky Foundation for Women, which supports artists who are feminists; the ten million dollar endowment has allowed the Foundation to grow and flourish, but needless to say, it did not endear me to the enraged Kentuckians who believed I had brought down their icon. I also bought an old hardscrabble farm, Wolf Pen Mill Farm, in eastern Jefferson County, which I have since placed in conservation easements.
I lived on the farm for only a few years, with my two younger sons, now teenagers, my two stepsons, and my third husband, Tim Peters, a contractor who had won my heart with his good looks and sturdy affection. Unfortunately, the uproar around the sale of the companies, and other factors, slowly undermined our marriage.
In 1991, after our divorce, I realized that to save my sanity and my life I must make a new way, and I must make it alone.
For the past ten years, I have lived very happily in Northern New Mexico, writing plays and a new collection of short stories, Transgressions, published by Sarabande Books in 2002. These stories are the fruits of my late maturity. Perhaps in some small way they can spare other women the agony of my adulthood, redeemed by the purpose that was revealed to me when, as a small child, I dictated my first poem to my mother:
God will, God will not
Bless the lamb that he has got.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 234: American Short Story Writers since World War II, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 42-48.
American Theatre, October, 1995, Charlene Baldridge, "Sallie Bingham: Patron Saint of Santa Fe," p. 77.
Belles Lettres, summer, 1992, p. 47.
Best Sellers, July 15, 1967.
Booklist, May 15, 1992, p. 1658; March 1, 1994, p. 1179; November 15, 2002, review of Transgressions.
Courier-Journal, December 22, 2002, review of Transgressions.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Transgressions.
Lexington Herald Leader, November 24, 2002, review of Transgressions.
New Yorker, September 11, 1989, p. 118-23, Liz Harris, review of Passion and Prejudice: A Family Memoir.
New York Review of Books, November 9, 1967.
New York Times, March 4, 1980; April 22, 1985.
New York Times Book Review, June 18, 1967, John Frakes, review of The Touching Hand; April 2, 1972; September 27, 1992, p. 18; April 24, 1994, p. 16.
Philadelphia Weekly, November 27, 2002, review of Transgressions.
Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1992, review of Small Victories, p. 61; April 26, 1993, review of Upstate, p. 56; April 12, 1996, review of Straight Man, p. 64; October 28, 2002, review of Transgressions.
Santa Fe New Mexican, December 8, 2002, review of Transgressions.
Southwest Book Views, autumn, 2002, review of Transgressions.
Times Literary Supplement, November 23, 1972.
Washington Post Book World, May 29, 1994, p. 4.
Working Woman, September, 1985, Alanna Nash, review of After Such Knowledge.
"Bingham, Sarah (Montague) 1937-." Contemporary Authors. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/bingham-sarah-montague-1937
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