Colum, Mary Maguire

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COLUM, Mary Maguire

Born 13 June 1887, Derryhollow, County Fermanagh, Ireland; died 22 October 1957, New York, New York

Daughter of Charles and Maria Gunning Maguire; married Padraic Colum, 1912

Reared in northwest Ireland by elderly relatives, Mary Maguire Colum was sent at thirteen to a convent boarding school where she received the traditional, multilingual education on which she drew for the rest of her life. At the height of the Irish revival she graduated from the National University, Dublin, where she knew such figures as Yeats, Maude Gonne, Lady Gregory, and Joyce. Yeats advised her to take up criticism, although she had already published fiction; he also suggested she adopt a masculine pen name, which she did not.

In 1914, two years after her marriage to poet Padraic Colum, Colum came to the United States. She wrote "ghost" reviews and in 1916 joined Women's Wear as translator and reporter. Though she regarded writing as "a very risky business" and criticism even more so, she gradually won her place, contributing regularly to Forum, Saturday Review, Dial, Scribners, and other periodicals. Colum received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1930 and 1938, was honored by Georgetown University and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1953 was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

From These Roots (1937) is Colum's attempt to render "an account of the ideas that have gone into the making of modern literature," beginning in mid-18th century with the works of Lessing and Herder, tracing parallel development in England and France. Her book is not a history of criticism, but an examination of "patterns." Colum identifies true criticism as a creative force, "a principle through which the world of ideas renews itself," and literary criticism as "that branch of literature whose most important office is the originating of … ideas." She argues that modern literature has reached a dead end, that a new criticism is required to stimulate new and original literature. Her thesis places undue emphasis upon the role of criticism as a generative force and makes no allowance for individual genius of the creative writer. Her evaluation of American literature is also questionable; firmly rooted in European culture, Colum cannot recognize the folk tradition in American writing, and ranks the influence of Poe above that of Hawthorne and Melville.

Her autobiography, Life and the Dream (1947), sensitively portrays the austerity of rural Irish life and the excitement of the Irish revival in Dublin. Colum offers sketches of the literati of Dublin, New York, and Chicago, along with a great many opinions. She attacks American materialism, education, and marriages; she lauds Elinor Wylie and feuds with Harriet Monroe. In a world where she struggles constantly for acceptance as an intellectual equal, Colum is impatient with women who fail to utilize their full abilities. She is always independent, dogmatic, and passionately Irish.

Colum's reputation as a respected critic rests upon her first book and the many reviews she contributed to periodicals during her long career. Her autobiography and Our Friend James Joyce (1958) reveal a more personal side. Although her style is still formal, her writing is frequently anecdotal, displaying a sometimes awkward humor. Her prejudices are strong; she loves a good fight. Yet all her books indicate she is still very much outside American thought. As she herself writes: "I feel an exile always, everywhere, including the land in which I was born."


Reference Works:

Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches 1930-1947 (1948).

Other reference:

NY (22 March 1947). NYHTB (19 Dec. 1937). NYT (20 March 1947). NYTBR (19 Dec. 1937). SR (13 Nov. 1937, 27 Nov. 1937).


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Colum, Mary Maguire

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