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Erica Mann Jong

Erica Mann Jong

Since publishing her grounding-breaking first novel, Fear of Flying in 1973, best-selling American feminist writer Erica Jong (born 1942) has published fiction, collections of poetry, and countless articles about the lives of women, focusing on stories of sex, love, possibilities, and adventure.

Erica Jong grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, in a house of artists. Jong's mother was a portrait painter whose parents had immigrated from Odessa in Russia in the early twentieth century. Her father was a songwriter who became a businessman so he could support the family. "We had all the problems of a New York Jewish intellectual family, " Jong commented in a Washington Post interview in 1997. "It was hard to get a word in at the dinner table. When I first saw Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, I thought he was writing about me."

Always Circling Back to Writing

Jong attended New York's public High School of Music and Art in the 1950s, concentrating on art and writing. She read voraciously, especially Russian novels, and wrote poems, reading them aloud to whomever would listen. As an undergraduate at Barnard College, Jong intended to become a doctor, "to support herself while she wrote on the side, 'like William Carlos Williams"' she noted in a 1997 New York Times Book Review article. Instead, she eventually majored in writing and literature, studying with biographer James Clifford and poet Robert Pack, both of whom helped her to think of herself as a writer. "Don't worry, Erica, " Jong remembered Pack saying after she expressed worry about her zoology classes, "you're a poet." Exhibiting her typical, lifelong energy for the arts, Jong also edited the Barnard literary magazine and produced poetry programs for the Columbia University campus radio station. In 1963, she graduated from Barnard, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. She was also briefly married to her first husband, Michael Werthman, around this time.

Jong studied eighteenth-century English literature at Columbia, and received her M.A. in 1965. She married Allan Jong, a child psychiatrist, the following year. Continuing her education as a post-graduate, Jong studied poetry at Columbia's School of the Arts with Stanley Kunitz and Mark Strand. About this time, she published two books of poetry, Fruits and Vegetables and Half-Lives. "Welcome Erica Jong, " declared James Whitehead in his Saturday Review critique of Fruits and Vegetables, "and welcome the sensuality she has so carefully worked over in this wonderful book…. Clearly she has worked hard to gain this splendid and various and serious comic vision." Immersed in the world of academia, however, Jong continued her studies in the doctoral program at Columbia, intending to become a professor. "I was such an academic, " she commented in the New York Times Book Review. "I don't recognize myself when I look back. I knew exactly how to write tedious, footnoted tomes, and never suspected I would do anything else."

The Fear of Flying Phenomenon

But Jong was always drawn back to creative writing. Half way through the doctoral program, she left to try her hand at writing a novel about a woman's sexual experience. Jong once explained: "Males were writing about the bedroom. Why not women? Why not me? But we were still undiscovered country. No one had written about what goes on in a woman's head with any nakedness." Fear of Flying was published in 1973 in hardback to critical acclaim, including praise from such writers as John Updike and Henry Miller, who called it "a female Tropic of Cancer." Explicit in its descriptions of sex from a woman's point of view, it tells the story of Isadora Wing, a woman who seeks sexual and emotional fulfillment. "Isadora Wing was a creature of sexual delight, huge appetite, and no guilt whatsoever about infidelity and promiscuity, " declared a reviewer in the New York Times Book Review. Erica Jong "was the first woman to write in such a daring and humorous way about sex, " Karen Fitzgerald noted in Ms. "She popularized the idea of a woman's ultimate sexual fantasy … sex for the sake of sex."

Buoyed by initial praise, the book was received as a literary feat. "Fear of Flying is essentially a literary novel, a Bildungsroman with strong parallels to the Odyssey, Dante's Inferno, and the myths of Daedalus and Icarus, " judged Emily Toth in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. But when the novel came out in paperback and was available to a more general audience, the reception changed to one of scandal. Jong once noted, "There was a media frenzy…. Here was this young woman coming out of nowhere to talk about sex … the book became (popular) for extraliterary reasons." In the America in the 1970s, Fear of Flying gave voice to many readers' experiences and emotions in a way no book had before, and despite the scandal surrounding its publication, Fear of Flying became the first of Jong's best-sellers, and perhaps the book for which she is the most well-known. The volume remains a perennial favorite, and has been translated into many languages.

After her initial success as a novelist, Jong returned to her original genre, poetry, and published her third poetry collection, Loveroot, in 1975. Two years later, as a sequel to Fear of Flying, Jong released How to Save Your Own Life. Continuing the story of Isadora Wing and her adventures, the second book did not reach the same acclaim as the first. John Leonard, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted that How to Save Your Own Life lacks the "energy and irreverence of Fear of Flying…. Whereas the author of Fear of Flying was looking inside her own head, shuffling her fantasies, and with a manic gusto playing out her hand, the author of How to Save Your Own Life is looking over her shoulder, afraid that the critics might be gaining on her." Switching back to poetry, Jong then published two more books of verse, At the Edge of the Body (1979), a collection of metaphysical poems, and Ordinary Miracles (1983), a book about childbirth based on her own experience with the birth of her daughter Molly in 1979. Jong had divorced Allan Jong by that time, and married Jonathan Fast, a writer, in 1977.

Experimenting with Forms of Writing

Jong never forgot her love of eighteenth-century English literature from her doctoral-candidate days and used her knowledge of the times in her third novel, Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980). The volume, according to Jong, was a response to the hypothetical question "What if Tom Jones was a woman?" Fanny is "a picaresque of intelligence, buoyant invention and wonderful Rabelaisian energy, " opined Michael Malone in the New York Times Book Review. The book gained Jong attention as a satirist. According to Toth, "Jong uses the eighteenth-century novel form to satirize both Fanny's century and her own." "At heart, " noted Chicago Tribune contributor James Goldman, "this novel is a vehicle for Jong's ideas about Woman and Womanhood." Ever prolific and experimental with creative forms, Jong later adapted the novel into a musical produced by the Manhattan Theater Club in New York. Fanny was followed by Jong's fourth poetry collection, Witches, published in 1981. Paintings by Joseph A. Smith illustrated this book, which was a study of the figure of the witch as a historical reality and archetype.

Soon after her divorce from her third husband, Jonathan Fast, Jong published Megan's Book of Divorce (1984), illustrated by Freya Tanz. The book originally had the title Molly's Book of Divorce, but Fast threatened court action over the title, stating that it violated a divorce decree stipulating that Jong refrain from using the name of their then-five-year-old daughter, Molly, in her works. The book was published later than expected that year, under a changed title; it was intended both for children and adults. Written from the viewpoint of a child, the volume is about what it is like to be four years old and live through parents' divorce. According to the New York Times Book Review, Megan's Book of Divorce "smoothly glosses over the considerable pain and trauma small children suffer" in divorce. The book was reissued in 1996, and Molly Jong-Fast later recorded the Audiobook version.

Isadora Wing Lives On

Later in 1984, Jong's fourth novel, Parachutes and Kisses, emerged as the third book in the Isadora Wing trilogy. In this volume, Isadora Wing is 39 and has been through three divorces. But in the typical Isadora fashion audiences had come to know and appreciate, she still has a strong appetite for sex and adventure. According to the New York Times Book Review, Isadora Wing "discovered men in their mid-20's with energy levels to match or, with luck, to surpass her own. She especially falls for men who have read her books…. Miss Wing is one long advertisement for herself." The title of the book, Parachutes and Kisses, is taken from a poem by Pablo Neruda, a poet Jong admired and of whom she sometimes wrote. Parachutes and Kisses met with some critical success, but, like How to Save Your Own Life, it was not met with nearly the same overwhelming success as Fear of Flying.

Jong's fifth novel, Serenissima: A Novel of Venice, was released in 1987, and, like her earlier novels, quickly became a best-seller. In this volume, beautiful, 40-something movie star Jessica Pruitt travels to Venice to make a movie of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. She becomes ill and somehow travels back in time to the sixteenth century. Among other adventures, Jessica meets and falls in love with a young William Shakespeare, the English author of the Merchant of Venice. In the New York Times Book Review, reviewer Michael Malone stated: "As she proved in Fanny, … Erica Jong can write a historical novel that both honors its tradition with affectionate parody and creates its own full fictional reality."

The novel Any Woman's Blues was published three years later and one year after her marriage to attorney Kenneth David Burrows. Any Woman's Blues tells the story of Leila Sand, a mother and artist, who succeeds in ending an addictive relationship with a younger man to achieve peace and self-knowledge. The preface of the book reveals that the volume is actually the work of Isadora Wing, the character who had originally captured the imaginations of millions of readers. And "with this news comes lessons, " noted Benjamin Demott, reviewer from the jury of the 1989 National Book Awards. "If Leila (of Any Woman's Blues) is Isadora 17 years later, it follows (for moralists) that sin and abomination don't pay."

Reflecting on a Life of Writing, and Looking Forward

Two memoirs followed Any Woman's Blues: The Devil at Large: Erica Jong on Henry Miller in 1993 and Fear of Fifty in 1994. The Devil at Large chronicled Jong's long-standing friendship with author Henry Miller which began when Miller sent Jong a letter of praise for Fear of Flying. Miller's letter also included discussions about literary censorship and sexual politics. Fear of Fifty was lauded as a "funny, blistering mid-life memoir that assesses how far women have-or have not-traveled since the explosion of feminism in the late sixties and early seventies, " as noted on the Erica Jong Web Page. Lynn Freed, writing in the Washington Post Book World, called Fear of Fifty"a funny, pungent, and highly entertaining memoir of [Jong's] growing up, her men, her marriages, her motherhood, her writing, her successes and her failures on all fronts. And she has done so … with all her customary candor." The novel was a world-wide best-seller.

Jong published her seventh novel, Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters, in 1997. This volume is a four-generational story about a Jewish family in America, and as with many of her other novels, quickly became a best-seller. The novel was met with critical acclaim, especially in terms of the focus on Jewish identity. Many reviewers also praised Jong's heroines as examples of the changing role of women. For Jong, the writing of her books, such as Inventing Memory, has been a very personal experience. "It's a very profound self-analysis. It's like meditation, " Jong commented to Dana Micucci of the Chicago Tribune. "I try to tell a certain truth about the interior of my life and other women's lives. If you're writing the kinds of books I write, you come out a changed person."

Erica Jong has long been known as an energetic supporter of other writers, including her daughter Molly Jong-Fast. An advocate of artists' and authors' rights, she served as President of the Authors' Guild from 1991 until 1993, and she continues to serve on the advisory board as well as the advisory board of the National Writers Union. In 1996, Jong and her fourth husband, Kenneth David Burrows, helped to endow Barnard College's writing program. Jong also maintains a homepage on the World Wide Web that includes Erica Jong's Writers' Forum, a place for anyone to submit writings, on which fellow writers comment. Jong herself is a frequent participant in the discussions about fledgling writers' work.

Further Reading

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 6, 1976, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 18, 1981, Volume 85, 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 2: American Novelists since World War II, 1978, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, 1980, Volume 28: Twentieth-Century Jewish-American Fiction Writers, 1984.

Jong, Erica, Witches, illustrated by Joseph A. Smith, Abrams, 1981.

Templin, Charlotte, Feminism and the Politics of Literary Reputation: The Example of Erica Jong, University of Kansas Press, 1995.

Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1990, sec. 7, pp. 11-13; April 25, 1993, sec. 6, p. 3; July 31, 1994, sec. 14, p. 3; August 18, 1994, sec. 5, pp. 1-2.

Interview, July 1987.

Ms., November 1980; July 1981; July 1986; June 1987.

New York Post, August 7, 1997.

New York Times Book Review, March 20, 1977; August 12, 1973; November 11, 1973; March 5, 1978; August 17, 1980; December 27, 1981; March 8, 1984; July 1, 1984; August 5, 1984; October 10, 1984; March 3, 1985; April 19, 1987; January 28, 1990; June 10, 1992; June 21, 1992; February 14, 1993; July 24, 1994; September 20, 1996; July 20, 1997.

Saturday Review, December 18, 1971; April 30, 1977; August 1980; November 1981; December 1981.

Washington Post Book World, July 31, 1994, p. 5; February 9, 1997.

"About Erica Jong, " Erica Jong Web Page,http://www.ericajong.com (March 19, 1998).

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Jong, Erica

JONG, Erica

Nationality: American. Born: Erica Mann in New York City, 26 March 1942. Education: The High School of Music and Art, New York; Barnard College, New York (George Weldwood Murray fellow, 1963), 1959-63, B.A. 1963 (Phi Beta Kappa); Columbia University, New York (Woodrow Wilson fellow, 1964), M.A. 1965; Columbia School of Fine Arts, 1969-70. Family: Married 1) Michael Werthman in 1963 (divorced 1965); 2) Allan Jong in 1966 (divorced 1975); 3) the writer Jonathan Fast in 1977 (divorced 1983), one daughter; 4) Kenneth David Burrows in 1989. Career: Lecturer in English, City College, New York, 1964-66, 1969-70, and University of Maryland European Division, Heidelberg, Germany, 1967-68; instructor in English, Manhattan Community College, New York, 1969-70. Since 1971 instructor in poetry, YM-YWHA Poetry Center, New York. Member of the literary panel, New York State Council on the Arts, 1972-74. Since 1991 president of Author's Guild. Awards: Academy of American Poets award, 1963; Bess Hokin prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1971; New York State Council on the Arts grant, 1971; Madeline Sadin award (New York Quarterly ), 1972; Alice Fay di Castagnola award, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1973; Creative Artists Public Service grant, 1973; International Sigmund Freud prize, 1979. Agent: Ed Victor Ltd., 162 Wardour Street, London W1V 3AT, England.

Publications

Novels

Fear of Flying. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1973; London, Secker andWarburg, 1974.

How to Save Your Own Life. New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1977.

Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones. New York, New American Library, and London, Granada, 1980.

Parachutes and Kisses. New York, New American Library, andLondon, Granada, 1984.

Serenissima: A Novel of Venice. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, andLondon, Bantam, 1987.

Any Woman's Blues. New York, Harper, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1990.

Megan's Two Houses: A Story of Adjustment. West Hollywood, California, Dove Kids, 1996.

Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters. New York, HarperCollins, 1997.

Uncollected Short Stories

"From the Country of Regrets," in Paris Review, Spring 1973.

"Take a Lover," in Vogue, April 1977.

Poetry

Fruits and Vegetables. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1971; London, Secker and Warburg, 1973.

Half-Lives. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1973; London, Secker andWarburg, 1974.

Here Comes and Other Poems. New York, New American Library, 1975.

Loveroot. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1975; London, Secker andWarburg, 1977.

The Poetry of Erica Jong. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1976.

Selected Poems 1-2. London, Panther, 2 vols., 1977-80.

At the Edge of the Body. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1979; London, Granada, 1981.

Ordinary Miracles: New Poems. New York, New American Library, 1983; London, Granada, 1984.

Becoming Light: Poems: New and Selected. New York, HarperCollins, 1991.

Other

Four Visions of America, with others. Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1977.

Witches (miscellany). New York, Abrams, 1981; London, Granada, 1982.

Megan's Book of Divorce: A Kid's Book for Adults. New York, NewAmerican Library, 1984; London, Granada, 1985.

The Devil at Large: Erica Jong on Henry Miller. New York, TurtleBay, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1993.

Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir. New York, HarperCollins, 1994.

What Do Women Want?: Bread, Roses, Sex, Power. New York, HarperCollins, 1998.

*

Critical Studies:

Interviews in New York Quarterly 16, 1974, Playboy (Chicago), September 1975, and Viva (New York), September 1977; article by Emily Toth, in Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Fiction Writers edited by Daniel Walden, Detroit, Gale, 1984; "Isadora and Fanny, Jessica and Erica: The Feminist Discourse of Erica Jong" by Julie Anne Ruth, in Australian Women's Book Review (Melbourne), September 1990; Feminism and the Politics of Literary Reputation: the Example of Erica Jong by Charlotte Templin. Lawrence, Kansas, University Press of Kansas, 1995; Writing Mothers, Writing Daughters: Tracing the Maternal in Stories by American Jewish Women by Janet Handler Burstein. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1996.

* * *

Erica Jong is an impressive poet who writes in the confessional vein of Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and John Berryman. She also creates an energetic, garrulous, witty, and tender verse, both erudite and earthy, about the conflict between sexuality and inhibiting intelligence, about death (and one's impulse both toward and away from suicide), the problems of sexual and creative energy (both consuming and propelling), and the hunger for love, knowledge, and connecting. Although she has aligned herself with the feminist movement, her poetry goes beyond the dilemma of being a woman in a male-dominated world, or for that matter, a Jew in an urban culture, to the ubiquitous need for human completeness in a fiercely hostile social and cosmic world.

Jong distinguishes her poetic and fictional forms: "In poetry I could be pared down, honed, minimal. In the novel what I wanted was excess, digression, rollicking language, energy, and poetry." Her stated preference was always for the novel that made one believe "it was all spilled truth." To be sure, "excess," "energy," and "rollicking language" are terms that well describe her fiction, along with its absolute quest for truth.

Fear of Flying, still Jong's most influential work, is a funny, moving, and deeply serious book. "Nothing human was worth denying," her heroine, Isadora Wing, says, "and even if it was unspeakably ugly, we could learn from it, couldn't we?" Isadora, a picaresque heroine, is a bright, pretty, Jewish, guilt-ridden writer, who accompanies her Chinese-American, child psychiatrist husband, Bennett Wing, to a psychoanalytic congress in Vienna. Torn between the stability of marriage and her sexual fantasies for the "zipless fuck," she abandons Bennett for Adrian Goodlove, an illiterate, sadistic, but very sexy London psychiatrist. Adrian is a selfish and pompous bully, whose words arouse her as much as his sexual promise. (Bennett, though "often wordless," is a far better lover.) Her excursions into the past, where we meet her family and childhood world, her brilliant but sad and mad first husband, and her various sexual partners, are drawn in an earthy and ebullient fashion. But beneath all the bravura is Isadora's basic lack of fulfillment. Sex is only the apparent means toward connecting and feeling alive, an outlet that confounds desperation and freedom. It is only a temporary departure from guilt, an illusory means of flying. Isadora's life remains tortured. The end of the book only half-heartedly suggests some sort of insight and the half-believed: "People don't complete us. We complete ourselves." Isadora has struggled to write as a means of self-discovery and as a sublimated but illusory fulfillment for the frustrations of the real world. She retains an unremitting sense of guilt, vulnerability, childish impulsiveness, and romanticism.

The less successful sequel, How to Save Your Own Life, focuses on Isadora's literary success, her divorce from Bennett, and her subsequent move to Hollywood with its virtually limitless number of disappointments, sexual and otherwise. As Jong again portrays it, the plight of the woman is to be torn between her own restlessness and the bourgeois virtues of marriage. She illustrates poignantly and powerfully how a woman's greatest fear is of being alone, and yet her deepest wish is to break free as "hostage" to her own "fantasies," her "fears," and "false definitions."

Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones is an extraordinary tour de force. In the style and spirit of the eighteenth century, it tells of the tragic and comic fortunes of the beautiful and brilliant young Fanny, whose picaresque adventures en route to becoming a writer and member of the gentry include everything from membership in a witches' covenreally a modern sisterhooda brothel, and a pirate ship to a series of sexual adventures with the likes of Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and Theophilus Cibber. It is a rich, racy, and enormously funny and serious bookmoving, at times to the extreme, in its focus on love, friendship, motherhood, and courage. It is filled with serious, playful, and frequently ironic references to an enormous body of literature. Fanny is conversant with Homer, Virgil, Horace, Boileau, La Rochefoucauld, Voltaire, Locke, and Pascal. Although as a character, Fanny speaks with a 1980s consciousness, the kind of woman she represents might have lived during any age for, to quote Jong's stated intention in creating her, Fanny transcends her own time. Fanny, as a character and novel, embodies, above all, an unflagging and uncompromising search for truth.

"A Woman is made of Sweets and Bitters. She is both Reason and Rump, both Wit and Wantonness," Fanny remarks, in an observation that is applicable to all of Jong's females, including her Isadora Wing character in Parachutes and Kisses. Here Jong portrays the famous, rich, brilliant, and beautiful writer, now nearly forty and separated from her husband. Isadora once again possesses a prodigious sexuality, but it is now accompanied by a purposive loneliness. Although she would seem to have reconciled her sexuality with her personal and professional responsibilitiesmainly as mother and writerit is the quest for love that remains her driving force. Isadora relates her experiences with a series of loversincluding a real estate developer, rabbi, antiques dealer, plastic surgeon, and medical studentbut the need for love and security remains insatiable. Isadora may long ago have given up the fear of flying, but she remains, in many ways, the woman she described herself as in the earlier works: "My life had been a constant struggle to get attention, not to be ignored, to be the favored child, the brightest, the best, the most precocious, the most outrageous, the most adored." Such is her relationship with parents, lovers, and not least of all, the world.

Serenissima, another historical novel and tour de force of the order of the Rabelaisian Fanny, is set in the Venice of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. It is filled not only with details and characters from Shakespeare's life and plays but also with echoes from any number of other Elizabethan writers, as well as often hilarious reminders of numerous more modern authorsfrom Byron and Ruskin to Dylan Thomas, Henry James to James Joyce. Jessica Pruitt, a middle-aged, jet-setting movie star, has come to Venice as a judge for the Film Festival. Although she plans to play Jessica in a "filmic fantasy" of The Merchant of Venice, she is forced to remain in Italy, since she has become ill. She takes this as the occasion to embark upon a trip back in time to sixteenth-century Venice. The city, with its grand history, labyrinthine canals, and reflexive surfaces, permits not just her thorough investigation of the Bard himselfin all his natural (i.e., sexual), as well as social and literary capabilitiesbut it provides the means for a personal journey into her own female identity, in fact and fantasy. It is a pagan rite de passage in preparation for her future. She is, after all, forty-threean aging woman who must survive within a professional and everyday world that adulates youth; even Shakespeare's heroine, Jessica, is a celebration of youth.

Once back in time, in Shakespeare's Venice, she is a reborn Jessica. She cavorts with an enormous retinue of suitors and even fancies herself as Shakespeare's Dark Lady, among any number of other real and fantasized roles. Amid all the disguises, ruses, and exposes, however, Jong casts a number of tasteless scenes, such as the incredible romping of the Bard with his own creations (like Juliet), or with specifically important people who lived during his lifetime, like his patron, the Earl of Southampton. Jong portrays, for example, Shakespeare and Southampton with a courtesan posing as a boy. They were, she writes, "a three-backed beast that pants and screams and begs for mercy." The reader may be similarly offended by Jessica's numerous attempts to describe "Will's stiff staff." Jong remains at her best linguistically, in her use of quotes and puns. When Jessica first meets Shakespeare, for example, in the Ghetto Vecchio, he says to her: "Who ever loved, who loved not at first sight?" and "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Any Woman's Blues portrays yet another "sexaholic," as Jong's newest sexual Wonderwoman, Leila Sand, describes herself. Presumably authored by Isadora Wing (which we learn in a foreword and afterword), the novel deals with an artist in her mid-forties. Leila's (midlife) crisis, as the epigraph announces, is that "the blues ain't nothing/but the facts of life." Despite all her celebrity, Leila fears that her talent is waning; she must also come to terms with drugs and alcohol; most importantly, she must confront her masochistic relationship with a young, blond WASP named Darton Veneble Donegal IV. (When she first sees him he is "helmeted like Darth Vader.") On the one hand, Leila says, in the typical poor prose of the novel: "He rarely said anything that wasn't loving, sweet, and dear. He spoke, in fact, like a Hallmark greeting card." But she adds: "It was just that his actions belied his words." Dart, her "great primitive god," is also, a "con man, a hustler, a cowboy, a cocksman, an addict." He is also well celebrated for being "born with an erection." As Leila tries, still like Isadora in Fear of Flying, to "get free" and be her own person, she utters the cloying: "Life is a feast. It is there for the taking. You have only to love one another, thank God, and rejoice. At its most simple, it is a prayer." Leila's words ring hollow: "Give, give, give! is the cry of the gods. It rhymes with: "Live, live, live! Why else are we passing through this sublunary sphere?" Such a conclusionand the language in which it is couchedis unworthy of the lusty, witty, and utterly unrepentant Jong persona, whose wild and wicked adventures we have otherwise enjoyed in her previous novels.

Having coined the term "zipless fuck" in Fear of Flying, virtually a classic in its portrayal of female libido, Jong now uses the word "whiplash" in Fear of Fifty to describe what she calls the "women of her generation." Once more, in her autobiographical novel form, Jong focuses on many women who grew up during the respectable 1950s and feminist 1960swomen who burned their bras but subsequently had children and discovered the joys of simple motherhood. The book rings painfully true for many women torn between career and motherhood, sexuality and traditional reserve, and even feminism as opposed to femininity. Subtitled "A Midlife Memoir," Fear of Fifty more importantly deals with the "terror" women experience when they realize they are no longer young and beautiful. Although Jong appears less concerned with her body (while still capable of great sexual prowess), her words ring true in such statements as: "I wander around," wondering if "I have the right to my immortal soul." Perhaps she laments her earlier romans a clef and the devastating impact they must have had on her barely disguised characters; now she says: "Writing matters only if it ripens your humanity."

Jong's most recent offering is strikingly reminiscent of the rash of multi-narrator, mother-daughter novels that have become popular in the past decadenovels such as Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and Rebecca Wells's Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere. Sadly, Jong's Inventing Memory does not live up to the high standards set by other novels of this genre. Telling the story of four generations of women, in this case of Jewish heritage, she demonstrates their growth as they are "shaped by the challenges of Jewish history and the misery created by the deeply flawed men they choose." The novel was greeted with highly critical reviews, suggesting that the greatest value in Jong's fiction may be found in her early work.

Lois Gordon,

updated by Suzanne Disheroon Green

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Jong, Erica

Erica Jong (Erica Mann Jong) (jông, zhông), 1942–, American novelist and poet, b. New York City. She created a sensation with Fear of Flying (1973), a comic, picaresque novel of sex and psychiatry that challenged conventional views of women. Her other works include the poems in Half Lives (1973); the novels Fanny (1980), Any Woman's Blues (1990), and Sappho's Leap (2003); and the memoirs Fear of Fifty (1994) and Seducing the Demon (2006).

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Jong, Erica

JONG, ERICA

JONG, ERICA (1942– ), U.S. novelist and poet. Born Erica Mann in New York, where she was educated and began to write poetry, she lived in Heidelberg, Germany, from 1966 to 1969, where her husband (from whom she was later divorced) was serving in the U.S. Army. Her experiences there were featured in the autobiographical novel Fear of Flying (1973). In Germany she continued to write poetry which began to evolve a feminist outlook. In 1971, she published her first collection of poetry, Fruits and Vegetables, much of which explored the position of women as artists. Her second volume of poetry, Half-Lives (1973), continued to explore feminist and psychological issues.

The publication of Fear of Flying established her popularity as a novelist. The novel, which describes the search for self-identity and analyses the upbringing, neuroses, and sexuality of its heroine, Isadora Wing, mirrored much of Jong's own intellectual background and Jewish upbringing. It includes a chapter describing her life in Germany and its effect on her Jewish consciousness. The novel's sexual frankness sparked much controversy.

In 1977, she published her second novel, How to Save Your Own Life, a sequel to Fear of Flying, which explored Isadora Wing's experiences with fame, divorce, and new relationships. This was followed in 1980 by Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones, a contemporary "18th-century novel" describing the adventures of a female Tom Jones.

Jong has also published volumes of poetry, Loveroot (1975) and At the Edge of the Body (1979). Numerous novels and books of poetry followed. In 1994 Jong published her autobiography, Fear of Fifty, followed in 2006 by Seducing the Demon on the writing life. In 1982 she was awarded title of Mother of the Year, while she served as president of the Authors Guild of the United States between 1991 and 1993. In 1998 she published a collection of essays. What Do Women Want? She is regarded as one of the most significant authors to have been produced by the feminist movement.

add. bibliography:

C. Templin (ed.), Conversations with Erica Jong (2002).

[Susan Strul /

Rohan Saxena (2nd ed.)]

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Jong, Erica

JONG, Erica

Born 26 March 1942, New York, New York

Daughter of Seymour and Eda Mirsky Mann; married Michael Werthman, 1963; Allen Jong, 1966; Jonathan Fast, 1977; Kenneth David Burrows, 1989; children: Miranda ("Molly")

The second of three daughters, Erica Jong grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side. While an undergraduate English major at Barnard, Jong was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and won Woodrow Wilson and George Weldwood Murray fellowships, as well as the Academy of American Poets prize and other awards at Columbia. She earned an M.A. in 18th-century literature from Columbia in 1965. Jong spent 1966-69 in Heidelberg, Germany. Her first novel, Fear of Flying (1973), made her a celebrity.

Fear of Flying is about a woman's discovery of her selfhood, through discarding cultural stereotypes and accepting responsibility for defining herself, first as a Jew, then as a woman—with all the vulnerability that this entails—and finally as a writer. Through strategically juxtaposed flashbacks, the first half of the novel provides the psychological motivations behind Isadora's dilemma as she debates whether to leave her husband and go off with another man. Although she feels restless and frustrated, Isadora depends on her husband, as she always has depended on men for security. But Adrian, her new lover, awakens the part of her that loves to be wanton and carefree and not feel guilty.

In the second half of the novel, Isadora and Adrian begin an erratic odyssey across Europe, zigzagging their way from Vienna to Paris. Away from time and social conventions, it becomes a journey of self-discovery for Isadora, as she describes in rambling conversations her past relationships with men. A pattern emerges: she has allowed them to exploit her, and they have never proved satisfying both physically and emotionally. By the end of the novel, abandoned by Adrian and waiting for her husband in his London hotel room, she has come to realize she can't find fulfillment through another person, but only through achieving her own authenticity as a human being. Most of the controversy this novel stirred up focuses on its explicit sexuality. But such criticism overlooks its solid literary qualities—its use of allusions and symbols, as well as other imagery, to underscore its theme; its robust humor; and most of all its freshness, honesty, and abundant vitality.

How to Save Your Own Life (1977) picks up Isadora's story in New York, after she has written a bestselling novel and become even more estranged from her husband, and takes her through her disenchantment with the Hollywood producer for whom she is writing a film version of her novel to her decision to leave her husband and take up residence with Josh Ace, a struggling young writer in Hollywood. Both the style and themes of How to Save Your Own Life indicate Jong's strengthening command of the novel form. The second book relies less on wisecracks and has a more lucid structure than the first. Also, in dramatizing her protagonist's change from dependency to womanhood and her rejection of self-destruction in favor of life, Jong breaks away from traditional literary treatment of female characters by not eroticizing pain or making her "free woman" pay for her sins.

Jong has also published several volumes of poetry. Fruits & Vegetables (1971), which treats a variety of experiences, is most notable for its experiments in style, such as its botanical imagery and the intermingling of prose and poetry. Half-Lives (1973) is more consistent in subject matter and tone. The main themes are a woman's sexual and emotional longings; the tone predominantly wistful or angry. Loveroot (1975) announces a change in the author's attitude—a joyous embracing of life, with all of its pain and uncertainty. These three volumes were highly praised and won several awards. Here Comes & Other Poems (1975) is a compilation of previously published poems and essays. At the Edge of the Body (1979) has received little critical attention; however, it reflects the author's deepening maturity. The quality of Jong's reviews and articles about writing places her in the front ranks of feminist literary critics. Jong's fiction and poetry, with its willingness to take risks and experiment, demonstrates continuing growth and self-confidence.

Jong's work since 1979 has been prolific and varied. The travels and travails of Isadora, heroine of Fear of Flying and How to Save Your Own Life, are continued in Parachutes & Kisses (1984) and Any Woman's Blues (1990). The first takes Isadora through the breakup of her marriage to Josh Ace, her recovery from the divorce, and rediscovery of love—all while raising her toddler daughter. The next begins with the breakup of the love affair begun at the end of the previous novel. Any Woman's Blues diverges from its predecessors by continuing Isadora's saga from a one-step removed point of view. The novel's conceit is that another author has organized and finished the semiautobiographical novel Isadora had been working on shortly before her death. The author's voice now interacts with the character she bases on herself. This structure reflects Jong's new interest in experimenting with the borders between fiction and reality. Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980) and Serenissima: A Novel of Venice (1987) represent her work in this vein. The genesis of Fanny is Jong's imagined response to Cleland's heroine in Fanny Hill; or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Fanny responds by writing her own version of her life to reclaim it for herself. In this way, Jong confronts the issues not addressed at the time, of incest, prostitution, and woman's powerless position in society, and does so from within, by giving the very source of Cleland's novel a voice. In Serenissima (later reissued as Shylock's Daughter: A Novel of Love in Venice in 1995), Jong continues to appropriate and rework older styles and language. The heroine is an actress at a Venice film festival who is about to play Jessica in a new film production of The Merchant of Venice. Becoming feverishly ill, she begins to hallucinate and dreams she is a Jew in Venice around Shakespeare's time—in fact, the very woman who will inspire Shakespeare to write The Merchant of Venice. Accidents of fate bring her together with Shakespeare and, naturally, adventures ensue. Jong's attempts to meld and confuse the border of time greatly test her reader's suspension of disbelief. Serenissima could have used more of the refinement of Fanny in concept as well as structure; and the contrast between the critical and popular receptions of the two novels reflect these discrepancies.

Jong has also ventured into two other genres: nonfiction and children's literature. Witches (with Joseph Smith, 1981), a book about witches and witchcraft, utilizes poetry and illustrations—in addition to the expected prose—to educate its readers. Clearly the result of much research, it even includes a few spells and rites one might practice, if one dared. Megan's Book of Divorce (1984), a self-proclaimed "kid's book for adults," takes on divorce, presumably from Jong's daughter's point of view. The view, however, seems a little unrealistically rosy. The book was reissued in a less candid title in 1996 as Megan's Two Houses: A Story of Adjustment.

Jong considers herself primarily a poet. She has published Ordinary Miracles (1983) and Becoming Light: Poems New and Selected (1991). The first covers the themes of motherhood and divorce, while the second is a comprehensive compilation, including poems from each of her previous collections as well as some early unpublished poems, poems included in other prose works, and more recent poems.

In the early 1990s, Jong added yet another genre to her portfolio with Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir (1994), an autobiographical blend of personal history coupled with biting social criticism. The book sheds additional light on Jong's earlier works and reveals a broader picture of the author. She offers her insight into the world of women while investigating her own roles as daughter, sister, wife, mother, writer, feminist, and Jew. Jong classifies her generation of women as the "whiplash generation" because of the roller coaster of changing expectations through which they've lived, and includes her thoughts on the past, present, and future of feminism. Above all, though, the book is hailed as honest and frank. Jong even addresses the disenchantment liberal feminists have felt with her previous work and argues that women who insist on political correctness only foster separatism and sexism.

Jong's following work, Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters (1997), goes back to novel form with the story of four generations of Jewish women struggling with the challenges of their time. The founding woman, Sarah, escapes Russia as a 15-year-old and makes her way to the U.S. to find a better life. She successfully navigates these trials and later bears a daughter, Salome. Salome becomes a freewheeling writer and moves back to Europe. She has a daughter, Sally, who grows up in the 1960s in the U.S. and becomes a popular singer. Sally delves into the world of drug and alcohol abuse, and when she gives birth to a daughter, Sara, the father is soon granted permanent custody. This woman is the final generation featured, and pulls the story together in search of her heritage. The early characters in the novel, particularly Sarah, are the most popular with critics. The story tends to drag, becoming more bogged down with each generational layer, and most do not consider it one of Jong's best works. The topics she deals with (Jewish immigration to America, challenges for female artists, and women's spirituality), says one critic, are better addressed in her autobiography.

Jong's more recent work, What Do Women Want? Bread, Roses, Sex, Power (1998), is a collection of her essays on a variety of topics. She deals with issues ranging from censorship to Bill and Hillary Clinton to her second home in Italy. While the book doesn't answer the question posed in the title, the compilation is almost like a conversation between Jong and the reader. Criticism of the book varies depending on the essay, but most agree that Jong's characteristic honesty once again shines through on every topic.

Other Works:

The Devil at Large: Erica Jong on Henry Miller (1993).

Bibliography:

Packard, W., ed., The Craft of Poetry (1974).

Reference works:

CA (Online, 1999). Contemporary Poets (1975).

Other references:

Booklist (19 July 1994). Boston Review (March 1992). Denver Quarterly (Winter 1983). Harper's Bazaar (May 1977). KR (1 May 1997). LAT (27 May 1979). LATBR (24 Nov. 1991). Nation (28 June 1971, 12 Jan. 1974). NR (2 Feb. 1974). Newsweek (5 May 1975). NY (17 Dec. 1973). NYTBR (12 Aug. 1973, 5 June 1988). Novel (Winter 1987). Readers Ndex Online (6 Apr. 1999). University of Dayton Review (Winter 1985-86).

Web site:

www.ericajong.com.

—VIRGINIA COX,

UPDATED BY GINA BIANCAROSA

AND CARRIE SNYDER

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Jong, Erica

JONG, Erica


Nationality: American. Born: Erica Mann, in New York City, 26 March 1942. Education: High School of Music and Art, New York; Barnard College, New York (George Weldwood Murray fellow, 1963), 1959–63, B.A. 1963 (Phi Beta Kappa); Columbia University, New York (Woodrow Wilson fellow, 1964), M.A. 1965; Columbia School of Fine Arts, 1969–70. Family: Married 1) Michael Werthman (divorced); 2) Allan Jong in 1966 (divorced 1975); 3) the writer Jonathan Fast in 1977 (divorced 1983), one daughter; 4) Kenneth David Burrows in 1989. Career: Lecturer in English, City College of New York, 1964–66, 1969–70, and University of Maryland European Division, Heidelberg, Germany, 1967–68; instructor in English, Manhattan Community College, New York, 1969–70. Since 1971 instructor in Poetry, YM-YWHA Poetry Center, New York. Member of the literary panel, New York State Council on the Arts, 1972–74. Awards: Academy of American Poets award, 1963; Bess Hokin prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1971; New York State Council on the Arts grant, 1971; Madeline Sadin award (New York Quarterly), 1972; Alice Fay di Castagnola award, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1973; CAPS award, 1973; International Sigmund Freud prize, 1979. Agent: Ed Victor, 6 Bayley Street, Bedford Square, London WC1, England. Address: Erica Jong Productions, c/o Kenneth David Burrows, 425 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10022–3506, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Fruits and Vegetables. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1971; London, Secker and Warburg, 1973.

Half-Lives. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1973; London, Secker and Warburg, 1974.

Here Comes and Other Poems. New York, New American Library, 1975.

Loveroot. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1975; London, Secker and Warburg, 1977.

The Poetry of Erica Jong. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1976.

Selected Poems 1–2. London, Panther, 2 vols., 1977–80.

At the Edge of the Body. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1979; London, Granada, 1981.

Ordinary Miracles: New Poems. New York, New American Library, 1983; London, Granada, 1984.

Becoming Light: Poems, New and Selected. New York, Harper Collins, 1991.

Novels

Fear of Flying. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1973; London, Secker and Warburg, 1974.

How to Save Your Own Life. New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1977.

Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones. New York, New American Library, and London, Granada, 1980.

Parachutes and Kisses. New York, New American Library, and London, Granada, 1984.

Serenissima: A Novel of Venice. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Bantam, 1987; as Shylock's Daughter, New York, Harper Collins, 1995.

Any Woman's Blues. New York, Harper, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1990.

Megan's Two Houses: A Story of Adjustment (for children). West Hollywood, California, Dove Kids, 1996.

Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters. New York, Harper Collins, 1997.

Other

Four Visions of America, with others. Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1977.

Witches (miscellany). New York, Abrams, 1981; London, Granada, 1982.

Megan's Book of Divorce: A Kid's Book for Adults. New York, New American Library, 1984; London, Granada, 1985.

Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir. London, Chatto & Windus, 1994.

Erica Jong on Henry Miller: The Devil at Large. London, Vintage, 1994.

What Do Women Want?: Power, Sex, Bread & Roses. London, Bloomsbury, 1999.

*

Critical Studies: Interviews in New York Quarterly 16, 1974, Playboy (Chicago), September 1975, and Viva (New York), September 1977; article by Emily Toth, in Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Fiction Writers, edited by Daniel Walden, Detroit, Gale, 1984; "Erica Jong Revisited (or) No Wonder We Men Had Trouble Understanding Feminism" by Francis Baumli, in University of Dayton Review (Dayton, Ohio), 17(3), winter 1985–86; "Sexus, Nexus and Taboos versus Female Humor: The Case of Erica Jong" by Rolande Diot, in Revue Francaise d'Etudes Americaines (Paris), 11(30), November 1986; Sexuality in Discourse: Feminine Models in Recent Fiction by American Women (dissertation) by Judith Briggs Coker, n.p., 1986; "Questions of Genre and Gender: Contemporary American Versions of the Feminine Picaresque" by James Mandrell, in Novel (Providence, Rhode Island), 20(2), winter 1987; "The Woman Writer As American Picaro: Open Journeying in Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying'" by Robert J. Butler, in Centennial Review (East Lansing, Michigan), 31(3), summer 1987; Rewriting the American Picaresque: Patterns of Movement in the Novels of Erica Jong, Toni Morrison, and Marilynne Robinson (dissertation) by Daniel Wayne Schmidt, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, 1993; Feminism and the Politics of Literary Reputation: The Example of Erica Jong, Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 1995, "Can One Read Literature Objectively?," in The Practice and Theory of Ethics, edited by Terry Kent and Marshall Bruce Gentry, Indianapolis, Indiana, University of Indianapolis Press, 1996, and "Erica Jong: Becoming a Jewish Writer," in Daughters of Valor: Contemporary Jewish American Women Writers, edited by Jay L. Halio and Ben Siegel, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1997, all by Charlotte Templin; "Games with Names: Erica Jong's Juggling of Fiction and Autobiography" by Guy Stern, in Tangenten: Literatur & Geschichte, edited by Martin Meyer and others, Munster, Germany, Lit, 1996.

Erica Jong comments:

(1974) Though I have been writing since childhood, my first formal training in poetry came at Barnard College, where I studied from 1959 to 1963. At that time I loved the poetry of Auden, Yeats, Keats, Byron, and Alexander Pope, cultivated the command of formal verse, and developed an abiding interest in satire. My early university poems were mostly expert, satirical, and somewhat academic. I went on to do a thesis on Alexander Pope in Columbia's graduate English Department. In my early and mid-twenties, however, I became much more interested in French surrealist poetry and its South American derivatives. I came to love the poetry of Neruda and Alberti, and I learned the value of poetry that delved deep into the unconscious and relied on the association of images. It seems to me that these two influences—crisp satire and an abiding belief in the importance of unconscious material—have shaped my voice as a poet. I believe that poetry can be serious and comic at the same time, formal yet free. I think I was also liberated to write out of a frankly female persona by reading the work of such poets as Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Muriel Rukeyser, Carolyn Kizer, Adrienne Rich. It has been very important to me—both in poetry and fiction—to write freely about women and women's sexuality. Throughout much of history, women writers have capitulated to male standards and have paid too much heed to what Virginia Woolf calls "the angel in the house." She is that little ghost who sits on one's shoulder while one writes and whispers, "Be nice, don't say anything that will embarrass the family, don't say anything your man would disapprove of …" The "angel in the house" castrates one's creativity because it deprives one of essential honesty, and many women writers have yet to win the freedom to be honest with themselves. But once the right to honesty has been established, we can go on to write about anything that interests us. We need not only write about childbirth, menstruation, and other feminist topics. I resist the subject matter fallacy in any of its forms. Writing should not be judged on the basis of its subject but on the artistry with which that subject is treated. It seems to me that all three of my published books (Fruits and Vegetables, Half-Lives, and Fear of Flying) have certain themes in common: the search for honesty within oneself, the difficulty of resolving the conflicting needs for security and adventure, the necessity of seeing the world both sensuously and intelligently at the same time. Having said all that, I should add that my views about my writing will probably be entirely different by the time this is printed.

*  *  *

Erica Jong has long claimed that she is first and foremost a poet. Believing, however, the culture of the United States to be a hostile place for poets, she early turned to novels to secure fame and earn a living. Although poetry actually preceded her fiction and gave her a way to express and know her feelings and heart, she found it difficult at first to forge her own voice in poetry, and once having found that voice, she disowned a goodly portion of her more formal verse. Her Becoming Light: Poems New and Selected, published in 1991, reflects a more forgiving attitude toward her writing, however. It offers the reader a chance to examine how Jong continually reinvents herself in language and how she forges a woman's voice while also honoring the Western traditions in poetry.

Spanning more than thirty years of Jong's writings, Becoming Light offers new poems, hitherto unpublished poems—many penned when she was in her late teens and early twenties—and selections from her earlier books of poetry. The book allows the reader to trace the evolution of her poetry, mark her movement from metered formal verse to free verse, and observe her changing taste as she excises some of the juicier and some of the more painful confessional poems. It also includes many poems about her fourth marriage and her all-important relationship with her daughter, Molly.

Two other works by Jong help contextualize and explain her poetry: Erica Jong on Henry Miller: The Devil at Large and Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir. Each relies heavily on self-portraiture mingled with cultural commentary and literary criticism, and each probes the themes that figure so prominently in her verse as well as the lived experiences that are the basis of all of her writing. The works attest to Jong's importance as a contemporary woman writer who belongs in the traditions of the great creative writers who pushed the boundaries of poetry and fiction, opening still more bedroom and household doors and celebrating eros.

In the early poetry Jong struggles to perfect metered verse, imitating the great male masters and relishing the sheer delight of writing rhymed couplets, sonnets, and limericks. A number of the poems come from the period of her troubled marriage to her first husband, a wild man/child of fantasy, verbally brilliant and the object of Jong's lust. He suffered from schizophrenia, however, which led to his institutionalization and the annulment of their marriage. Other poems were written during her stay in Germany with her second husband, Allan Jong, the man whose name she bears. In some of these poems she is under the spell of Sylvia Plath as well as her husband and Germany, and she probes her own Jewishness and female identity. "A woman poet is a hunted Jew, eternally the outsider," Jong writes in her midlife memoir. This discovery, she confides, drove her to teach herself to write and plant her roots in a woman's tradition with H.D., Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Laura Riding, poets she was not taught about when she studied at Barnard College. The poetry of Plath and Anne Sexton then liberated her from her slavish imitations of Alexander Pope, and she discovered a writerly voice that is irreverent in its treatment of men, every bit as raunchy as that of Henry Miller, Philip Roth, or John Updike, and full of sex, women, and eating. In "The Teacher" (quoted in Fear of Fifty), "Flying You Home," and "The Heidelberg Landlady," she writes a visceral, erotic poetry, some of it self-mocking and deliberately provocative. She has come to want poems not merely to exist in print or to be read but to be eaten and taken in whole.

The early collections Fruits & Vegetables and Half-Lives are Jong's contemporary feminist versions of William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. She offers her equivalent of Blake's fancies, parables, and commandments, and in many poems she depicts woman's consciousness as ravenous, frustrated, in heat, and oversexed. Under the spell of the confessional poets and feverish with sexual desire and "yearning," as she calls it, Jong uses poetry as the vehicle to express her primal hungers. Sex is her muse and poetry her source of comfort.

In making selections for Becoming Light, Jong chose from How to Save Your Own Life and Witches those poems that write of women in the kitchen or bedroom or in the disguise of the bitch-goddess or witch. Love's red wound, be it in the womb or the gaping mouth, is her subject here. From Loveroot, a volume that followed the publication of Fear of Flying, she included the poems that pay homage to Neruda, Keats, Sexton, Plath, Donne, and Miller; she places her two Sexton poems back-to-back, whereas before they had been widely separated. Although the original volume contained fifty poems, forBecoming Light she selected only nineteen, omitting the more derivative poems as well as bitter, painful works such as "Sexual Soup" and "Colder." She retained the poems that capture her distinctively exuberant, affectionate, and frolicking voice.

Jong credits poetry for enabling her to find herself in the painful times when loss, death, divorce, broken relationships, and the pains of motherhood have threatened to overwhelm her. Becoming Light reflects a mature Jong. She reclaims earlier poetry that originally embarrassed her, and she includes poems that she had once refused to publish because they failed to perpetuate the myth of herself as the inventor of the "zipless fuck." Her fascination with Miller, issues of censorship and feminism, and witchcraft permeate the volume. She resists political correctness, defends her Whitmanesque bravado, and lustily, and sometimes vulgarly, sings the world of "crazy cock" and cunt and sexual yearning. She is also a poet invested in fierce mothering and loving who has become willing to wrestle with aging and another marriage. The volume rehearses the cultural history of America since the 1960s. Poignantly, it also reveals how difficult it is to be a poet in this country.

—Carol Simpson Stern

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