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Maria Jolas, Woman of Action
A Memoir and Other Writings

Edited by Mary Ann Caws

The life story of "the leading lady of Paris literati of the Thirties"

Maria McDonald Jolas, a member of a distinguished Kentucky family and cofounder with Eugene Jolas of the international literary journal transition, has been called a survivor of the heroic generation and, somewhat to her discomfort, "the leading lady of Paris literati of the Thirties." Her memoir and other writings, edited and introduced by Mary Ann Caws, reveal the truth in those accolades as well as the measure of her contribution to our understanding of modernism. Completing the portrait of her family's life begun in her husband's autobiography, Man from Babel, this volume sheds light on the remarkable achievements of the other half of a celebrated partnership.

As one of the primary forces behind transition, Maria Jolas helped introduce the world to the twentieth-century's literary avant-garde, among them Gertrude Stein, Archibald MacLeish, Allen Tate, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, William Carlos Williams, and James Joyce. A skillful translator, Jolas is renowned for her renderings of Gaston Bachelard's philosophical texts, Nathalie Sarraute's novels and plays, and works by Joyce. In addition, Jolas founded an influential school, the Ecole Bilingue in France, and the celebrated Cantine La Marseillaise in New York.

Jolas's memoir traces her childhood in Louisville, her studies to be a professional singer, and her introduction to Eugene through the pianist Jacques Jolas. Describing a busy family life that centered on two daughters—Betsy, who became a famous composer, and Tina, an accomplished archaeologist and translator—Jolas recalls the difficulties of living in France during the German occupation, the family's relocation to the United States, and her postwar activism.

Caws supplements Jolas's memoir with the memoirist's radio addresses, lectures to French and American audiences, journal entries from Paris and New York, and letters to her husband. The memoir Jolas completed at age eighty, coupled with these documents, gives voice to a woman whose legacy has too often been effaced by that of her colorful husband and their famous friends.

Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York. She has written widely on the relations between art and literature in such works as The Surrealist Look and Picasso's Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar. Caws has also written biographies of Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust and is the editor and cotranslator of the Yale Anthology of Twentieth-Century French Poetry. Caws lives in New York City.

"Expertly, and lightly, edited by Mary Ann Caws, Maria Jolas speaks in her own voice in this charming memoir. From growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, a hundred years ago to her brilliant and exciting role as the cofounder of transition, her path is lighted with humor and originality. Maria Jolas was that rarity, a woman who out of a happy conventional childhood created a happy unconventional adult life."—Sallie Bingham, founder of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture at Duke University

"With this riveting autobiographical memoir, augmented by fascinating miscellaneous writings, especially from the nineteen forties, all carefully and lovingly edited by the incomparable Mary Ann Caws, Maria Jolas takes her rightful place in twentieth-century intellectual history. This 'grande dame' was not, as many were very satisfied to believe, merely an observer of the most brilliant moment of modernism; she is revealed here as clearly a major player in the Paris of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Gertrude Stein, Nathalie Sarraute, and others and in the key review, transition."—Tom Bishop, Florence Lacaze Gould Professor of French Literature, Department of French, New York University

"Mary Ann Caws brings Maria Jolas's autobiographical voice and historical contributions into view with this book. An American southerner and translator of Bachelard and Sarraute, Jolas was intimately connected to the modernist movement and through transition played a real part in the publication of many of the greats—Joyce, Beckett, Stein, and others. Jolas's letters and radio addresses provide fascinating cultural and historical background during and after World War II. This book will appeal to those interested in modernism, as well as those seeking an intimate view of twentieth-century history."—Christie McDonald, Smith Professor of the French Language and Literature, Harvard University

"Maria Jolas was an acute observer of and participant in the intellectual and public life of France and the United States in the mid–twentieth century. She was close to the Joyce family, the Surrealists, and Nathalie Sarraute, among others. Thanks to Mary Ann Caws for bringing her to vigorous life in these collected writings."—Robert O. Paxton, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Columbia University



book jacket for Maria Jolas, Woman of Action


6 x 9
176 pages
20 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-550-0
hardcover, $29.95s

2005 finalist for Autobiography/Memoir of the Year from ForeWord Magazine

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