An intimate view of the poet's evolving relationship, in his own words
The Contemplated Spouse gathers in a single volume the 272 extant letters written by Wallace Stevens to the woman with whom he shared his life, Elsie Viola Kachel. Written over the span of twenty-five years, the correspondence reflects Elsie's evolving relationship with Stevens, initially as his dear friend, then as his fiancée, and later as his wife. Taken collectively these personal letters from one of America's most important poets reveal aspects of Stevens's personality that his poetry discloses more obliquely. Most significant, they demonstrate Stevens's devotion to his wife through years of an uneven and often distant partnership.
Stevens wrote to Elsie for more than five years prior to their marriage, and for more than twenty years he wrote to her as his wife. During their early married life, the couple spent time apart each year while traveling for business and vacation. Even when living in the same house, the couple often operated in separate realms. Their camaraderie, however, rekindled in Stevens's final years, and Elsie remained an important source of inspiration.
Stevens's earlier, more intimate letters, though never free from his internal censor, foreshadow the poems he later published. Incidents he describes in his pre–1913 correspondence recur throughout his canon. His later letters, penned after his marriage, comment on the geography that would surface in his poetry—the Carolinas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Key West.
The collection is augmented by editor J. Donald Blount's introduction—an overview of Stevens's life and his relationship with Elsie—and extensive footnotes to the letters that provide essential information about Stevens's references.
J. Donald Blount is a professor of English at the University of South Carolina Aiken. His research interest in Wallace Stevens began at a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar at Yale University in 1989.
"Donald Blount, who has expertly arranged and introduced these letters, is surely right in that Wallace Stevens and his wife Elsie 'had a language and a world that we will never fully understand.' The writings presented in this book are, as Stevens put it in a poem to his beloved, 'like a glimpse of skies.' Yet, thanks to Blount, the formulations of their complex relationship—their devotions, tensions, shadings, angled sympathies—are rendered more distinct than ever before."—Alan Filreis, Kelly Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Modernism from Right to Left : Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, and Literary Radicalism and coeditor of Secretaries of the Moon: The Letters of Wallace Stevens and Jose Rodriguez Feo
"Skillfully edited and annotated, Blount's edition of these letters fills a gap in the primary materials related to one of the major American modernist poets. These letters tell us important things about Stevens, particularly of the period between 1907 and 1909 when he was engaged to Elsie and beginning to write the modernist poetry that would establish his reputation. Many of the themes of that poetry, and even the poet's attitude toward his craft, can be discerned from these letters: his sense of solitude and love of the outdoors; his interest in books, art exhibits, and selective poets; his fondness for his boyhood home of Reading, Pennsylvania; his gradual movement away from traditional Christian faith; and his love of routine, predictability, and order. For the first time, Stevens readers and scholars will have access to a major trove that has for too long remained in archival obscurity."—George S. Lensing, Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor of English, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author of Wallace Stevens and the Seasons and Wallace Stevens: A Poet's Growth