Love Unknown: The Life and Worlds of Elizabeth Bishop

Viking. Nov. 2019. 408p. notes. index. ISBN 9780525428817. $32; ebk. ISBN 9780698191624. LIT
Drawing on a lifetime of scholarship, founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society Travisano (emeritus, English, Hartwick Coll.; Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell) crafts a masterly biography that explores the enduring tension between the “mannerly correctness” and passion characteristic of the life and work of the Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911–79). Taking its title from a George Herbert poem, the volume unfolds the many layered interconnections between Bishop’s poetry and close relationships with fellow writers, artists, friends, and lovers, with sympathy, subtlety, and acute attention to detail, especially when revealing Bishop’s quests for meaning in her extensive travels, illuminated through her words—always alongside what she had lost or feared to lose. Focusing on literary influences such as Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, as well as the Brazilian writers who captivated Bishop later in her career, Travisano securely positions his subject in conversation with major literary figures without losing sight of her more intimate, quieter relationships. 
VERDICT This definitive account of Bishop’s contributions to American letters will attract both casual readers of her poetry as well as academics with more specialized knowledge of her work.
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