Introduction to the Lost Works
of Louise Bryant (1885-1936)
Introduction to the Lost Works
of Louise Bryant (1885-1936)
“...I am but a messenger who lays his notes before you, attempting to give you a picture of what I saw and what you would have seen if you had been with me.”
--Louise Bryant, circa 1918
Sterling Library, Yale University. Autumn 2007. Opening an envelope. Slivers of clipped hair, dark brown locks fall. Preserved in a parchment envelope. 10 large boxes of letters, 34 oversized and standard cartons, cables and lengthy discussions, research notes on Mussolini, d’Annunzio and a letter from Trotsky. Little white dove funny frog postcards, poems written to a daughter from Baden-Baden sanitarium and talk of a “lost or stolen” manuscript 18 months before death. In Paris.
It was apparent to me, while with a sense of the sacred I sorted through the political writings and belongings of Louise Bryant (1885-1936), that Louise Bryant had a strong desire for us to know the eccentric, delicate and bravado body of her life and work. With two published books (Six Red Months in Russia, Mirrors in Moscow) during her lifetime, there appears, also, much work that has never been in print before.
As witness to the Russian Revolution in 1917, Louise Bryant was a suffragette, a Socialist, journalist and prolific writer. Her books were eyewitness accounts, interviews and commentaries about Russia’s new found government. With her husband, John Reed (10 Days that Shook the World) she became part of a history which reflects the roots of today’s political landscape, a journey as relevant now as when together they trekked the long road to Petrograd.
With an uncanny irony, as Russian continues again to command center stage in the world theater of power, Louise Bryant’s newly found personal documents and polished, political essays emerge like the dead sea scrolls of political history. To a public who has had to wait 70 years to review them, the texture of Louise Bryant’s political sojourns and eyewitness accounts arrive surprisingly unfrayed.
She left us much. Diaries of story ideas, unpublished manuscripts, notes about her interviews. And essay upon essay about the Bolsheviks, revolutionary Russia, (some never before published) and her time in the Middle East (the 1920’s).
Louise Bryant’s first two books, Six Red Months in Russia and Mirrors of Moscow were published in 1918, 1923, consecutively and did contain some of these accounts. Her writings for the International News Service and Hearst Corporation as an overseas correspondent were widely circulated in newspapers throughout the United States. During the early 20’s she covered events of the Middle East. Turkey. Latvia. She was, as one of her editors explained “ the most influential correspondent of her time”.
Though Louise Bryant’s voice was silenced for 70 years, it resonates a harmonics of bravado, an avant-garde feminist choir of “Internationale” refrains. A literary non-fiction heroine before the genre was named, a troubadour of free verse love rants before the beats and sixties arrived, Louise Bryant, socialist, witness to the Russian Revolution, carried her roots in Suffrage to the cadence of her writings. And was quite obviously, ahead of and beyond her time. These works can assure you of the universal echo she becomes. Speaking as woman of history, of activism as woman, as writer for continual, collective visions.
In the Yale collection--calling cards with handwritten Islamic names reflect her exploits. And contacts. Her ability to traverse the world long before internet, airlines and cell phones seems nearly impossible to fathom given the context of our times. A woman dressed as woman celebrating being a woman, claiming her humanness while covering stories hitherto only written by men, for men. Louise Bryant, prolific, a wellspring of knowledge and fact.
The messages, her voice, are both intelligent and intuitive, clearly professional and political, standing strong inside the test of time. Transmitting an integrity of truth about governments as she found them, world leaders and revolutionaries as she knew them Louise Bryant’s writings reflect neither an identification with her topic nor a personal bias. The art and politics, craft and passion of Louise Bryant are evident in her files upon files of essays regarding Russian leaders—including Lenin, Trosky and Kerensky--Women soldiers and European figures of her day. Louise Bryant’s collected work—some of it never in print before-- is a window into time reflecting back upon our current world affairs.
Louise Bryant, in an unconventional perspective writes of Lenin in Mirrors of Moscow :
“Every normal man is pushed forward or back to some degree by women. It is my theory that Lenin's amazing stability was substantially strengthened by the women who meant most to him. Those women were: his mother, his wife, his sister and his lifelong friend ...Fotvia.”
In a world where the feminine has nearly been absorbed by the male paradigm, where celebration of matters of the heart are passé and deemed “weakening”, Louise Bryant reaches through time to speak of how Lenin, how Russia had a love of woman which fueled his vision, one which infused that of Louise Bryant so heatedly that she toured the West Coast, on her return from Russia’s “October” Revolution (1917), to help organize American Women to claim the vote. She spoke to workers, loggers and suffragettes encouraging all to look at the Soviets as a model of freedom, that workers everywhere could plan their escape.
Clara Wold, suffragette and fellow activist speaks of Louise Bryant in an exclusive interview included here in this volume. From “Aims of Bolsheviki” 1919:
“She has been an eye-witness of all the history-making events in Russia in the past few months, and has full faith in the ability of the Russians to achieve their aspirations.”
During her United States, West Coast tour in 1919, Louise encouraged loggers in Washington State to demand fair wages while inspiring women to claim a voice. A Suffragette, an activist proud to be a woman yet not subservient to the mandated roles of women of her era, she continues to give us eyewitness revolution in it’s most earnest form.
Yet, in 1919 halls in her homeland of the still wild West of the United States were skeptical. At best. One venue, for instance, in Spokane, Wa. threatened to cancel her talks. And Portland, Oregon was reluctant, as well. Her letter to Portland City
Council -- included in this collection--is full of shoot from the hip rhetoric explaining the reasons their apprehensions should be dropped. The City Council was refusing her access to speak. Once her hometown and her literary birthplace---Louise Bryant was first published in the Spectator there, in the early 1900’s---Portland hoped she would not bother to rally her Soviet values in the city of roses, perhaps hoping to thwart her “radical” views.
To no avail. The talks went forward.
Louise Bryant’s West Coast tour became a cornerstone for activism and her first book, Six Red Months in Russia gleaned national attention. Sinclair Lewis in Pasadena, Ca. supported her efforts and women up and down the coast believed that courage of the feminine, if prevailing in Russia, was certainly able to make a curtain call here.
But her popularity and stamina would not prevail.
Soon after her return from travels, Jack Reed—her husband and comrade—returned to Russia. His trek marked a series of agonizing months of separation for the couple, culminating in Louise’s finding him in Russia, one month before he died of typhus, October 1920. Louise Bryant’s chronicles of that time-- entitled “Last Days with Jack Reed” --depict the ceremonial tribute given the only American buried at the Kremlin and explain with poetic fervor the nature of her husband, even in his dying hours...“He would tell me that the water he drank was full of little songs”.
Following the untimely death of her husband, “lover and comrade” Louise dove into her work. She wrote a series of news stories about European leaders which were read throughout the U.S. and stand as some of her most powerfully influential writings. Included in these projects were interviews with Mussolini and travels to Constantinople.
In the midst of this work for International News Service Louise Bryant was pursued by a man who had known she and Jack back in the United States. In 1923, three months before the birth of her daughter, Louise married William C. Bullitt, the man who had followed her around Europe and kindled a connection. Bullitt would later become U.S. Ambassador to Russia and subsequent ambassador to France, as well as estranged from his wife. For ultimately the politics of Louise Bryant did not resonate with her new husband’s pursuits.
Thought to have had an affair with artist Gwen Le Gallienne during her separation from Bullitt, Louise Bryant continued her Socialist politics and suffragette values. Subsequently divorced by Bullitt for the very values which drew him to her, Louise Bryant spent her last years of life fighting for custody/visitation of their daughter, Anne who was often kept from her mother by the actions of Bullitt. While waging this battle, Louise Bryant was also dealing with health issues and by the early 1930’s had lost access to her publishing venues. Writing as a livelihood became difficult to maintain as the bizarre terms of her divorce (1930) insisted she “not reside in the United States”. She did not always abide by these “unheard of conditions” and continued writing essays for U.S. audiences. Nonetheless, the venues for Socialist writings had waned.
Yet. The theater of her life persists. Louise Bryant tells us now, via her meticulously kept personal and political archives--from which this book is compiled--that courage and love can undo what all others fear lost.
But. WHY Louise Bryant, now such an “old” piece of history?
Because, her writings as found here, suggest that she embodies the courage and foresight, the fortitude and strident voice required of women and writers, no matter the era. As humans trying to survive a dominator-culture/workplace, the story and Socialists writings of Louise Bryant provide insight into how to create alternatives to mainstream paradigms via political writing.
Her pieces on Lenin, for instance, help the reader learn how to challenge the status quo while listening to unpopular concepts. Simply stated, she has a way of pulling you into her world. Most importantly Louise Bryant provides a window into how the universal voice of dissent resonates throughout any era. In these writings, so long silenced, she challenges a society which maintains an addiction to war, sexism and elitism as prevalent in her day as it is in ours.
Fall of the Winter Palace, then, revives a legacy exempt from and simultaneously fused with history, a woman and her politics, ready to enter history. That is, Louise Bryant’s was a prolific career and has at long last come into view. Clearly. However sexism and/or fear attempted to banish a woman, cast a Socialist activist as “undone” and “disintegrated without dignity” (as indicated in an ominous, mysterious note found in her archives), Louise Bryant never lost sight of writing as an art, a gesture which stretches beyond and through the personal to a universal, human landscape.
Consider her piece about Gabrielle d’Annunzio: Cloister of Silence (her early working title). Written at a time in her life, a time in the world, where mustard gas and the “great war” was rampant reality, infusing the planet with a sense of unfathomable loss (when doesn’t war do this?). The piece itself is a tribute to how art revives what the senses, the intellect and science would deny, a testament of Louise Bryant’s efforts, her genius and literary contribution as relevant today as the time within which she wrote.
Or review, carefully, her previously unpublished essay “Emma Goldman”, from which the following is quoted:
“...in justice to Miss Goldman.... she is not the sort of Anarchist who believes in violence. She is a pacifist, a philosophical anarchist. It will be remembered that she served a term in America for speaking against conscription . And it is true that she has turned a deaf ear to any proposals by extremists in Russia for plots against the soviets or against individuals.”
“ Emma Goldman” is thus a poignant commentary about the fabric of revolution and the stamina of it’s leaders.
It is difficult to name any other woman (or human) whose courage and talent, vision and politics reach into the psyche of humankind from the streets of life and war with such rigour and accomplishment. Who do we name? Who could accomplish this? Without cell phones, internet and the cut and paste miracle of word programs? Without the right to vote and human rights to see our children? With passports withheld—and travel despite this “red” tape--by a “red scare” State Department?
Clara Wold, again, about Louise Bryant:
“To Austin Lewis
Here is Louise Bryant…..
I gave great faith in her power to change people’s convictions after hearing her talk to the Senate investigating committee…”
(Louise Bryant’s letter regarding her testimony to that committee is included in Part One of this collection and reveals a viable voice for change apropos today as much as when it was written.
I bring to you that which I found while living inside the 37 oversized boxes, the 21 years, of Louise Bryant housed in Sterling Library, Yale University as placed and donated by the efforts of Gordon Lewis, guardian of her daughter Anne Moen Bullitt and Robert Pennoyer all of whom dealt with the “one ton of papers” shipped from Ireland to New Haven, Connecticut.
What you find here, then, are pieces which Louise Bryant left behind in her Paris apartment on January 6, 1936, the day she died. Suffering from Dercum’s disease (diagnosed in 1928), her last years being ridden with loss and pain, apparently did not keep Louise Bryant from organizing her writings, cataloging her ideas and even creating an extensive collection of work for a biography she was writing about her life with Jack Reed, papers she would send to Harvard shortly before her death.
These words, these pages, then, are near exclusively of/by Louise Bryant. As found in her private collection and original manuscripts for her two published books They represent what she intended for us to read, know and explore. That is, all of the words are hers, as found in her hand. Some typed flawlessly. By her, on onion skin paper. Or. Penciled on old Hotel stationary. Some in a language lesson composition books, interspersed with French...”je suis Louise ....entendez-vous”. Others neatly clipped from newspapers, tidy, intact, no frayed crumpled creases.
Thus. As you read, please note Louis Bryant’s work is presented here as though she is speaking to you. Which of course she is. And finally, she is revived. In her own, clear, intelligent and intuitive voice.
A cedar wind carrying her from a lost Nevada loneliest road in the U.S. West—-her childhood places (read, in the appendix, her “Autobiography of an Idle Woman” for a fictional taste of this)-- into the thorough fare of a world longing for direction. A new generation of activists and artists will find her words and vision more useful than any googled earthly satellite. For she carries a universal insight.
....alors. Ici. Louise the Sister, as Italian poet d’Annuzio lovingly, once, defined her. A literary archetype, an imprint on the collective politico artistic psyche of any generation of humans searching for a way to transmute fear. As the ever odd Mayan mantra of 2012 prevails. A requiem emerges. Louise Bryant. At last.
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antoinette nora claypoole
October 14, 2007
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