Jean Stafford (1915–79) is best known for her crisp style and caustic wit; her physical illnesses, alcoholism, and mental breakdowns; her friendships with the manic poets (Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman) who came to maturity after World War II; her marriages to Robert Lowell and A. J. Liebling; her fierce, withering letters (which ought to be collected and published); and for a few New Yorker tales —“A Country Love Story,” “The Interior Castle,” and “An Influx of Poets”—inspired by the torment inflicted by Lowell.

Stafford was neglected until Ian Hamilton’s life of Lowell appeared in 1982—and has been overdone since then. David Roberts’s Jean Stafford was published in 1988, Charlotte Goodman’s more academic Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart in 1990. Ann Hulbert, a...


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