A writer, lost and found
June 18, 2022 3:28 PM   Subscribe

In 1928 a young writer named Gertrude Beasley sailed from London to New York and was never heard from again. She left behind only one book, My First Thirty Years (Contact Editions, 1925). The strange and horrifying story of Gertrude Beasley, who pulled herself out of poverty to receive an MA in Education in 1918, then wrote a shocking memoir (content warning for talk of child abuse).

The memoir was so shocking she would end up spending a year in a psychiatric ward in the UK and deported back to the US where she was never heard from again.

The Disappearance of Gertrude Beasley, an earlier article from 2011 in The Texas Observer on the occasion of a limited edition reprint spearheaded by Larry McMurtry.

Brutally Suppressed in Her Lifetime, Gertrude Beasley Is Finally on Our Bookshelves, from Texas Monthly on the occasion of a more widely available recent edition.
posted by maggiemaggie (15 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
During the voyage to New York she wrote a letter to the US State Department, claiming she was being persecuted and her career destroyed. Was it an accurate account of the censorship she was facing or proof she was unwell? It may have been some of both.

I’m reluctant to lead out the comments with this, as it is a very interesting story and worth reading, but this struck me as some of the more grotesque bothsides-ism I’ve ever seen.
posted by mhoye at 3:56 PM on June 18 [10 favorites]

I am just horrified reading about her last years. What an awful life.

And yet I very much want to read her book.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:59 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for posting these articles! I had never heard of Gertrude Beasley, or her book, and this is a big gap in my education. I have a copy now and am looking forward to reading it--just from the excerpt in that first article, I can tell it will be a big antidote to the Little House on the Prairie-fication of US history.
posted by theatro at 5:41 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]

Wow. The excerpt in the linked article is searing and captivating.
posted by cron at 5:46 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Fascinating. I had not heard of her, thank you for sharing this fairly tragic slice of forgotten history. Her writing had a clarity and briskness that lends real immediacy to her stories.
posted by supermedusa at 6:21 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

This is another one of those “jesus fuck, everybody is terrible!” moments I guess.

…because jesus fuck!!
posted by aramaic at 7:33 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

Fascinating story and one I'd never heard of.

Maybe she was crazy. The letter she sent to the U.S. State Department from the ship is full of grandiose suspicions regarding “a conspiracy against myself.”

Today she could be a US Senator.
posted by bendy at 9:06 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

Thirty years ago, I lay in the womb of a woman, conceived in a sexual act of rape, being carried during the prenatal period by an unwilling and rebellious mother, finally bursting from the womb only to be tormented in a family whose members I despised or pitied, and brought into association with people whom I should never have chosen.
I came a across the Novel Beginnings blog a while ago. It reads and reviews the first sentence of novels and rates them on a scale of 1-5.

I'm going to go ahead and say the first line of My First Thirty Years (above) is 5/5. (I realize it's not a novel. Regardless, that is a hell of an opening sentence.)
posted by flug at 12:28 AM on June 19 [11 favorites]

New York State will not release details of her commitment hearing, even to family. The question remains: How did she end up there? The family has found a dictation from one of Gertrude’s brothers claiming she was committed by William Randolph Hearst, for whom she briefly worked as a journalist, though the brother claimed “she was no more crazy than you or I.”

I am extra bothered by this.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:57 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]

I am fascinated and horrified by Ms.Beasley's story. I just ordered the book, can't wait to read, but I get the feeling I'm not going to enjoy this.
posted by james33 at 6:35 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

H.L. Mencken hailed Beasley’s book as one of the best coming-of-age books ever and “the first genuinely realistic picture of the Southern poor white trash.”

That makes me wonder if her contemporary author Erskine Caldwell was aware of her work, given the similar themes in their writing. His work was also greeted with attempts to suppress it as obscene, but he fared much better in the long run (I'm guessing gender was a large part of the reason). The attempts to suppress negative depictions of life in the south certainly resonate today.

Despite having roots in Texas I had never heard of Beasley; thanks for the post.
posted by TedW at 8:21 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Since first posting this, I discovered a conversation between Nina Bennet and Marie Bennet, editors of the most recent edition of My First Thirty Years, and Celia Marshik, a professor of English at SUNY Stonybrook, a specialist in Modernist women writers. I found it really helpful in understanding more about Beasley. I confess my mind has been absolutely blown since learning about her story.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:39 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Someone just gave me a copy of this book as a gift without much explanation. I'm going to avoid reading any of this post until I've read it. But, I look forward to reading this in a few weeks.
posted by eotvos at 9:18 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n20/elisabeth-ladenson/on-gertrude-beasley October 2021 issue

McAlmon [her publisher] notes in his own memoir, Being Geniuses Together (1938), that the only authors who ‘got “temperamental”’ with him were the two Gertrudes, Stein and Beasley, ‘both megalomaniacs with an idea that to know them was to serve them without question in all their demands’. (There is some misogyny in this: it’s hard to believe that Hemingway and Pound were docile and self-effacing; in any case, Stein and Beasley had their reasons for being prickly.)
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:15 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]

FYI Google Books has another excerpt from My First Thirty Years - the foreword and about 10 pages from the first chapter.
posted by flug at 11:44 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]

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