Elizabeth Smart (Canadian author) : biography
Elizabeth Smart (December 27, 1913 – March 4, 1986) was a Canadian poet and novelist. Her book, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, detailed her romance with the poet George Barker. She is the subject of the 1991 biography, By Heart: Elizabeth Smart a Life, by Rosemary Sullivan, and a film, Elizabeth Smart: On the Side of the Angels, produced by Maya Gallus of Red Queen Productions.
References & Further Reading
- Rosemary Sullivan. By Heart: Elizabeth Smart a Life. Toronto: Viking Canada, 1991.
- , an examination of archival manuscripts, typescripts, correspondence, journals and notebooks at Library and Archives Canada
- Christopher Barker. "Life at Tilty Mill". Granta 80 (Winter 2002). (A sketch by Smart’s son Christopher.)
- Christopher Barker. "The Arms of the Infinite" (2006).
- The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker, Jonathan Cape Ltd (21 Feb 2002), ISBN 978-0-224-06242-8
- "I will not give up belief in true love."
- "We can include the world in our love, and no irritations can disrupt it, not even envy."
- — from By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.
Ian Brown used a passage from Elizabeth’s poem A Musical Note to name his third solo album The Music of the Spheres.
The former singer of British band The Smiths, Morrissey has also talked of his love for Elizabeth Smart. References to ‘By Grand Central Station’ are littered throughout Smiths songs such as ‘What She Said’, ‘London’, ‘Well I Wonder’, and ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’.
Canadian playwright Wendy Lill wrote a play entitled Memories of You (1989) about the life of Elizabeth Smart.
Smart was born to a prominent family in Ottawa, Ontario; her father, Russell Smart, was a self-made lawyer, and the family had a summer house on Kingsmere Lake located next door to the future Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King. She began writing at an early age, publishing her first poem at the age of ten and compiling a collection of poetry at 15. She attended Hatfield Hall, a private school in Cobourg, Ontario, and at the age of 18 went overseas to study music at King’s College London.
In 1937 she took a job as secretary to Margaret (Mrs. Alfred) Watt, head of the Associated Country Women of the World, travelling extensively throughout the world accompanying Watt to various conferences. It was during this time that she happened across a book of poetry by George Barker, immediately falling in love not only with the poetry, but with the man himself.
After her travels with Mrs. Watt, Smart returned to Ottawa where she spent six months writing society notes for the women’s page of The Ottawa Journal. At parties she would often ask about Barker, saying she wanted to meet and marry him. Soon she began a correspondence with the poet.
Relationship with George Barker
Eager to launch her writing career, Smart quit the Journal and left Ottawa for good. Traveling on her own, she visited New York, Mexico and California, joining a writers’ colony at Big Sur. While there, she made contact with Barker through Lawrence Durrell, paying to fly Barker and his wife to the United States from Japan where he was teaching. Soon after meeting, they began a tumultuous affair which was to last for years.
In 1941, after becoming pregnant, Smart returned to Canada, settling in Pender Harbour, British Columbia to have the child she would name Georgina. Barker attempted to visit her in Canada, but Smart’s family exerted influence on government officials, and consequently he was turned back at the border, cited with "moral turpitude".
Smart soon returned to the United States and began work as a file clerk for the British embassy in Washington. Two years later, in 1943, during the height of the war, she sailed to the United Kingdom to join Barker. There she gave birth to their second child, Christopher Barker, and obtained employment at the British Ministry of Defence to support her children.