It’s impossible, now, to think of modernism without thinking about gender, sexuality, and the diverse movers and shakers of the early twentieth century. But this was not always so. The Passion Projects examines biographical projects that modernist women writers undertook to resist the exclusion of their friends, colleagues, lovers, and companions from literary history. Many of these works were vibrant efforts of modernist countermemory and counterhistory that became casualties in a midcentury battle for literary legitimacy, but that now add a new dimension to our appreciation of such figures as Radclyffe Hall, Gertrude Stein, Hope Mirrlees, and Sylvia Beach, among many others.
Melanie Micir explores an extensive body of material, including Sylvia Townsend Warner’s carefullly annotated letters to her partner Valentine Ackland, Djuna Barnes’s fragmented drafts about the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Margaret Anderson’s collection of modernist artifacts, and Virginia Woolf’s joke biography of her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West, the novel Orlando. Whether published in encoded desire or squirreled away in intimate archives, these “passion projects” recorded life then in order to summon an audience now, and stand as important predecessors of queer and feminist recovery projects that have shaped the contemporary understanding of the field.
Arguing for the importance of biography, The Passion Projects shows how women turned to this genre in the early twentieth century to preserve their lives and communities for future generations to discover.
Awards and Recognition
- Shortlisted for the MSA First Book Prize, Modernist Studies Association
"A wondrous ode to feminist research and biography as a tool and method for revisiting the past. . . . The book will become a key pedagogical resource for the study of Feminist Modernist Studies due to its scope as well as the myriad of primary sources and the bibliography that it provides. Besides this, it is an easy-to-read and thought-provoking work that will appeal to a diverse audience."—Cristina Díaz Pérez, LSE Review of Books
"Micir’s queer counterhistory of modernism writes into the story not only authors and artists, but the collectors, curators, editors, archivists, and biographers who create and hold space for the work they value. Micir’s book itself will appeal to anyone interested in modernism and feminist and queer critical methods—and to anyone looking for a compelling and often moving story. . . . a must-read for all researchers sensitive to the framing of the historical narratives they compose."—Carolyn Dever, Public Books
"The Passion Projects is a feminist manifesto disguised as a monograph, advocating for a revaluation of feminized labor, a more inclusive understanding of what counts as scholarship, and a renewed approach to collaboration. Micir’s focus on the editing, collecting, curating, and archiving of modernism reveals literary carework and intellectual housekeeping as instrumental to the continued expansion of new modernist studies."—Erica Gene Delsandro, Feminist Modernist Studies
"From the unpublished to fragments to curated and collected materials preserved for a future reader, Micir traces beautifully—at times heartbreakingly—the stories of what these incomplete projects tell us about queer women’s lives and desires and their artistic commitments. . . . Micir illuminates partnerships and projects that haven’t received enough attention."—Rowena Kennedy-Epstein, Women: A Cultural Review
"Micir exposes in minute detail the difficult balancing act between the personal and political when it comes to unravelling the self-made archive."—Eilish Mulholland, Modernist Review
"If the intimacy between lovers and friends is central to The Passion Projects, no less so is that between the scholar or other reader of later times and the author who lived years before. . . . One of the glories of Micir’s book is its attention to the intergenerational connections that, arising in such circumstances, help to realize intensely held hopes for queer futurity."—Douglas Mao, Modernism/modernity
"The Passion Projects makes the compelling case for renewed attention to the art of biography as practiced by often-marginalized women modernists. Micir sheds new light on profound and in some instances heart-wrenching acts of queer curatorial remembrance of friends and lovers whose stories could not be told openly. This beautifully written, paradigm-shifting work promises to be a must-read for the next wave of feminist modernist studies."—Madelyn Detloff, author of The Value of Virginia Woolf
"Ambitious and insightful, The Passion Projects excels in telling the unknown, untold story of Anglo-American women writers who wrote about women and were integral to the development of transatlantic modernism. Filling a gap in modern literary criticism and feminist history, this book is assured a prominent place in modernist scholarship."—Urmila Seshagiri, University of Tennessee
"Examining intimate archives lovingly created by and about figures such as Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Djuna Barnes, and Hope Mirrlees, this stunning book counters masculinist narratives of modernism. Micir shows that acts of biographical enshrinement are at the heart of modernist, feminist, and queer practice. Our understanding of biography and its crucial relation to field formation will never be the same."—Benjamin Kahan, author of The Book of Minor Perverts: Sexology, Etiology, and the Emergences of Sexuality
"One of the vital motifs of this utterly beautiful book is posterity—that queer modernist women of yesteryear composed, culled, and compiled their writings and memorabilia for queer women of today. Making good on their magical thinking, Micir lovingly and judiciously brings their days and hours back to biographical life. Itself a lasting work, The Passion Projects exemplifies the ‘queer posterity’ of a field far from completion."—Scott Herring, Indiana University