Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap: Literary Lesbian Lovers

By Lavender January 17, 2008

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Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap were key figures in the literary scenes of Chicago, New York, and Paris in the 1910s and 1920s. Their magazine The Little Review introduced Modernism to a contemporary American audience.

In 1886, Anderson was born to a middle-class family in Indianapolis. She attended Western College for Women to study piano, but was a lackadaisical student, and left without a degree. In 1908, she moved to Chicago, where she wrote book reviews for the religious magazine Interior and the Chicago Evening Post, worked at a bookstore, and learned about printing at the political magazine Dial.

Despite her precarious financial situation, Anderson decided to start her own monthly magazine that would “make no compromise with the public taste.” Debuting in 1914, The Little Review soon became popular, and attracted top-notch writers. Early issues reflected Anderson’s interest in topics such as feminism, anarchism, and psychoanalysis.

Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1883, Heap grew up on the grounds of a mental asylum where her father was a warden. In her 20s, she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, taught art, and got involved with community theater.

Anderson first met Heap in 1915, and asked her to write for The Little Review. They soon became lovers and coeditors. Heap redesigned the magazine, and included more work by visual artists, helping introduce Surrealism and Dadaism to America. The couple relocated to New York’s Greenwich Village, where they became part of local lesbian circles. The magazine increasingly featured lesbian writers such as Amy Lowell and Djuna Barnes.

Around the same time, American poet Ezra Pound (then living in London) came on as the magazine’s foreign editor, introducing the work of up-and-coming writers, including T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. The Little Review began serializing Joyce’s Ulysses in 1918. The post office seized and burned multiple issues it deemed obscene. In 1921, Anderson and Heap were convicted, and fined $50 each.

After the court case, funds became scarcer. Anderson and Heap’s relationship grew rockier, and both women had affairs. Anderson and her new lover, soprano Georgette LeBlanc, moved to Paris; Heap followed the next year. In Paris, Anderson and Heap joined the lesbian literary scene that included Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, and Janet Flanner. Though no longer romantic partners, the two collaborated on sporadic issues of The Little Review in Exile, the last published in 1929.

Heap eventually moved to London, where she lived until her death in 1964. Anderson and LeBlanc remained partners until LeBlanc’s death in 1941. A year later, Anderson left Nazi-occupied France to return to the United States. Aboard a ship, she met Dorothy Caruso (tenor Enrico’s widow), and they embarked on a relationship that lasted until Caruso’s death in 1955. Anderson wrote a thinly disguised novella, Forbidden Fires, that dealt frankly with lesbian relationships modeled after her own. Though completed in the 1950s, the book was not published until 1996—long after her death in 1973.

Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics. She can be reached care of this publication, or at PastOut@qsyndicate.com.

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