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Past Out by Liz Highleyman
Who were Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap?
by Liz Highleyman - SGN Contributing Writer

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

Anderson was born in 1886 to an aspiring middle-class family in Indianapolis. Though raised to take her place in polite society, she was willful from a young age and defied her mother's expectations. She attended Western College for Women to study piano, but was a lackadaisical student and left without a degree.

In 1908, Anderson moved to Chicago and became the protege of Clara Laughlin, literary editor for the religious magazine Interior (later Continent); Anderson wrote book reviews for the magazine and eventually succeeded Laughlin. She also wrote for 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 March 1914, The Little Review soon became popular and attracted topnotch writers. Early issues reflected Anderson's interest in topics such as feminism and psychoanalysis. Her embrace of anarchist Emma Goldman alienated the project's main financial backer, and at one point Anderson gave up her house to live in a tent on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Anderson first met Jane Heap in 1915. 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, got involved with community theater, and became lovers with Florence Reynolds, the daughter of a prosperous businessman; though their romantic relationship ended, Reynolds remained a lifelong friend and benefactor.

Anderson, beautiful and "feminine in the extreme" (according to Goldman), was smitten with the more masculine Heap, who sported tuxedo jackets and short-cropped hair. Anderson asked Heap to write for The Little Review, and they soon became lovers and co-editors. Though many women-loving women of the era fell into conventional family life due to societal pressure, Anderson declared, "I am no man's wife, no man's delightful mistress, and I will never, never, never be a mother."

Heap redesigned the magazine and included more work by visual artists, helping introduce Surrealism and Dadaism to America. In 1917, Anderson and Heap moved to Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, where they produced an infamous issue with blank pages to protest the dearth of exciting new material. After several months, they relocated to New York's Greenwich Village to take advantage of its burgeoning avant-garde scene. They became part of local Lesbian circles, and 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, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce. The Little Review began serializing Joyce's Ulysses in 1918. The post office seized and burned multiple issues it deemed obscene, and the head of the Society for the Suppression of Vice filed charges. The women's attorney argued that the work was too incomprehensible to be sexually arousing, but in 1921 Anderson and Heap were convicted and fined $50 each.

After the court case, funds became scarcer, and The Little Review went quarterly. Anderson and Heap's relationship grew increasingly rocky, and both women had affairs. By the magazine's 10th anniversary, Anderson had lost interest in the project, but Heap persisted. In 1924, they both fell under the spell of Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff. Anderson and her new lover, soprano Georgette LeBlanc, moved to Paris to study at his institute; Heap followed the next year.

In Paris, Anderson and Heap joined the Lesbian literary scene that included Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, and journalist Janet Flanner. Though no longer romantic partners, they continued to collaborate on sporadic issues of The Little Review in Exile. The magazine took a hiatus in 1926 as Heap moved back and forth between Paris and New York organizing gallery shows, but they produced a final issue in 1929.

During the late 1920s, Heap became increasingly devoted to Gurdjieff, starting study groups in Paris and Greenwich Village and eventually moving to London to teach his philosophy. She remained there until her death from diabetes in 1964.

Anderson and LeBlanc moved into an old lighthouse near Cannes. In the 1930s, they participated in a mostly Lesbian group of Gurdjieff students called The Rope. They remained partners until LeBlanc's death from breast cancer in 1941. A year later, Anderson left Nazi-occupied France to return to the United States. Aboard the ship, she met Dorothy Caruso (tenor Enrico's widow), and they embarked on a relationship that lasted until 1955, when Caruso died of the same disease.

During her career Anderson wrote a three-volume memoir, compiled a Little Review anthology, and penned a book about Gurdjieff. She also 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 from emphysema at the age of 87.

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

For further information:
Benstock, Shari. 1986. Women of the Left Bank: Paris 1900-1940 (University of Texas Press).
Solomon, Barbara Probst (editor). 2003. America - Meet Modernism! Women of the Little Magazine Movement (Great Marsh Press).
Weinberg, Wendy. 1994. Beyond Imagining: Margaret Anderson and the Little Review (documentary film).
photos: Margaret_Caroline Anderson

below: Jane Heap

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