“Occasionally Stevie’s impatience with sentimentality could make her seem hard and intolerant. Moreover, if at a dinner party the conversation did not interest her she simply threw it aside and darted elsewhere or sang one of her poems, her tremulous, atonal chant shattering the ongoing discussion. When her stories went on rather long, in a giggly sort of way, she could be accused of monomania by an unsympathetic listener. Even her friend and admirer Sir John Lawrence admits: `She wasn’t going to be bored. She wasn’t disagreeable about it, but she wasn’t going to have it.’”
One sympathizes and is appalled. Bad manners can never be excused – though one is tempted. In a social world erected on mushy-headed sentiment, where the unspoken orthodoxies are self-serving cant, one quietly admires Smith’s brassiness. How often we’re tempted to shake our heads and – but we bite our tongues. People have the right to be tiresome, though the other side of happy talk is savagery. Smith, like the rest of us, was a mess of contradictions. Her friend Jonathan Williams wrote of her: “How touching, and funny, and sad, and honest, she was.” And on the page, at least, Smith could be more forgiving:
“Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
Are you not also a man, and in your heart
Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?”