Elizabeth Smart

An Afternoon with Elizabeth Smart (1913 – 1986)

Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, 4 p.m.  At the Revue Cinema.

Maybe you read By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept some years ago. Perhaps you’ve only heard Elizabeth Smart’s name and the title of her slim, poetic novella. But, no question,  the strange story of her life and obsessive love, which she fictionalized in By Grand Central Station continues to fascinate.

Born in 1913 to a well-to-do Ottawa family, Smart took off for England at age 19 to study piano, but soon began to pursue her interest in writing. It was through words that she fell passionately in love with British poet George Barker long before she met him. They never married, but Smart would have four children by him (he had a total of 15) and, throwing aside the conventions of the day, raised them as a working single mother.

We were fortunate to have Smart scholar Myra Bloom join filmmaker Maya Gallus  in our discussion of Smart’s life and work, following Maya’s lyrical documentary: Elizabeth Smart: On the Side of the Angels. Myra, who teaches at U of T, is working on a scholarly edition of By Grand Central Station.

The film, named for a collection of Smart’s diaries, features a dramatic portrayal by Jackie Burroughs and is narrated by novelist Michael Ondaatje. Powerful excerpts from Smart’s work, and rare archival photographs create a compelling exploration of her life and art.

This was Gallus’s second visit to the Revue to introduce one of her films about Extraordinary Women. In December, to the interest and delight of the audience, she spoke about her documentary The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche and the Canadian novelist’s hidden life.  

Thanks to Myra and Maya for an interesting and dynamic discussion!

Tickets: $15, general; $13 seniors, Revue members at the door. $13 in advance on Eventbrite. 

More Reading and Listening

For the 70th anniversary of the book’s 1945 publication, novelist Yann Martel wrote about By Grand Central Station in The Independent. “Smart’s evocation of love is sweeping, aching, exhilarating, rapturous, incantatory,” he writes.

In the early 1980s, Peter Gzowski interviewed Smart on his radio program Morningside. Here’s a link to the interview, in which Smart reads selections from By Grand Central Station. 

One of Barker’s children by another woman, Raffaella Barker, writes in the Independent about the impact of Smart’s novel on her:  “I first read this extraordinary prose poem when I was 19, doubly curious about the book for its delicious title and because it was written by my father’s ex-wife. It was like drowning in an extraordinary dream – I could not believe that grown ups could love with such abandon.”

Read and listen to these links; then come to the Revue on Sunday, Jan. 21 for the film and discussion.