Elizabeth Smart

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1913 – 1986

Elizabeth Smart is the author of the highly acclaimed novel of “prose poetry” By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept published in London in 1945. Born and raised in Ottawa, Smart spent most of her life in Britain.  Late in her life she returned briefly to Canada as Writer in Residence at the University of Alberta.

 

Elizabeth Smart at Kingsmere, circa 1930 LAC MIKAN 3613428

Elizabeth Smart lived at several addresses in Ottawa while growing up.  In Sandy Hill, her family resided at 396 Daly Avenue in the fall of 1920 and then at 361 Daly Avenue from 1920 to 1933.  Elizabeth was the daughter of Ottawa lawyer Russell Smart and his wife Emma Louise Parr.

As a precocious child of wealthy parents, Smart led a privileged life on Daly Ave. meeting many prominent people in her youth, including Mackenzie King, Lester Pearson and Graham Spry (known as the father of Canadian broadcasting).  It was here that she wrote her first works of prose and poetry between the ages of 11 and 15.  In 1929, at the age of 15 and while spending the summer at Kingsmere, the family cottage in the Gatineau Hills (next door to Mackenzie King’s), she compiled her writings into The Second Edition of the Complete Works of Betty Smart.  Some of her writings from her early life in Ottawa were selectively published in Juvenilia, edited by Alice Van Wart in 1987.

She attended Elmwood School for Girls in Ottawa and later Hatfield School for Girls in Cobourg, Ontario.  Upon graduation in 1929 at the age of 17, and for many years thereafter, she divided her time between Europe and Canada.  She never resided permanently in Ottawa again but spent many summers at her beloved Kingsmere in the Gatineau Hills.

 

Smart’s best-known work By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, is considered a tour de force, and her reputation rests largely on this work.   Although a work of fiction, it is based on her tempestuous love affair with English poet George Barker (who fathered her four children although they never married). Literary critic Bridgette Brophy, in a foreword to the 1966 paperback edition, describes it as “one of the most shelled, skinned, nerve-exposed books [anyone] ever wrote.” Smart’s mother, however, who greatly disapproved of her daughter’s lifestyle, used her contacts to block publication of this work in Canada for several years.

 

Smart also gained notoriety in mid-century Britain and Canada with her bohemian lifestyle.  She often lived in abject poverty and isolation.  She died in London much loved by her children and friends and is buried in Suffolk.  Her headstone reads Non Omnis Moriar – I shall not entirely die – a befitting epitaph as her works remain relevant today.