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Hastings, Beatrice (Emily Alice Haigh) (1879-1943)
by Scholes, Robert


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Beatrice Hastings 1879-1943

It was not her real name, which was Emily Alice Haigh, nor was it her only name. No one had more pen names or aliases than Beatrice Hastings. We will include a list of those she used in The New Age near the end of this biographical note. She came from Port Elizabeth in the Cape Colony of South Africa, claiming that Hastings was her married name, resulting from a marriage to a prize fighter that did not work out, but no one has been able to confirm this, and she seems to have invented a certain amount of her past as she went along. She was sent to school in Pevensey, Kent, near Hastings, which may have supplied her chosen name. She did not take to schooling though she certainly took to learning and later held her own with some formidable literary and artistic figures, including Ezra Pound. What is certain is that she was intelligent, well-read, opinionated, and had no difficulty attracting men. She claimed that she made notches on her bedpost for all her successes in this department.

Whether or not she had the notches, she certainly had the men, including A. R. Orage himself, in the formative days of the The New Age, and then, in 1914-1915, when she was living in Paris and writing a Paris letter for the magazine, she shared an apartment in Montparnasse with Amadeo Modigliani, during the decisive year of his shift from sculpture to painting as his main mode of artistic expression. With Modigliani she shared hashish and public battles that were the talk of the quarter. When they parted acrimoniously she briefly took Raymond Radiguet away from Jean Cocteau. As a person she was formidable in both French and English.

As a writer she was talented but never made the most of her talents. When her many pieces for The New Age are available and all her disguises penetrated, we shall know better just how closely her achievement measured up to her ability. In her last years, embittered and alone, she claimed to have done more than Orage for the early success of the journal, including bringing the young Katherine Mansfield into its pages. She probably did more than she usually got credit for doing but not as much as she claimed. Orage was the great editor, not Hastings. But she was a very interesting writer, and her Paris letters, over the byline of "Alice Morning," contain some of her best writing.

Her other works are difficult to find outside the pages of the magazine, and, in some cases, it is impossible even to locate traces of things she wrote, though a few copies of her "Beatrice Tina" book,Woman's Worst Enemy: Woman, have survived. Her South African picaresque tale called The Maids' Comedy was serialized in The New Age and published as a novel, and, in her later years, whe wrote, and published herself (The Hastings Press, at her home address in Sussex) two small volumes called Defence of Madame Blavatsky. She had met Orage, probably at a Theosophist lecture around 1906 or 1907. Both of them retained their interest in the spiritual to the end, though Hastings stayed with Blavatsky while Orage moved on to Gurdjieff, whose disciple he, like Katharine Mansfield, became when he left the magazine in 1922.

Hastings's death was apparently a suicide: the last, large, self-destructive act of a life made up of small ones. She lives for us in her writings and in the images of her recorded by Modigliani. The names she wrote under include the following: Pagan, Alice Morning, A.M.A., E.H., B.L.H., Beatrice Tina, Cynicus, Robert a Field, T.K.L., D. Triformis, Edward Stafford, S. Robert West, V.M., G. Whiz, J. Wilson, Annette Doorly, Hastings Lloyd, Mrs. Malaprop, and T.W. There are undoubtedly others. In a poem she called herself a “Lost Bacchante,” which seems fair enough. In the gas-filled apartment in which her body lay, the remains of her pet mouse were found along with her own.

—Robert Scholes

Sources

  • Carswell, John. Lives and Letters. New York: New Directions, 1978.
  • Hastings, Beatrice. Defence of Madame Blavatsky, volumes 1 and 2. Worthing: Hastings Press, 1937.
  • Hastings, Beatrice. The Old New Age—Orage and Others. Blue Moon Press, 1935.
  • Mann, Carol. Modigliani. New York: Oxford UP, 1980.
  • Sichel, Pierre. Modigliani. New York: Dutton, 1967.
(Since the sketch above was written, a biography of over 700 pages by Stephen Gray has been published by Viking/Penguin. This work provides excellent detail on various aspects of Hastings's career--especially on her South African background. Gray's research is prodigious. There will never be a better source about the details of Hasting's life. And Gray is very much her partisan, attacking A. R. Orage regularly--perhaps excessively. He also provides extremely useful bibliographical material on Hastings's writing at the end of his book. One could wish that the index were not confined to personal names and included topics as well, but this is a work of reference that should be in every modernist's library.
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