Elizabeth Smart (December
27, 1913 – March 4, 1986) was a Canadian poet and novelist.
book, By Grand Central
Station I Sat Down and Wept
, detailed her romance with the
poet George Barker
. She is the
subject of the 1991 biography, By Heart: Elizabeth Smart a
, by Rosemary Sullivan
and a film, Elizabeth Smart: On the Side of the Angels
produced by Maya Gallus
born to a prominent family in Ottawa, Ontario; her father,
Russell Smart, was a self-made attorney, and the family had a
summer house on Kingsmere Lake located next door to the future
Prime Minister of Canada,
William Lyon Mackenzie
She began writing at an early age, publishing her
first poem at the age of ten and compiling a collection of poetry
at 15. She
attended Hatfield Hall, a private school in Cobourg, Ontario,
and at the age of 18 went abroad to study music at King's College
In 1937 she gained employment as the secretary to Margaret (Mrs.
Alfred) Watt, head of the Associated Country Women of the World.
Smart travelled extensively throughout the world accompanying Watt
to various conferences. It was during this time that she happened
across a book of poetry by George
, immediately falling in love not only with the poetry,
but with the man himself.
After her travels with Mrs. Watt, Smart returned to Ottawa where
she spent six months writing society notes for the women's page of
The Ottawa Journal
parties she would often ask about Barker, saying she wanted to meet
and marry him. Soon she began a correspondence with the poet.
Relationship with George Barker
Eager to launch her writing career, Smart quit the Journal
and left Ottawa for good. Traveling on her own, she visited New York, Mexico and California, joining a writers' colony at Big Sur.
there, she made contact with Barker through Lawrence Durrell, paying to fly Barker and
his wife to the United
States from Japan where he was
Soon after meeting, they began a tumultuous affair
which was to last for years.
after becoming pregnant, Smart returned to Canada, settling in
Columbia to have the
child she would name Georgina.
Barker attempted to visit her
in Canada, but Smart's family exerted influence on government
officials, and consequently he was turned back at the border, cited
with "moral turpitude".
returned to the United States and began work as a file clerk for
the British embassy in
Washington. Two years later, in 1943, during the height
of the war, she sailed to the United Kingdom to join Barker.
There she gave birth to
their second child, Christopher Barker, and obtained employment at
the British Ministry of
to support her children.
It was during this time that Smart produced what would become her
best-known work, By Grand Central
Station I Sat Down and Wept
. Just 2000 copies were
published in 1945, and it did not achieve popularity until a good
deal later. It is a fictional work, largely based on Smart's affair
with Barker up until that point.
Smart's socially conscious mother Louise ("Louie") was not pleased
with the book. Again availing influence with government officials,
she led a successful campaign to have its publication banned in
Canada. Of those copies that made their way into the country from
overseas, Louise Smart bought up as many as she could find and had
visited Smart often in London where she
She became pregnant again, and was fired from the
. Their affair produced two more children
(Sebastian, born 1945, and Rose Emma, born 1947). Through it all
Barker, who was Catholic, said he would leave his wife for Smart,
but this never happened (he was to have fifteen children by several
In addition to the unconventional nature of the relationship, the
affair was fraught with turmoil. Barker was a heavy drinker and
Smart took up the habit, which intensified when the two were
together. The couple were involved in numerous fights; during one
argument, Smart bit off part of Barker's upper lip. Nonetheless, as
evidenced from writings in her journals, Smart's love for Barker
continued for the remainder of her life.
Single mother and writer
Raising four children on her own (her youngest child, Rose Barker,
died as the result of many years of drug addiction at the age of
35), Smart worked for thirteen years as an advertising copywriter.
She then joined the staff of Queen
magazine in 1963, later
becoming an editor. She became at length the highest-paid
copywriter in England. During this time her physical involvement
with Barker waned; she lived a bohemian lifestyle in Soho and took
several other lovers, some men and some women.
Meanwhile, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
had been circulating in London and New York, acquiring a cult
following that led to its paperback reissue in 1966 and critical
acclaim. In the same year, Smart retired from commercial writing
and relocated to a cottage in north Suffolk
named "The Dell".
It was at The Dell that she produced the bulk of her literary work,
much of which has been published posthumously. Eager to make up for
the time away from creative writing forced by the demands of
raising her children, Smart wrote voluminously and on a number of
subjects, poetry and prose, even her passionate love of
In 1977, following a 32-year absence from the book world, she
published two new works, The Assumption of the Rogues &
and a small collection of poetry, titled A
. In the Meantime
(1984), a collection of
Smart's unpublished poetry and prose, and her two volumes of
journals, Necessary Secrets: The Journals of Elizabeth
returned to Canada for a brief stay from 1982 to 1983, becoming
writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta. Afterward she spent a year in Toronto on a Canada Council
writer's grant before returning to England.
In 1986 she died
in London of a heart attack. She is buried in St George's
churchyard, Saint Cross South Elmham, Suffolk.
On the Side of the Angels
(1994), brought further,
posthumous critical appreciation.
- "I will not give up belief in true love."
- "We can include the world in our love, and no irritations can
disrupt it, not even envy."
- — from By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and
used a passage from Elizabeth's
poem A Musical Note
to name his third solo album The
Music of the Spheres
The former singer of British band The
has also talked of
his love for Elizabeth Smart. References to 'By Grand Central
Station' are littered throughout Smiths songs such as 'What She
Said' 'Well I Wonder' and 'Shakespeare's Sister'.
Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945)
- A Bonus (1977)
- Ten Poems (1981)
- Eleven Poems (1982)
- The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals (1982)
- In the Meantime (1984)
- Autobiographies (1987, Christina Burridge ed.)
- Necessary Secrets: The Journals of Elizabeth Smart
(1987, Alice Van Wart ed.)
- Juvenilia: Early Writings of Elizabeth Smart (1987,
Alice Van Wart ed.)
- On the Side of the Angels: The Second Volume of the
Journals of Elizabeth Smart (1997, Alice Van Wart ed.)
- Elizabeth's Garden: Elizabeth Smart on the Art of
- Rosemary Sullivan. By Heart: Elizabeth Smart a Life.
Toronto: Viking Canada, 1991.
- "Elizabeth Smart" in Canadian Writers,
an examination of archival manuscripts, typescripts,
correspondence, journals and notebooks at Library and Archives
- Christopher Barker. "Life at Tilty Mill". Granta 80 (Winter 2002). (A sketch by
Smart's son Christopher.)
- Christopher Barker. "The Arms of the Infinite" (2006).