Mina Loy as the Modern Woman
Born on December 27, 1882, into an ordinary London family, Mina Lowy proved to be anything but common. After spending years as the recipient of her father’s encouragement, Loy moved from the artistic confinement that her mother tried to impose upon her to a life of literary acclaim. Developing her artistic crafts of painting, sculpture, and poetry, her most recognized talent, Mina Loy refused to be crowded into convenient societal definitions. Hailed as the quintessential “New Woman” in 1917, Loy embodied the changing definition of modern femininity.
As an adolescent, Loy often clashed with her mother, Julia, as she strove to improve her craft. She yearned to fully express herself artistically, through her painting and her literature, yet her mother discouraged her, wishing for her daughter to conform to the tradition expectations for a girl in British society. Mina later said:
In the sheltered homes of the nineties, daughters were
bullied to maturity, subject to prohibitions unmodified since babyhood. Their only self expression: to watch and pray (Burke, 32).
Loy was forced to fight for any chance to study her crafts, as her mother was not an advocate for female education.
After winning the battle against her mother’s repression, with her father’s help and encouragement, Loy entered the Kunstlerrinen Verein Art Academy in Munich, where she excelled under the tutelage of Angelo Jank. Carolyn Burke wrote that, for Loy, leaving England at the turn of the century meant escaping from the repressive forces embodied by her mother: the complacency of British culture, its contradictory goals for daughters, and the constraints of London in the 1890s. Later, upon her return to London to continue her education in the arts, she met Stephen Haweis, yet did not take his name when they wed, choosing instead to simply drop the “w” from her maiden name. After marrying on December 31, 1903, the pair welcomed their daughter, Oda Janet, five months later in their home in Paris. Regarding her daughter’s birth Loy wrote: I am glad to introduce my sex to the hidden meaning of childbirth. The last illusion about my poor miscreated sex is gone. I am sad (Burke, lxiv).
Not taking well to motherhood, Loy began to further distance herself from the traditional ideals of womanhood which her mother and society embraced. Not content with merely being a wife and mother, Loy focused on the literary movements rising in Parisian culture and became associated with the elite salons of modernism. Attending discussions at the homes of Natalie Barney and Gertrude and Leo Stein, Mina Loy met and became familiar with Picasso, Apollinaire, Rouseau, and many other influential literary figures of the modernist era.
Unafraid of stepping outside of societal boundaries in poetry, Loy continued to experiment with new forms of language and...