She was everywhere, then she was nowhere

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

An interesting example of an artist whose star burned brightly for many years, then faded completely. I’ve never heard of her before this.

Walsh died of tuberculosis in October 1926 at the age of 31, leaving Boyle pregnant with his child, born in March 1927. Her husband, Richard, invited her and her daughter, Sharon, to return to live with him in Stoke-on-Trent, England, where he had found a job with the Michelin Tire Company. Out of options, Kay accepted. She lasted there a year. “I cannot inflict a platonic wife upon Richard for the rest of his existence, and I want to take care of my daughter myself,” she wrote to poet and editor Lola Ridge on November 29, 1927.

So it was in 1928 that Boyle finally made it to Paris as a single working mother. Largely because she needed housing and child care, she joined the commune of Raymond Duncan (Isadora’s brother), who preached the virtues of the simple life and whose followers wore togas and sandals and subsisted on goat cheese and yogurt. She worked in Duncan’s two Paris gift shops, where goods supposedly handcrafted at the commune (but imported from Greece) were sold to wealthy tourists. Duncan’s hypocrisy revealed itself when he used the proceeds of a large sale to an American museum to buy himself an American luxury automobile instead of a printing press for the colony. With the help of her friends Harry and Caresse Crosby and Robert McAlmon, Boyle was able to “kidnap” her daughter and escape the commune in late 1928. She continued writing, and her circle of friends widened to include leading writers, publishers, and artists of the day, among them Joyce, transition publisher Eugene Jolas, Hart Crane, Emma Goldman, Constantin Brancusi, and Marcel Duchamp (who later would become the godfather of her sixth child, born in 1943).

While the mass of American exiles returned home when the Jazz Age collapsed along with the economy in late 1929, Boyle remained in Europe. That year, on the terrace of La Coupole, she had met Laurence Vail, known as “the King of Bohemia,” and with their melded family they took up a peripatetic life together, following favorable exchange rates across Europe. Their daughter Apple-Joan was born in December 1929, they married in Nice in 1932, their daughter Kathe was born in Kitzbühel, Austria, in 1934, and they frequently cared for Vail’s two children, Sindbad and Pegeen, from his previous marriage to Peggy Guggenheim. Living in Austria in the 1930s, Boyle witnessed firsthand the rise of fascism. She won the 1935 O. Henry Award for Best Short Story of the Year with “The White Horses of Vienna,” which featured a Nazi protagonist. In 1937, they bought a chalet in Megève, a village in the French Alps, dubbing their home “Les Cinq Enfants”—changing the name to “Les Six Enfants” when their third daughter, Clover, was born in 1939.

In letters as well as in her fiction writing, Boyle bore witness to France’s mobilization and the continuities and dissonances of everyday life. “Here half the world is skiing while the other half dies, and the night-clubs are open until three in the morning, and God knows how people can dance as madly as that and as late and be as happy as they are,” she wrote to Caresse Crosby on February 16, 1940, four months before France fell to Nazi Germany.

In the summer of 1941, war finally forced Boyle and her family from Europe. Through months of herculean efforts with various authorities, Boyle managed to arrange passage to America by way of Lisbon via the Pan Am Clipper. The returning entourage included her second husband, Laurence Vail; his ex-wife, Peggy Guggenheim; Guggenheim’s husband-to-be, Max Ernst; and the combined brood of six children. A photograph published in the New York World-Telegram shows the family looking dazed upon disembarking in New York City on July 14, 1941.

What the papers did not report was that Boyle had arranged separate passage on a refugee ship for her husband-to-be, Joseph von Franckenstein, an Austrian baron who had fled Nazism in 1938, whom she had met in Megève, where he was a ski instructor and the children’s tutor. Boyle and Franckenstein would marry in 1943 and have two children: Faith, her fifth daughter, and Ian, her first son.

Back in America, angered by the talk she heard accusing the French of having “lain down on the job,” Boyle began churning out stories for mass-market magazines—both to earn a living and to communicate to the widest possible audience what was happening in Europe. She went on the lecture circuit to speak about France under the German occupation. Her talk consisted of “actual stories of the defeat and of the people’s reaction to occupation, scenes in which I participated myself, an indictment of the State Department, and of the Fascist element in every country,” she wrote Robert McAlmon on December 6, 1941. “The whole thing is an attempt to demonstrate further that nothing is of any importance except the individual resistance and the individual protest.”

Boyle’s 1944 novel, Avalanche, originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, was the first novel about the French Resistance—and her only best-seller. In the meantime, Joseph Franckenstein became an American citizen, joined the U.S. Mountain Infantry and later the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA, and engaged in intelligence work behind enemy lines. He infiltrated into Austria in the guise of a German sergeant, worked with resistance groups, and after being captured and tortured by the Gestapo, he narrowly escaped with his life.

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