Olga Rudge’s Romantic Defiance

“One god permeating everything might as well not exist. She wants her god incarnate. She is not trying to tell him He is a god, but her only feeling of god is in him.” Olga Rudge, in a letter to Ezra Pound, cir. 1930

I’m reading a biography on Olga Rudge, a concert violinist who was Ezra Pound’s lover from 1923 until 1972 when Pound died. Olga was, in fact, buried next to him in Venice.  As I read this biography, I find myself more and more fascinated with this brave artistic soul that was Olga Rudge, her strong spirit of independence and self-sufficiency defying a world-order that considered women dependent and inferior. She  supported herself financially while pursuing a career as an artist, had a child out of wedlock and maintained a life-long, true affair of the heart with the married Ezra Pound. I can’t fathom the courage that it took for this woman to follow her heart, both in her professional career as an artist, in spite of the financial realities of the time, and in her choice of lovers.

Although the narrative in this biography is sometimes choppy and filled with non-sequiturs, the biographer is especially successful in excerpting letters the two artists wrote to each other that truly evoke the spirit of their minds and the nature of their relationship.

One in particular struck me as being especially emblematic of the paradox that Olga’s one-minded devotion to Ezra seems in the face of her fierce independence and self-reliance.

During the Great Depression, Olga’s father, who had been helping Olga financially throughout her life, suffered great financial losses, and had not Olga purchased her own home the year before the market crashed, she would have been homeless, penniless, and alone responsible for raising Mary, her child with Ezra Pound.  She made numerous efforts to become financially wealthy, concert touring, writing, and at one point, even taking up typing lessons to become a secretary. It seems clear that Mary was primarily Olga’s responsibility, at least financially, and that Olga supported herself, refusing Pound’s financial help.

But when the Depression was at its worst, Olga’s fears and most pressing concerns for the future — not so much financial as they were that the end of her affair with Pound had come to an end —  reflected in the letters she wrote to her lover, where she confessed to considering suicide.  To which Ezra responded:

“Only she would be perfectly wrong to stop living Now, now of all times…She got rid , as her father said, of her religion…You can’t scrap a whole thing like that, pericoloso, pericoloso, unless one has another house to go to…”

To which Olga poignantly replied:

“She doesn’t think that she has “given up” her religion, because she doesn’t think that with her character, anything that she had “had” could slip away as easily as water off a duck’s back…As for god, she is probably at a stage of low development. One god permeating everything might as well not exist. She wants her god incarnate. She is not trying to tell him He is a god, but her only feeling of god is in him.”

It’s puzzling to think of Olga and Ezra in romantic terms, considering that throughout their affair Ezra was married to Dorothy Pound, and also had a child by his wife, although Mary was born first.  It’s also clear that both Olga and Pound had other love interests throughout their lives.  Yet their devotion to each other survived all tests: Ezra died holding Olga’s hand. Given that Ezra and Olga remained lovers to the last, it is touching to see the earnestness of their feelings, so alive in their words.

Published by laura

I'm the author of two short story collections, a story cycle, and a collection of short memoirs. I am an educator, literary translator, journal editor, and writing coach.

2 thoughts on “Olga Rudge’s Romantic Defiance

  1. Did they really refer to each other in the third person? Seems rather impersonal. I love her line, “As for god, she is probably at a level of low development..” Reminds me of Wendell Berry’s first line in his poem Hidden Singer, “The gods are less for their want of praise.”
    As you, I find her courage in that time to be remarkable. If I was using her as the inspiration for a character in a story, would my muse allow me to portray a woman so fierce and committed?
    T. J. Silverio

    1. Yeah, they wrote to each other in the third person, as if writing a book. Here is another tidbit: apparently they were both voracious fans of detective novels, Agatha Christie being in vogue at that time.

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