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Elizabeth Smart is best known for her celebrated work By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, a novel that has brought her international recognition. Smart was born in Ottawa in 1913 and grew up in the world of the Anglo-Canadian social establishment. Her father was Russell Smart, a successful trade and patent lawyer, and her mother, Louise, was known for her fine parties. Smart socialized with the political and literary luminaries of Ottawa. Her early life was privileged, revolving around private school in Cobourg, Ontario and summers spent at Kingsmere, where the family owned a summer home next to William Lyon Mackenzie King. Smart would later reject the affluent Ottawa environment in which she grew up to embrace the bohemian life of an artist.
In the 1930s Smart travelled between Ottawa and Europe. She studied music in London, visited Paris, Sweden and Germany, and at one point travelled around the world as a companion to an older woman. Returning to Canada, she worked briefly for The Ottawa Journal, writing society notes, before leaving again for New York, Mexico, and California in search of interesting work and adventure.
In California, through literary contacts with Lawrence Durrell, Smart met the poet George Barker and they began what would become a tumultuous and life-long relationship. While living in London, Smart had come across a book of poetry by George Barker and, falling in love with the poetry, determined to marry him. Though Smart would have four children with Barker, they never married. Barker was already married and, because he was Catholic, would not divorce his wife.
Smart went alone to Pender Harbour, B.C., in 1941, when she was pregnant with her first child. She gave birth there and completed the manuscript of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. She briefly returned to the States in order to be with Barker and worked as a file clerk in the British Embassy in Washington. Pregnant with her second child, Smart followed Barker to England by having herself transferred to the Ministry of Information in London, where she was fired because of her pregnancy.
Except for a few brief periods -- including a year spent as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta in 1982-83 -- Smart remained in England for the rest of her life. Smart lived in the country during the Second World War and then in London where, to support her growing family, she wrote advertising and copy for Vogue and Queen, of which she was briefly literary editor. In the mid-1960s, Smart gave up paid work and moved to a cottage in Suffolk where she wrote and gardened until her death in 1986.