The Beauty of Living: E. E. Cummings in the Great War (Paperback)
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An incisive biography of E. E. Cummings’s early life, including his World War I ambulance service and subsequent imprisonment, inspirations for his inventive poetry.
E. E. Cummings is one of our most popular and enduring poets, one whose name extends beyond the boundaries of the literary world. Renowned for his formally fractured, gleefully alive poetry, Cummings is not often thought of as a war poet. But his experience in France and as a prisoner during World War I (the basis for his first work of prose, The Enormous Room) escalated his earliest breaks with conventional form the innovation with which his name would soon become synonymous.
Intimate and richly detailed, The Beauty of Living begins with Cummings’s Cambridge upbringing and his relationship with his socially progressive but domestically domineering father. It follows Cummings through his undergraduate experience at Harvard, where he fell into a circle of aspiring writers including John Dos Passos, who became a lifelong friend. Steeped in classical paganism and literary Decadence, Cummings and his friends rode the explosion of Cubism, Futurism, Imagism, and other “modern” movements in the arts. As the United States prepared to enter World War I, Cummings volunteered as an ambulance driver, shipped out to Paris, and met his first love, Marie Louise Lallemand, who was working in Paris as a prostitute. Soon after reaching the front, however, he was unjustly imprisoned in a brutal French detention center at La Ferté-Macé. Through this confrontation with arbitrary and sadistic authority, he found the courage to listen to his own voice.
Probing an underexamined yet formative time in the poet’s life, this deeply researched account illuminates his ideas about love, justice, humanity, and brutality. J. Alison Rosenblitt weaves together letters, journal entries, and sketches with astute analyses of poems that span Cummings’s career, revealing the origins of one of the twentieth century’s most famous poets.
— Library Journal (starred review)
A perceptive, captivating portrait...Besides insightful analyses of Cummings's poetry, Rosenblitt presents him as an accomplished artist...A graceful, sympathetic biography of an innovative American poet.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Incisive...[Rosenblitt's] richest observations concern Cummings’s psychological motivations...[An] illuminating look at how Cummings acquired his “fearlessness” as a writer.
— Publishers Weekly
A sparkling narrative of Cummings’s early life. The Beauty of Living is a compelling account of Cummings’s complicated personal, sexual, and family relations, a platform on which J. Alison Rosenblitt can exercise her exceptional skills as an analyst of poetry and art. This is a profoundly enlightening introduction to Cummings by a gifted critic.
— Bernard O’Donoghue, author of The Seasons of Cullen Church