BEAUTY OF LIVING: E. E. Cummings in the Great War

Book number: 91997 Product format: Hardback Author: J. ALISON ROSENBLITT

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Bibliophile price £4.00
Published price £28

The experimental poet E. E. Cummings grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a family dominated by an overbearing father, "the Reverend", a man in whom social liberalism fought unsuccessfully with repressive authoritarianism. The domestic situation was not much lightened by Cummings's mother, who strongly believed in cold baths, though this may have stood her son in good stead when, as a volunteer ambulance driver in the Great War, he was incarcerated in a French prison in 1917. The young Cummings was sensitive and a good artist, attending nearby Harvard university, where his dyslexia may have contributed to the development of an experimental poetic style. Through the undergraduate literary magazine Monthly he met the novelist Dos Passos who became a lifelong friend. An exhibition of paintings by avant-garde artists such as Gauguin, Kandinsky, Rousseau, Picabia and Munch introduced Cummings to Modernism, and in 1913 he was transfixed by Duchamps's "Nude Descending a Staircase", a pioneering Cubist work. After an unhappy relationship with his girlfriend Doris Bryan, Cummings fell under the spell of his friend Scofield Thayer's wife Elaine. Cummings wrote a poem for their marriage, and years later he was to have an affair with Elaine, eventually marrying her himself. In 1917 he sailed for France to volunteer for the ambulance service and soon became part of the Paris bohemian scene, attending the premiere of Satie's iconic ballet Parade, designed by Cocteau, costumed by Picasso, and performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Cummings now fell in love with the prostitute Marie Louise, and although he was reluctant to have sex with her, his drawings of Marie Louise show an uninhibited fascination with her way of life. Finally he left for the Front, where his unexplained though short-lived prison sentence might possibly have been a stitch-up by censors tampering with letters home. 335pp.

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ISBN 9780393246964

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