cover image The Beauty of Living: E.E. Cummings in the Great War

The Beauty of Living: E.E. Cummings in the Great War

J. Alison Rosenblitt. Norton, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-43968-7

Classics scholar Rosenblitt (E.E. Cummings’ Modernism and the Classics) reframes avant-gardist E.E. Cummings (1894–1962) as a war poet in this incisive biography. Looking first at Cummings’s upbringing and education, Rosenblitt then focuses on his experiences during WWI as a volunteer ambulance driver on the Western Front and being imprisoned by the French as an “undesirable” and suspected spy. Rosenblitt argues that Cummings’s exposure in France to a new artistic atmosphere and to wartime brutality indelibly shaped his poetry and pacifism. Her richest observations concern Cummings’s psychological motivations, including his rebelliousness against his formidable and powerful father; his loyalty to his friend William Slater Brown, with whom he was imprisoned; and his love affair with the French prostitute Marie Louise. While there is no shortage of biographies that focus on Cummings as a mature, world-famous poet, Rosenblitt offers a fuller picture of the significance of his early years. Scholars and students of 20th-century literature will appreciate this illuminating look at how Cummings acquired his “fearlessness” as a writer from “facing both the cruel and the tender sides of human experience.” Photos. (July)