Malcolm Cowley: The Formative Years

Hans Bak, Author University of Georgia Press $34.95 (626p) ISBN 978-0-8203-1323-8
Poet, critic, chronicler of the ``lost generation,'' champion of Hemingway and Faulkner, Malcolm Cowley (1898-1989) charted a trajectory from Pennsylvania farmboy to follower of French dadaists in Paris to political radical and Stalinist fellow-traveler in 1930s New York to member of the literary establishment. Bak's masterful, vivid, eloquent critical biography, first half of a two-volume opus, is a major reassessment of Cowley's place in American letters. After his early embrace of symbolist esthetics, Cowley repudiated the modernism of Eliot, Joyce and Pound for its dissociation of life from art. His main concern--creating an environment capable of sustaining the American writer--makes him a relevant figure. Bak, a professor of American literature in the Netherlands who interviewed Cowley and combed his personal files, illuminates the writer's Harvard years, his disenchanted bohemian existence in Greenwich Village and his unstable first marriage to free-living artist Peggy Baird, from whom Cowley contracted syphilis. Bak lays bare the turbulent inner life of a spiritual exile reclaiming his roots. Photos. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1993
Release date: 02/01/1993
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