The Formative Years
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 With access to Cowley himself (1898-1989) and to his huge archives, Bak (American Literature/Catholic University of Nijmegen, Netherlands) has produced a detailed yet cluttered history of his subject's literary endeavors from 1915 to 1930--of his ``apprenticeship'' as poet, literary journalist, editor, and critic. Bak takes the same ``spectatorial attitude'' as Cowley took toward his culture. He observes the young man of letters from his boyhood in a pious Swedenborgian family in Pittsburgh to his years at ``godless'' Harvard--covering the professors Cowley studied with, the courses he took, his favorite authors, his friends. Bak reports on Cowley's service in 1917 in the Ambulance Corps in France, his return to Greenwich Village, and his marriage to an untidy bohemian whose infidelities infected them both with syphilis. The author recounts his subject's return to France in the 20's; his joining the expatriates he named the ``lost generation''; and the artistic experimentalism that became modernism as well as those who created it: Eliot, Pound, Stein, Yeats and Joyce. While doing freelance writing (including, from 1924-28, articles in Charm, a magazine published by Bamberger's department store for its female charge customers), Cowley, Bak relates, emancipated himself from the seclusive art of the symbolists and evolved into a socially responsible writer and a political radical, eventually succeeding Edmund Wilson as book-review editor of The New Republic (an evolution Cowley described in Exile's Return, 1934). An epilogue covers this ``return'' and establishes Cowley's literary stature. Bak names all the little magazines Cowley wrote for or cared about but misses the excitement, the ferment, that produced them. A rhetorical and lifeless biography, then, that reduces Cowley to the sum of his literary opinions. (Thirty-two illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8203-1323-8
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992