A SERIOUS CHARACTER: The Life of Ezra Pound by Humphrey Carpenter
Kirkus Star

A SERIOUS CHARACTER: The Life of Ezra Pound

Email this review


A monumental (900 pp. +) biography of Pound that--by dint of its author's astonishingly thorough research, equally impressive interpretive powers, and sprightly prose style--rivets from start to finish. Carpenter (Tolkien: A Biography, Secret Gardens, W. H. Auden) has here produced a work that places him firmly among the three or four finest biographers working today. Maintaining objectivity must have been the most difficult of the tasks Carpenter faced when recounting his subject's controversial life story. Throughout his life, Pound inspired both immense affection and intense loathing. Wisely, Carpenter eschews both iconoclasm and hagiography in tracing Pound's progress from the Idaho frontier to the literary hangouts of London and Paris and on to incarceration in a Washington, D.C., insane asylum and old age and death in postwar Italy. The author examines both the generosity and genius that endeared the poet to T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, and Allen Ginsberg, among others, and the megalomania and condescension that riled the likes of Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, and Wyndham Lewis. Carpenter's evenhandedness, even when dealing with Pound's anti-Semitism, is admirable and his slightly jaundiced attitude toward human foibles strikes precisely the right note. All the facts of Pound's personal and professional life are here, too, and they are largely told in anecdotal form. The text is chockablock with revealing, frequently shocking, and often hilarious incidents. Carpenter reveals, for example, that when the tone-deaf Pound wrote his opera, ""The Testament of Villon,"" the composer/librettist felt that Ethel Merman would be the ideal diva for his work. As the author points out, there was more than a little of the Barnum-ish huckster in Pound. He apparently once considered opening a syphilis clinic in North Africa and on another occasion asked Ernest Hemingway whether it might be possible to make some money writing songs for American election campaigns. Carpenter has captured the brilliance, complexity, viciousness, and infantilism of his subject in telling images. One of the top biographies of the year.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin