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A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound [Hardcover]

Humphrey Carpenter
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (T); First edition edition (Nov 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395416787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395416785
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 15.5 x 5.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,994,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The Life of Ezra Pound

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Creation of Insanity 20 April 2003
In this long but very readable book the author underlines two insights; the crazed humour of the poet (well before the infamous incarceration on the grounds of mental instability during his impeachment for treason after WWII) and, for my money, the best insight into the Cantos yet encountered.
Never overtly academic, it is fascinating to encounter the yet-to-be-famous giants of modernism Lawrence, Joyce, Beckett and (of course) Eliot walk on the stage directed initially by 'Old Ez' who in turn draws his tutelage from no less than W B Yeats.
As dramatic as it's informative - the sympathetically written biography should appeal to anyone with a salacious interest in the real-flesh characters of this most influential of literary movements.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced, witty, and hugely enjoyable biography. 7 Sep 2001
By tepi - Published on Amazon.com
A SERIOUS CHARACTER : The Life of Ezra Pound. By Humphrey Carpenter. 1005 pages. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988. ISBN 0-395-41678-7.
No matter what one may think of Ezra Pound as a writer - whether he was a genius or a buffoon or a mixture of both - there can be no doubt that he was one of the most colorful and dynamic characters of the era, and that he led a rich and fascinating life well worthy of an intelligent biography. Pound's poetry, for obvious reasons (some of it being superb while much of it is just plain bad), has always had both admirers and detractors, with the former always taking great care to distance themselves from his 'anti-semitism' and economic theories while the latter seem to have seen little else, but Carpenter has amazingly succeeded in treading, with great diplomacy, the line between these two camps. While doing full justice to Pound's humanity and genius, he has at the same time made no attempt to slur over Pound's seriously flawed character, his disturbed sexuality, and the many occasions throughout his writings when his genius just failed to deliver the goods. He has in short given us, not a partisan's Pound, but an extremely fair-minded and balanced portrait of the whole man, though it's clear that Carpenter's patience with some of Pound's more outrageous eccentricities was sorely tested at times.
Besides being balanced, comprehensive, well-researched, well-documented, and extremely well-written, Carpenter's biography is also at times very funny. Pound's idiosyncracies could be quite amusing and they
are treated by Carpenter with great wit; one often finds oneself chuckling at the scrapes Pound seemed constantly to be getting into during the course of his hectic career. But there's more, for not only are we given a detailed and blow-by-blow account of the tragi-comedy that was Pound's life, and sympathetic portraits of the many literary and other figures who played a part in it, we are also treated to sensitive and fairly incisive analyses of many of Pound's works. In short, 'A Serious Character' is a fascinating study that both admirers and detractors of Pound will enjoy, though it isn't without certain predictable weaknesses. Carpenter has made no attempt to explain why a man as intelligent as Pound should have become and remained anti-semitic for the greater part of his life. Carpenter seems also a little too ready to accept the standard view that Pound's economic theories were 'crackpot,' although he redeems himself to some extent towards the end of the book by quoting Allen Ginsberg's remark when he met Pound that : "'... your economics are RIGHT. We see it more and more in Vietnam. You showed us who's making a profit out of war . . .'" (page 899, emphasis in original).
The third predictable weakness is Carpenter's seeming ignorance of and lack of interest in China. For Pound, Chinese language, thought, and history were important, and he has to be given credit as one of the very few who have realized how vital it is for the West to stop ignoring these. It's also true that he was certainly on to something when he developed the 'Ideogramic Method' which renders 'The Cantos' so obscure. Whether Pound himself realized it or not, their obscurity has the effect of pointing up a key weakness in Western thought, and anyone who is seriously grappling with 'The Cantos' might take a look at Chapter Three 'The Chinese Mind' (especially Part IV on 'Logic') in Lin Yutang's extremely informative 'My Country and My People.' It should help explain the reason for Pound's procedure in 'The Cantos,' a procedure for which he will find no adequate explanation in Carpenter. Lin Yutang states, and I don't think he was being facetious : 'I have great hope ... that the English language may one day become as clear and sensible as Chinese' ('My Country and My People,' pages 80-81). I think that Pound, although his knowledge of Chinese was limited, would have understood this. But it seems pretty clear that Carpenter would not.
Why was Pound anti-semitic? What evidence is there to support the validity of his economic theories? Why was he convinced of the overwhelming importance of Chinese language and thought? For answers to these the reader will have to look elsewhere. But apart from these omissions, Carpenter has given us a truly splendid study that no-one who is at all interested in Pound should miss. Strongly recommended.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pound explained 3 Dec 1999
By Al Kihano - Published on Amazon.com
The bad-boy of the Paris avant-garde gets his definitive treatment in this fat biography by Humphrey Carpenter. Carpenter provides a literate and extremely detailed account of every period of Pound's long life, from his Idaho beginnings to his POW cage in Pisa to his shadowy senility in Venice. It's too bad this book is out of print, because I think it provides one of the best and most well-written portraits of Pound and the numerous friends and colleagues who derived benefit from his editing and patronage. Carpenter also provides balanced but critical discussion of Pound's unfortunate political leanings and their relation to his art. With some very good photos.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Seeerious Karacter 14 Dec 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
An excellently sculpted biography that provides great insight into the life of one of America's most influential writers. Carpenter does a superb job at using Pound's life to help illuminate his works. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in becoming more aquainted with Ezra Pound, his influence and his work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious character also proves to be most interesting. 3 Feb 2010
By Ben F. Olena - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Humphrey Carpenter manages the impossible, that is to bring to life a man who's very life seemingly defied description. Ezra Pound emerges from these pages as a Titan in the early years of the free verse struggle. From his birth in the Idaho Territory to his burial in Venice the struggles, triumphs and defeats of Pound are traced with a compassionate, fair and and devoted hand. It is certainly a "must read" for anyone interested in modern poetry and the man who established it as a respectable and engaging literary form.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very well-written biography 21 Jan 2013
By Dick Marti - Published on Amazon.com
I have never been particularly interested in Ezra Pound's poetry. The several times I encountered it left me unimpressed. So I am at a loss to recall how I became interested in reading his biography. Perhaps it was so well written that I persevered in reading it, but that would suggest that the book was a chore to read, which is not true. Pound was a fascinating character and Humphrey Carpenter does him justice in this 1005 page book, 914 pages of which are text---the rest being notes, supplementary material and index. Read it. You won't regret that you did.
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