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The Enormous Room

by e.e.cummings

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894, Edward Estlin Cummings rebelled against the prevailing values of his Harvard and Unitarianism-steeped milieu. His relentless search for personal freedom led him to Greenwich Village in early 1917, where he established himself as a Modernist, composing his sui generis poems and abstract paintings. Later that year, he impulsively joined the war, serving in a Red Cross ambulance unit on the Western Front. His free-spirited, combative ways, however, soon got him tagged as a possible enemy of La Patrie, and he was summarily tossed into a French concentration camp at La Ferte-Mace in Normandy.

Unexpectedly, under the vilest conditions, Cummings found fulfillment of his ever-elusive quest for freedom. The Enormous Room (1922), the fictional account of his four-month confinement, reads like a Pilgrim’s Progress of the spirit, a journey into dispossession, to a place among the most debased and deprived of human creatures. Yet Cummings’s hopeful tone reflects the essential paradox of his experience: to lose everything — all comforts, all possessions, all rights and privileges — is to become free, and so to be saved. Drawing on the diverse voices of his colorful prisonmates — Emile the Bum, the Fighting Sheeney, One-Eyed Dah-veed — Cummings weaves a “crazy-quilt” of language, which makes The Enormous Room one of the most evocative instances of the Modernist spirit and technique, as well as “one of the very best of the war-books” (T. E. Lawrence).

 


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Released
01 May, 1999

About e.e.cummings

One of the most important and popular American poets of the 20th century, e. e. cummings is best known for his brilliant and innovative verse and its distinctive lack of uppercase letters and conventional grammar. He was also a Cubist painter and a World War I veteran. At the age of 23, he abandoned his artistic pursuits for voluntary service as an ambulance driver in France. His military career culminated in a comedy of errors leading to his arrest and imprisonment for treason, as he memorably recounts in The Enormous Room.Cummings transforms a tale of unjust incarceration into a high-energy romp and a celebration of the indomitable human spirit that ranks with the best of its contemporaries, including the works of Hemingway and Dos Passos. This edition restores a significant amount of material deleted from the book's initial publication in 1922.



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