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This review is taken from PN Review 69, Volume 16 Number 1, September - October 1989.

ENTERING THE FOREST Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character, The Life of Ezra Pound (Faber) £20

A butcher's block for biographers, (Canto XCIII)

Ezra Pound was fond of quoting a statement of Turgenev, "the heart of another is a dark forest". A good biographer should respect this simple truth. He must also be motivated by genuine love for his subject, and if he is writing the life of a poet, his first prerequisite is to have an understanding of that poet's work. Humphrey Carpenter, although his book is more readable than previous biographies of Pound and admirably free of jargon, fails on all these counts at a deep level.

At a talk to launch the book at the P.E.N., Carpenter recounted that he had admitted to Faber and Faber that he had almost no knowledge of Pound's poetry when they commissioned him, so the ultimate blame for this huge piece of literary journalism must rest with Pound's publishers.

First, Carpenter constantly misinterprets Pound's intentions, his sinceritas, to use the word that occurs in The Pisan Cantos with such memorable power. He often adopts an irritatingly carping tone; I take a random example: "Ezra disliked (and was jealous of) the Bennett-Wells type of popular-successful novelist,..." (page 113). This is a foolish conjecture. Pound was never jealous of genius, let alone popular novelists, but then genius is a quality that Carpenter apprehends but dimly.

Secondly, throughout the book there is a monotonous trivialization of serious issues, particularly the ethics of the Cantos and their concern for economic justice and ...


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