Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ezra Pound by Peter Ackroyd, Rudyard Kipling by Kingsley Amis and Conrad by Norman Sherry

These three biographies were all published by Thames and Hudson as a part of their Literary Lives collection.  They're not very long, only about 120 pages, and are filled with photographs of the writers and their family, friends and other significant people from throughout their lives.,204,203,200_.jpg

The first one I read was Rudyard Kipling by Kingsley Amis.  His is truly the best simply because Amis is such a fluid and witty writer.  He does not pull any punches as to his opinions about Kipling's writing abilities, which stories were well-written and those that failed to live up to the great writer's reputation.

We learn that Kipling was an enormously spoiled child being raised by servants in India with parents who let him rule everyone with an iron fist.  After about six years, Kipling's mother apparently woke up to the fact that they were going to have an incorrigible child on their hands, sent him back to England and hired a middle-aged married couple to rear and educate him and his younger sister.

It's a mystery as to why his mother hired strangers to be guardians of her children when willing relatives were available. Of course, it's a mystery to me why someone would leave their young children and return to India, rarely seeing them again.  According to Kipling he was the victim of gross child abuse and neglect and records his nightmarish experience in one of his short stories, Baa, Baa Black Sheep.

How honest an account was this story?  According to Kipling's sister, not very.  Perhaps it was the shock of going from acting as a tiny Anglo-Indian despot to being expected to behave according to British standards, which was harsh enough by our present indulgent attitude towards children.  No sparing of the rod for sure.  But neglect?  We have only Kipling's vindictive story as evidence and I must confess at the time I read it I found it to be rather one-sided.

After leaving the horrible "Uncle Harry and Aunt Rosa", Kipling went on to attend a Navy University where he began writing.  The rest of this short book traces Kipling's development as a writer and travels back and forth from America (he married an American) to England.  It's interesting to note that many of his "exotic" stories  (The Jungle Book, Kim, Riki Tiki Tavi) were written down during the cool autumns and cold winters of a New England estate.

Amis is really funny and such a good writer that whether you like Kipling's writing or not, you will enjoy Amis' biography.
Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936

Conrad by Norman Sherry

I was surprised to learn that Joseph Conrad was born and raised in Poland and worked on boats and ships for eighteen years before writing.

Apparently he spoke English with such a thick accent people could barely understand him.  This makes it all the more remarkable that the author of such British classics and required school reading as Lord Jim and the Heart of Darkness was writing in a language other than his mother tongue.

Sherry traces the years of Conrad's shipping career and also connects the many captains, sailors and shipmates he worked with to the characters in his novels.

Like Kipling he was almost anti-social and, also like Kipling, guilty of neglecting his family for long swathes of time.
Joseph Conrad 1857-1924

But neither of these men can hold a candle to the American author in this Literary Library

For sheer narcissism, child neglect and marital infidelity (of which neither Kipling nor Conrad were ever guilty of as far as is known) the award goes to Ezra Pound.

Let's just say the man  was crazy.  I mean literally.  He spent almost eighteen years in an insane asylum, which I'm sure he found preferable to being charged with treason since he was a follower of Mussollini.

Pound was a part of the American ex-patriot group that traveled through out Europe, meeting in Parisian Cafes with the likes of T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  He was great friends with many contemporary artists and writers such as W.B. Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska  but his anti-social and increasingly pro-fascist ideologies successfully alienated him to most of his friends.

He was a tormented soul and one wonders why his wife, the British painter Dorothy Shakespear (it's spelled without an "e") tolerated it, even when, while living in Italy, he sent their son off to England to be raised by relatives.  He never associated with his son and only child from his marriage for the rest of his life but became quite close to the daughter of his mistress, the violinist Olga Rudge who followed everywhere he and Dorothy lived.

At one time, Ezra's health was so bad that Dorothy and Olga lived together to nurse him.  Towards the end of his life, however, he and Dorothy became strangers and he died with only Olga in attendance.
Ezra Pound 1885-1972

All three of these books are loaded with photos of the writers and their lives and that is partly of what makes them gems to add to the biography section of any home library (I, of course, speak for myself, insert big self-satisfied smile here).


Unknown said...

Great post Sharon! It is interesting that you wrote about Rudyard Kipling because I was just thinking about him while my girls were watching one of their favorite movies "The Jungle Book"! His biography sound fascinating with his strange upbringing. The Conrad and Ezra Pound biography also sound very interesting. I have always been interested in Paris in the 1920's when all the great artist like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Braque, and Dali hung out there. It will be interesting to learn more about Ezra Pounds time in Paris.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Chris! Lately, I, too, have become interested in the ex-patriot group in Paris of the 1920s. Actually the time period from WWI to WWII interest me. I like the photographs from the period as well as the writers.

Phyllis Winn said...

are all of Ezra Pounds pictures so morose? I would think so, according to the description of his life.

Cleo said...

So interesting! With my biography project, I wish the list had focussed on biographies like these, but I can tell that they were trying to choose autobiographies ..... sensible, but after a while it gets tiring.

I was just at a university lecture about C.S. Lewis and his friend Dom. Bede Griffiths, and they mentioned how Lewis and Eliot had a sort of "tiff" and that Lewis disliked Ezra Pound's influence on him. Thanks to your review, I now know why. Fortunately Charles Williams brought Lewis and Eliot together and they buried their differences.

Thanks for these great reviews! It's helpful to have information about authors before you read their works as it helps you to understand them better.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Phyllis. I truly do not think Ezra was a happy man. He was an intensely selfish man which would explain his sad life, I think.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Cleopatra. I had read that about Eliot and Lewis. From the book, I don't think Pound was nice to Eliot, even though Eliot was supportive of Pound.

I didn't know that it was Charles Williams that brought Eliot and Lewis together. How interesting. I have only recently discovered Williams literature. I've read a few of his stories and they are fascinating.

I agree with you. Autobiographies are certainly interesting and provide insight into people but I like to read other sources as well in order to get a more objective view.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - It seems that your posts have not been showing up in my blog reader. I am working to get that resolved.

These biographies sound very good. I am always torn about reading books like this however. There are so many of the actual works to read and reading time is so scarce, I ask myself whether i want to read biographies or actual books by the authors themselves.

I never knew that Pound was such a bad character.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian! Thanks for visiting. I was beginning to wonder because you're usually the first person to comment on my blog.

I know what you mean about reading biographies and this is actually the first time in my life that I have started reading bios.

I don't know why. I go through phases and I have developed a strong interest in reading about the lives of writers I like.

But it's a tricky business finding reliable sources; some authors are more biased than others. Which means I need to read many reviews of who is considered the best authority and then read more than one biography myself.

I will be reviewing many of these biographies in the near future. Hopefully they will be about people you are interested in and that will save you a little time, perhaps.

As for Ezra, I need to read more sources before I feel sure I know what he's about. He does seem to have gone off the deep end.