Improvised Europeans : American literary expatriates and the siege of London /
by Alex Zwerdling.
1st ed.
New York : Basic Books, c1998.
xvi, 383 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., ports. ; 24 cm.
0465032753 (hc)
More Details
New York : Basic Books, c1998.
0465032753 (hc)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 319-370) and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1998-05-04:
Taking his title from a letter by Henry Adams, and his subtitle in part from a short story by Henry James, Zwerdling (Orwell and the Left; Virginia Woolf and the Real World) examines the expatriate experience of four American writers: Adams, James, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Tracing these writers' conflicted attitudes toward their own country, Zwerdling examines how, while forging their individual careers abroad, they altered America's literary landscape. All four shared a moral high-mindedness, familial pride and a rage for order that made them temperamentally unsuited to the chaotic experiment of American democracy. Common scorn of native provincialism, alarm at the influx of non-English-speaking immigrants, loathing of the new plutocracy and (except for James) blatant anti-Semitism were matched with a corresponding conviction (except for Pound) of "Anglo-Saxon" cultural superiority. Expatriation may have offered "a way of achieving abroad what no longer seems possible at home," but as Zwerdling observed of James, "being a citizen of the world might only be a glamorous name for homelessness." A foreign capital like London offered immense opportunities and fed the peculiarly "American capacity to remake oneself," but long absences from home tended to mean that expatriates didn't keep up with the American evolution. Zwerdling offers many nuanced and thought-provoking insights without ever lapsing into theoretical jargon. This is a masterful synthesis of biography with literary, social and political history, an eloquent and compelling account of the creative freedom that expatriation allows and the high price it exacts. (June)
Appeared in Choice on 1998-12:
Why would a group of major US writers desert their home culture for London just when the US pulled even with Great Britain as a world power? Zwerdling (Univ. of California, Berkeley) is the first to ask the question clearly and provide a detailed and convincing answer. The author takes Henry Adams's phrase as a title and thoroughly rummages through both published and unpublished writings for his answer. Henry Adams, Henry James, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot were part of the Anglo-Saxon establishment as the US rose in world power--and, significantly, as Jews, the Irish, and Eastern and Southern Europeans immigrated to the US looking to share this power. In addition, women were rising in status. Zwerdling shows in detail why the authors fled these new rivals and why they put London, not Paris, under siege. The later expatriates to Paris are easier to psych out; Zwerdling's book will be crucial to those wishing to understand and explain the careers of writers who fled "back home," so to speak. This is fresh thinking and fresh research, beyond any previously published, and it is thoroughly documented. Zwerdling's book will not endear these major writers to the reader, but it will lead to a new understanding of them. All collections. Q. Grigg; formerly, Hamline University
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, May 1998
Publishers Weekly, May 1998
Booklist, June 1998
Reference & Research Book News, November 1998
Choice, December 1998
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
The Transatlantic Slanging Matchp. 1
The Reconciliation Fantasyp. 19
Anglo-Saxon Panicp. 41
Henry Adams's Baffled Patriotismp. 61
Adams Adrift, 1890-1918p. 95
Henry James's Cosmopolitan Opportunityp. 125
James's Patriotic Readers and the Perils of Transatlantic Unionp. 155
Henry James: The Return of the Nativep. 183
Ezra Pound: The Appearance of the Cometp. 215
Pound's Meteoric Descentp. 237
T.S. Eliot's Career Strategyp. 263
Displacing Eliot's Poetryp. 289
Acknowledgmentsp. 317
Notesp. 319
Indexp. 371
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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