Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Whole Harmonium The Life of Wallace Stevens by Paul Mariani (2015, 512 pages)

A few years ago I read and posted on The Broken Tower The Life of Hart Crane by Paul Mariani.
Hart Crane is the perfect stereotype of the Orphic poet living a wild uncontrolled life.  Wallace Stevens (1879 to 1955, born Reading, Pa, died Hartfort Ct.) lead a very mundane life.  Born into an affluent family, he went to Harvard, played around at being a journalist in New York City for a while before he got a job at the Hartford Insurance Company where he would work the rest of his life, rising to the position of executive Vice President.  He married fairly young, had one child, a daughter and his marriage became increasingly unhappy.  Mariani tries to shrug it off as the attitude of the times but I found it hard to not dislike Stevens for his prejudices against Jews and African Americans.  He commonly used the expression "niggers" in an obviously mean spirited petty way.  He enjoyed drinking and fine dining.  He loved hanging out in Key West where he got into a fist fight with Ernest Hemingway, he lost.   

Stevens was a great influence on modern American poetry.  There is a lot of his work quoted and commented on in the book.  Stevens is considered a difficult poet and Mariani is very helpful in understanding his poems.   

This is a book for those interested in Wallace Stevens and those who want to learn more about the development of Modern American poetry.  His life was not exciting, very conventional.  For me the best part of the book was the treatment of the reading life of Stevens.  

The core task of a literary biographer is to place the subject in his cultural context and try to explain how the author's experiences shaped their work.  In the case of Stevens this is very challenging as he has really no highly dramatic experiences.  Life style wise, he and Hart Crane, whose work he admired, were near polar opposites.

I recommend this book to those already predisposed to have an interest.  I am very glad I read this book.

Mel u

Mel u

1 comment:

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