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Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) Paperback – December 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Exile's Return (1934) is one of the volumes that cinched Cowley's reputation as the Boswell of the "Lost Generation" of writers and artists who flocked to Paris following World War I. More than just another catalog of anecdotes on the expatriate games of Stein, Hemingway, Joyce, etc., this documents the transition of American literature and culture during one of its greatest periods of change.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Malcolm Cowley (1898–1989) a leadiing literary figure of his time, wrote numerous books of literary criticism, essays, and poetry.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Twentieth Century Classics
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; First edition (December 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140187766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140187762
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #492,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
I had expected EXILE'S return to be more of a straightforward history of the Lost Generation, and was somewhat surprised to find instead a profoundly insightful, exceedingly well-written reflection on Malcolm Cowley's literary generation. As a result, many writers that we associate with that decade, e.g., Ernst Hemingway, receive almost no mention, whereas others, e.g., Hart Crane, get a considerable amount. The highest praise that I can bestow on this book is that in looking now at the poetry and literature of that period, I feel much more at home in their world than I did before reading Cowley. A marvelous book in man, many ways.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Robert Pratte on December 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
Cowley was many things: author, poet, editor, reviewer, American expatriate in Paris. He was aware of his diverse past and constantly strove to contextualize himself within what was going on around him. Exile's Return was his first such attempt. In it Cowley recounts his experiences in such notable hot-spots as pre-war Greenwich Village and inter-war Paris. Moreover, he examines the movements of which he was a part within larger historical/literary/artistic trends.

There are some things to bear in mind with this work, however. Cowley returned to his past often, and often his return would bring re-evaluation. While there is some evidence of this habit across the various editions of Exile's Return, the trail of revision is more apparent by comparing this work against other retrospectives (Dream of the Golden Mountains, View From 80, etc.).

Another issue with Cowley is that he (as most, especially Modernist, writers) tends to favor his own position. That is, he perhaps exaggerates his own part and importance. This tendency becomes controversial within the context of his chapter on Harry Crosby. While they were clearly acquainted, Caresse Crosby (Harry's wife), among others, thought that Cowley didn't know Harry well enough to write what they considered a spurious account of Crosby's last days.

However, even with these negatives the book is highly recommended. In it, one gets a concise introduction to Modernism, important figures in the expatriate movement and inter-war Paris, and pre-war New York. Further, one receives a context of how these movements and people fit together. Among Cowley's works, this is one of his finest.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Michael S. Wiegand on February 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Cowley was the ultimate in a thinking,toughly idealistic American living a literary dream in an epoch which permitted the indulgence. Jaggedly incisive as a writer, Cowley decided instead that editing was his prowess and observation his art. So he proceeded. Much romantic lore has been made of the many great American authors inhabiting the Left Bank scene in Paris in the 1920s. Exile's Return makes sense of the historical, literary and personal sequence of events leading to this decade-long picnic, and transforms the legend and nostalgia into the movingly profound minutiae of everyday life and thought amongst the loose collection of free spirits who changed modern conceptions of Western literary art forever. Artistic and intellectual achievements notwithstanding, "une generation perdue" comprised some very desperate and talented people trying to make sense of a world gone mad and define themselves within the insanity. A lot like now. Imagine an author being able to account for the global, tragic complexity emblematic in 9/11 and explain its implications for humanity and civilization's expressions. Flash back eight decades and you have Cowley's subject matter and his accomplishment. Let's hope someday somebody equals Malcolm Cowley's formidable ability to observe and explicate, and make us love, in retrospect, a loveless and temporarily hopeless age as it finds its way into our favorite novels and poems.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Walter M. Holmes on February 9, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Exile's Return

This is a book of essays, anecdotes, and observations. They are primarily concerned with the 'Lost Generation' of American writers who spent time in Paris between 1918 and 1930. Donald W. Faulkner provides the Introduction and Cowley, who made some revisions to the 1934 publication in 1951, writes a note on the text.

I imagine that many of the 'senior citizens', such as myself, will have some sense of familiarity with the subject matter. A few may have read the book in the days of their youth. Unless they are experts on the subject they will find Cowley's intimate perspective interesting, and they will enjoy the easy accessible style of the writing.

For younger generations it may not be the best introduction to the period. The names Hart Crane, Harry Crosby, and Edmund Wilson should have some resonance, as well those more familiar ones such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

Appendices include A Selective Chronology of Events from 1915 to 1934, and A Tabular History of the Literary Life, 1924-1949.

Many detailed works on the authors and the period have been written since. Cowley's perceptions do not date, as they are more of less contemporary rather than historical. But it must be said that they do not provide a suitably informative introduction for those readers not already familiar with the territory.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By P. J. Sullivan on June 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is the story of the so-called lost generation of American writers, their alienation from their American roots, their attempts to replace America's "mechanical" values with moral values, by escaping to Europe or into themselves. Of their struggle to reconcile their need for self-expression with their need to make a living. The crass money values of America drove them overseas, but their need for American money always drew them back, back to an America that was changed, in their perceptions.

This is not an easy read. It is literary criticism but also contains strong elements of aesthetics, philosophy, history, and especially, sociology. So many interweaving threads are hard to follow. The isms involved are complex: Bohemianism, Dadaism, Symbolism, etc. But there are flashes of brilliant writing here.

The author was steeped in literature, up to his neck. He lived it, full-time. He knew the big names on both sides of the Atlantic. This book is very much an inside view of the mostly-American literary scene to 1930.
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