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The Enormous Room

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,728 Ratings  ·  163 Reviews

A high-energy romp, the poet's prose memoir recounts his military service in World War I, when a comedy of errors led to his unjust arrest and imprisonment for treason. This edition restores a significant amount of material deleted from the book's initial publication in 1922.

Paperback, 271 pages
Published March 1st 1970 by Liveright Publishing Corporation (first published 1922)
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War-time Japes

The Enormous Room, the fictionalised account of Cummings's arrest and incarceration by the French on charges of sedition during WWI, reads like a Billy Bunter story. The protagonist is obnoxious and endearing in about equal measure.

The various French authorities (and for that matter American, Cummings accommodates everyone), from the snobbish regional police chief to his medievally minded jailers are more or less treated with the disdain a clever 12 year old feels, but rarely shows
K.D. Absolutely
Jun 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2004-2010)
He preferred that his name be written as “e. e. cummings” because some of his poems were also all in lowercase. I’ve read some of those and I really liked them so when I saw this book, even at a regular price, I immediately bought and read this.

Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962) was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He wrote poetry daily from the age of 8 to 22. During World War I, when he was 23, he volunteered as ambulance driver in France. He went there with a frien
Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had the power to describe e.e. cummings's prose, I'd be even more of a genius than he was. I can't understand why he spent so much time writing poetry instead. Who else speaks of "a spic, not to say span, gentleman"? Observes a man "buckle his personality" and "bang forward with bigger and bigger feet"? Explains that he "hoisted my suspicious utterances upon my shoulder, which recognized the renewal of hostilities with a neuralgic throb"? Says that "rain did, from time to time, not fall: fr ...more
Halfway through, even two-thirds of the way through, I was struggling with this book. I was struggling until almost the very end when all of a sudden, I realized two things. Firstly, what the book was really about - friendship and the sense of freedom and confidence felt when one has gotten through a terrible experience alive. Secondly, that the author had made me emotionally struggle when he was struggling and I felt emotionally relieved, revived and so alive when he felt so too. The emotional ...more
Sep 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Es una pena que un libro tan impactante haya pasado desapercibido y no lo haya leído casi nadie. La habitación enorme (1922) se basa en un hecho que le sucedió a E.E. Cummings en Francia durante la Primera Guerra Mundial. Por un error burocrático, un noble norteamericano (el propio Cummings) que conducía ambulancias durante la Gran Guerra da con sus huesos en una celda francesa (la habitación enorme del título) compartida con varios presos, a cual más pintoresco. Durante los meses que estuvo cau ...more
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
It struck me at the time as intensely interesting that, in the case of a certain type of human being, the more cruel are the miseries inflicted upon him the more cruel does he become toward anyone who is so unfortunate as to be weaker or more miserable than himself."
― E.E. Cummings, The Enormous Room


Prison Literature as a genre is fascinating. Like war literature, there is this gap between those who have actually lived in prison and their experiences and those who imagine. Certainly the job of t
Feb 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imagine if "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was funny. Yeah, that's kind of what "The Enormous Room" is like. I'm glad I read it. But I'm also really glad Cummings stuck to poetry after this. Fiction is definitely not his thing. He spends most of the book writing character sketches of all the other inmates, and giving them cute nicknames. And I suppose it's easy to be light-hearted about the time you spent in a French prison/detention center if you were only there for 4 months. There's not ...more
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Ugh. Not finishing and NOT going to.

I absolutely adore e.e.cummings poetry. But this memoir of his months in a French prison during WWI just does absolutely nothing for me. I was pushing myself to keep going, and kept pushing, but after getting about 60% of the way through, I give up.

I can see why this would work for other people, but it just didn't work for me. It comes off as a series of barely organized anecdotes, with a thin thread of only semi-chronological narrative winding through. Sure,
Aug 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-08-aug
This as my second attempt, didn't beyond a third of the way through on the first go. This time with the help of serial reader I've finished. For me this could have been so much more enjoyable if I'd felt empathy with the characters.
May 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
K. Makansi
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my opinion, THE ENORMOUS ROOM is absolutely a must-read for every aspiring writer. Perhaps because Cummings was an artist as well, fond of sketching the characters and situations he describes in his book, he has a gift, better than any author I have ever read, for capturing and recording both the physical aspect and the personality of each of his characters.

THE ENORMOUS ROOM is an eclectic jumble of many things. On the one hand, it is a war story. It takes place over the three months of autum
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
During WWI, e.e. cummings was, like Hemingway, a volunteer ambulance driver. According to the back of the book, this book is his account of the "comedy of errors" that "led to his arrest and imprisonment for treason. . . . The author's sense of absurdity transforms the outrage of unjust incarceration into a high-energy romp." This memoir, the back continues, "ranks with the best of its contemporaries, including the works of Hemingway."

Lies, lies, lies. I rarely fail to finish a book, but this wa
Although fiction, this is apparently very much a memoir of Cummings' four months in prison in France during WWI.

I am torn between three and four stars.

I loved his writing style, especially the incorporation of French words and phrases into the text without translation. It reminds me of the way we (American students) spoke amongst ourselves when studying in France in college, constantly pulling French into our predominantly (sadly) conversations in English. I thought this worked really well, li
Mar 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, world-war-i
Cummings, imprisoned for supporting anti-war sentiments in France, describes the strange and poorly-run prison where he spent the end of the war.

Though he's devastatingly clever and does his fair share of attacking the madness and incompetence of the French government and the modern world in general, what's really striking about this book is the voice of the speaker. He's full of amusement and wonder, despite the awful things going on around him, and choosing to focus on the memorable characters
Not at all what I expected, easy to read and enjoyable, plus auto-biographical.
Interesting for the subject material but found the sense of humour a bit trying from time to time.
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"But if he could describe it all
He would be an artist.
But if he were an artist there would he deeper wounds
Which he could not describe."
--from "Silence" by Edgar Lee Masters

I discovered that poem when I was younger, and those lines at the end of a stanza about a former solider who's unable to talk about what WWI was like for him have stuck with me. Every time I opened this book, I couldn't help them running through my head.

e.e. cummings is one of my favorite poets, but until earlier this year
Feb 19, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-biography
I read this book based on some random internet recommendation. It was in a list of "books you have to read you've never heard of before" type list. The author of that list was correct in that I'd never heard of it before. I'm not sure it was one I had to read though.

I actually haven't read anything by cummings before so I had no idea what to expect in terms of style or content. In fact, I knew very little to nothing about cummings beyond his name and reputation. I didn't even know his gender bef
Robert Beveridge
E. E. Cummings, The Enormous Room (Liveright, 1921)

Cummings became famous for his poetry, but before that he wrote a now obscure novel-cum-memoir about his temporary imprisonment during World War I, The Enormous Room. Modeled loosely after Bunyan's magnum opus, Pilgrim's Progress, Cummings gives us the arrest and detention (for he is never sent to prison, only detained awaiting the word of the Commission on whether he is to be imprisoned or freed) of a friend of his and himself. The friend is ch
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So this is what you get when a poet writes a fictionalized (?) account of his 4 months' detention in France during WWI. There's little of 'story' here - just a constellation of character sketches (including Cummings' actual drawings of his fellow inmates), the lovely occasional insight, and a lot of clever and delightful phrases. Hard to read all at once; I confess I skimmed the last 50 pages, but it's worth the time to go at a more pedestrian pace and savor all the little bits of humor in the w ...more
There were sections of this book that I really enjoyed, while other parts I found dragged a bit. This might be partly because, while there is definitely a beginning and an end, the middle part doesn't really have a linear plot, and there are a large number of characters I had a little bit of trouble keeping straight (although this is at least partly due to how long it took me to read, I think). I also think I missed out on some of the jokes/interactions because of the amount of dialogue in Frenc ...more
Jonathan Appleton
OK, maybe 2.5 stars.
This book has excellent prose. If this fulfills your needs then this by all means you'll love it. The English is floral seasoned with a lot of French. Still it reminds me of Cheech & Chong:

The first day of my summer vacation:
I woke up, then I went downtown to look for a job. Then I hung out in front of the drug store.
The second day of my summer vacation:
I woke up, then I went downtown to look for a job. Then I hung out in front of the drug store.
The third day of my summer
Apr 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew that I liked ee cummings as a poet, so I thought I'd try him as a novelist. This is a book that needs to simmer after you read it. At times, all you want to do is wallow in the text, floating around in the strange syntaxes and odd word usage. Cummings takes the English language and flips it upside down, then twirls it around to fit the shapes of his ideas. The only reason I gave it 4 stars and not 5 is that this language usage can become too personal, so only cummings knows exactly what h ...more
Sherry Chandler
Aug 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who think the Geneva Conventions are quaint
Shelves: thepoets, anti-war
I actually read an old Modern Library edition of this book without ISBN that originally sold for 95 cents and that we bought at the library bookstore for $5.00.

The book struck me as a celebration of the human spirit. The men imprisoned in The Enormous Room endure squalor, disease, malnutrition but the greatest loss is the loss of freedom. Still, a few pure spirits soar in Cummings's prose.

Read this if you think the Geneva Conventions are quaint.
Paul Lima
Jul 17, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am calling this book 'finished' even though I have not finished it. I don't get it. It's by E.E. Cummings, the humerous poet. But I don't know if this is comedy, satire, drama, tragedy. Mostly I just found the 100+ pages that I read kind of boring. Not much happens, and I am not sure what happens when it does. It feels like a WWI 'Catch-22' in some way, but I really am not sure if it's satire. If anybody knows, do let me know!
Was it all the French that frustrated me and made me bored out of my mind? Or was it the realization that Cummings was a Protestant agnostic who basically worshiped himself? Hard to say. I was hoping this experience would have purified him more, but much like his poetry, the book is ambiguous.
It's very clearly a memoir written by a poet--a slightly obscure style, meandering narrative movement... and flashes of incredible momentary insight. Worth reading more than once.
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
An amazing text from WWI, this typescript edition has E.E. Cumming's illustrations to accompany the story of his imprisonment during the war.
This should be three and a half stars.
Rasa Stirbys
Feb 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is for lovers of history, war, poetry, mice, crowds, jazz, lonliness, hysteria.
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as because it is one of the 1001 Books to Read in Your Lifetime. I chose it because I love cummings’s poetry, was unaware that he had been imprisoned in France during WW1, and equally ignorant of the fact that he wrote a fictionalized account of his ordeal.

The book itself is anticlimactic. It recounts the days before his arrest, the days he spent in the eponymous enormous room, and a bit of what happened after his liberation. What makes this book special is the glimpse into cummings’
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Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 1894. He began writing poems as early as 1904 and studied Latin and Greek at the Cambridge Latin High School.

He received his BA in 1915 and his MA in 1916, both from Harvard University. His studies there introduced him to the poetry of avant-garde writers, such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

In 1917, Cummings published a
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“By the way, a gendarme assured me this is not a prison.” 24 likes
“I was too tired to think. I merely felt the town as a unique unreality. What was it? I knew -- the moon's picture of a town. These streets with their houses did not exist, they were but a ludicrous projection of the moon's sumptuous personality. This was a city of Pretend, created by the hypnotism of moonnight. -- Yet when I examined the moon she too seemed but a painting of a moon and the sky in which she lived a fragile echo of color. If I blew hard the whole shy mechanism would collapse gently with a neat soundless crash. I must not, or lose all.” 20 likes
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