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Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s

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3.99  ·  Rating details ·  401 ratings  ·  54 reviews
The adventures and attitudes shared by the American writers dubbed "The Lost Generation" are brought to life here by one of the group's most notable members. Feeling alienated in the America of the 1920s, Fitzgerald, Crane, Hemingway, Wilder, Dos Passos, Cowley, and many other writers "escaped" to Europe, some forever, some as temporary exiles. As Cowley details in this in ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published December 1st 1994 by Penguin Classics (first published 1951)
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Sketchbook
Mar 05, 2012 rated it liked it
The Sacred Cowley, a dull, colorless writer and Outsider, shares some worthy notes. What I remember about Cowley is that his soon-to-be-exwife Peggy was "romancing" Hart Crane in Mexico and was w him on the boat when Hart jumped overboard. ~~ Are you thinking what I'm thinking ?

Cowley attained a thimble of fame in Paris, 1923, by socking the proprietor of the Dome -- and managed to avoid 6 months in jail. Robert McAlmon later wrote that Cowley soon returned to America to join The New Republic wh
...more
Jonfaith
Nov 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetshere, crit
You have left the stage and you did not even bow.

Such concludes a letter Cowley wrote to himself, amidst the poet's perambulations, his inability to find solace or create an eternal Art. Such was his quest. Quixotic, perhaps, but not as a pejorative.

Much of this book is gossipy. It also attempts to repudiate Wilson's Axel's Castle thesis about the how integral Symbolism is in Yeats, Joyce and Proust. My interest was honestly waning. He then devotes considerable space to Hart Crane and Harry Cro
...more
P.J. Sullivan
This is the story of the so-called lost generation of American writers, of their alienation from their American roots, their attempts to replace America's "mechanical values" with moral values by escaping to Europe. Of their struggles 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 drew them back, back to an America that was changed, in their perceptions.

This is a narrative of
...more
Mary
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it

A celebration of the brilliant people the essayist knew in Greenwich Village and in France during and after the war. It's personal without being too anecdotal and does a good job of showing the appreciation for form during this period, which is still useful for anyone who really cares about what makes for good writing. However, I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the author's virtual indifference to black writers from the same period who were just as talented and productive as their white
...more
John David
Book-length descriptions of a certain age, time, or zeitgeist can be tricky to write. Depending on its relative importance, the writer can find herself exhausting all the information there is to offer, or choosing the most compelling vignettes and personalities to write about. Worse than either of these is the highly subjective take in which the author makes large, unwieldy extrapolations based on personal relationships with the people to be found within the book’s pages. In his retelling of the ...more
Mitch
Jun 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Very possibly the book that made the most impression on me during university, therefore fantastic. A glimpse into the lives of Fitzgerland, Hemingway, Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and others. On my to-read shelf to revisit.
Josh
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: joshbooks
Excellent account of the "lost generation" told by someone who knew all the major players. ...more
Bob
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Exile's Return" documents the experience of Cowley and other members of the Lost Generation in the 1920s.
Originally writing in 1934 about the 1920s, then substantially revising the book in the 1950s, we are given several layers of Cowley commenting on his own experience and his thinking about it. In the manner of Patrick Leigh Fermor or Robert Byron, the "non-fiction" nature of the work is secondary to its literary impact. The anecdotal quality of some of the starting points (being introduced t
...more
Deborah
Jan 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Literary junkies, history buffs, and everyone else!
Recommended to Deborah by: UC Berkeley english dept :)
This text was like a secret glimpse inside the lives of 1920s authors. You get to learn about the bar fights, affairs, and other drunken acts that inspired the great books of this century. I found it rather surprising that one man was so well-connected to this scene, as Malcolm Cowley befriended almost every major author of the time (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and my favorite e.e. cummings). By reading this, you get to really understand why WW1, the economy, and social change created the ...more
Jason
Dec 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Wonderful stories that greatly humanizes a great many writers and personalities from the 1920s.
Illiterate
Crowley uses his life to narrate the lost generation. The best bits are the occasional flashes of historical analysis (eg. Bohemianism).
Kathleen Hulser
May 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
The casual cosmopolitanism, the rage against the bourgeoisie, the sense of infinite time for cafe life (backed by an American dollar as strong as the fiercest vinasse). Cowley chronicles bohemian times in Paris, the village, the dilapidated farmhouses where writer's solitude was sought then tossed aside as too bereft of stimulation. His analysis of the fury of DaDa and its close kinship to the religion of art that it seemingly rejected could be transposed to many a later alternative art scene. T ...more
Gabriel
Aug 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Little snippets about Eugene O'Neil interacting with mobsters in the speakeasies of Manhattan, and remarkable descriptions of Hemingway, Proust, Joyce, not to mention a wonderful slew of anecdotes from Cowley's own life, and interesting intellectual history, such as the history of bohemianism, the expat experience, and what happened to the lost generation. If you like any of the authors mentioned in here, you should read this book. ...more
Nick Guzan
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An invaluable chronicle of the 1920s literary expatriates, Cowley's book benefits from his first-hand perspectives and participation. He allows himself to "intrude" on his narrative just enough to keep the book authentic while staying broad enough to encapture the entire era and scene rather than serving as a straight memoir.

I had chosen to read it mostly to learn more about Harry Crosby but all major figures from the era receive appropriate love.
...more
Johnny
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An in-depth and fascinating review of modernism in Paris. Written from an outside perspective it adds a certain authenticity to the plethora due to its stark honesty even though it is often looking at other real figures in he scene, however, without the veil of fiction that most other pieces from the period rely on.
Richard Chandler
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An informative retelling of the Lost Generation. Well worth reading. Of particular interest to those interested in: Hart Crane, Harry Crosby, the Dada movement, or the boom of post WWI literary reviews devoted to modernism and its offshoots.
Hilary
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A definitive work on the lost generation and their experiences abroad written by a man intimate with the members of this group. Was an invaluable research tool for my thesis on the lost generation and transnationalism in literature.
Katrinka
Nov 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Pretty good, but Cowley's account would make it seem that women were more or less absent in a significant, contributing way from the literary and artistic developments that occurred during the 1920s (Gertrude Stein is mentioned dismissively; Katherine Anne Porter gets a shout-out in an appendix). ...more
Alicia Beale
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It has really influenced my ideas on art and its creation. Also, it's a timeless understanding of the artist living amongst capitalism. ...more
Sophie
Aug 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Lost Generation. A masterpiece that coined the phrase.
Karen
I can never get enough of Lost Generation writing. I especially enjoyed the extended portrait of Harry Crosby.
Bob
Jul 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
The "non-fiction" corollary to A MOVABLE FEAST. Oddly relevent. ...more
Robert Ripson
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
An interesting insight to the mindset of writers coming of age in the 1920s and the forces that shaped their outlook.
Ian
Starts strong, but falls apart about half way through when he's back in the U.S.

Quotes/Notes:

Life in [the United States] is joyless and colorless, universally standardized, tawdry, uncreative, given over to the worship of wealth and machinery.

Cowley was, as he saw it, in the company of the high priests of art. Their ideas were as palpable as their presence in Parisian cafe society. Once could, as Cowley did, attend Gertrude Stein's salons, meet with Joyce in his apartment, talk of Shakespeare's
...more
Jay McMullen
Mar 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Not what I was expecting but engaging.
Quiet
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best memoirs of the 1920's written in terms of American significance.

I realized little over a year ago, while on my first travel abroad, how what I valued of literature primarily was American. The 1920's being my wheelhouse, it was only when I myself had achieved some small expatriation when I realized all my internal interpretations remained American; though I had fled (and continue to this day to do so) America because of my disagreements with the social public (neo-marxists, victim
...more
Bill Wallace
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly entertaining, though I found myself more engrossed in the chapters about less familiar subjects. I've read better accounts of the 20s in Greenwich Village and Paris, but the late 20s, when a fair population of New York literati took to rural Connecticut was new to me. That chapter in particular felt like lost history. I also really enjoyed the final essay, about the life and death of Harry Crosby, the publisher of Black Sun Press, and I will be chasing down a copy of that latter day d ...more
Spencer
Dec 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
This was assigned reading for a book group. Had it not been for the assignment, I would not have read it. It's a non-fiction book about expatriate writers in Paris during the 1920s, which also includes 1930. Their motivations and goals are explained in a way that I feel only a fellow writer could understand. It also covers how they returned to their mother countries, and at least for the Americans with a new appreciation for their country. The author lived among them and writes from first hand k ...more
Ned
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Exile’s Return is a haunting elegy for the moment in the early 1920’s when the fleeting notion of a worthwhile artistic life tantalized, then ultimately abandoned, an entire generation of American writers. At its best this thoughtful cultural document is an indictment of the spread of bourgeoisie values, industrialism, corporatism and vapidity. In seeking a life worth living as expatriates these ‘refugees were also trying to escape something more subtle, some quality of American civilization tha ...more
Terin
Mar 20, 2021 added it
So, to be honest, I have been eager to read this book for research for my current work-in-progress.

I wasn't disappointed by what I found - essentially a retelling of the popular history of the December death of poet and dilettante Harry Crosby as an illustrative end of the excesses of what F. Scott Fitzgerald dubbed "the Jazz Age" and Gertrude Stein, via Ernest Hemingway, dubbed "The Lost Generation."

However, this book -- first published in 1934, then revised and published in 1951 -- purports t
...more
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Malcolm Cowley was an American novelist, poet, literary critic, and journalist. Cowley is also recognized as one of the major literary historians of the twentieth century, and his Exile's Return, is one of the most definitive and widely read chronicles of the 1920s.

Cowley was one of the dozens of creative literary and artistic figures who migrated during the 1920s to Paris and congregated in Montp
...more

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