Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: July 26, 2022
The Enormous Room
by E.E. Cummings, introduction by Nicholas Delbanco
The August selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club
In 1917, after the entry of America into World War I, E. E. Cummings, a recent graduate of Harvard College, volunteered to serve on an ambulance corps in France. He arrived in Paris with a new friend, William Slater Brown, and they set about living it up in the big city before heading off to their assignment. Once in the field, they wrote irreverent letters about their experiences, which attracted the attention of the censors and ultimately led to their arrest. They were held for months in a military detention camp, sharing a single large room with a host of fellow detainees. It is this experience that Cummings relates in lightly fictionalized form in The Enormous Room, a book in which a tale of woe becomes an occasion of exuberant mischief. A free-spirited novel that displays the same formal swagger as his poems, a stinging denunciation of the stupidity of military authority, and a precursor to later books like Catch-22 and MASH, Cummings’s novel is an audacious, uninhibited, lyrical, and lasting contribution to American literature.
The canonical works of the First World War are most frequently concerned with the squandered lives of young men, yet Cummings’s report invaluably expands the reader’s grasp of the catastrophe. . . . The Enormous Room was originally published before Cummings’s debut collection of poems. . . and exhibits much of the fragmentary style and lively spirit for which his poetry would become known. Yet beneath these flourishes lies a sincere and biting critique of those responsible for the conflict, which rings as true now, in the book’s centenary year, as it did then.
—Kathleen Rooney, The TLS
The Enormous Room is a good book, an unusual book, an exciting book.
I went through The Enormous Room again . . . and from it knew, more keenly than from my own senses, the tang of herded men, and their smell. The reading is as sharp as being in prison, for all but that crazed drumming against the door which comes of solitary confinement.
—T. E. Lawrence
The Enormous Room lives on, because those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald