Literary gaffes: a nitpicking footnote to Boswell

Wednesday 19 July 2006

In his otherwise very fine novel Boswell, Stanley Elkin has his protagonist “lunch with Ezra Pound at St Albans”. No doubt Elkin meant to say St Elizabeths, the mental hospital in which Pound was incarcerated at the time the novel takes place.
It seems a fitting mistake, given that Pound’s writing is notorious for being stuffed with references to obscure people and places, quite often misspelled, misremembered, or just plain wrong. For nearly ten years a team of editors pored over Pound’s Cantos and identified several hundred factual errors for correction, before deciding to abandon the project: not out of fatigue, but of a realisation that they were probably pulling apart the web of allusions that held the poem together, or at the very least “spoiling some of his puns.”
Some editions still have these “corrections”, others don’t. There was a general consensus among Pound scholars thirty years ago not to tinker with the poem any further, one way or another, until they had a better idea of what the poem is about.