The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secret of St. Elizabeths

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9780070649835: The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secret of St. Elizabeths

One of the outstanding poets of the twentieth century, Ezra Pound was also an active fascist and anti-Semite. Indicted on nineteen counts of treason for his anti-American broadcasts over Mussolini's Radio Rome during World War II, Pound escaped trial by pleading insanity. He spent the next twelve years at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., until his literary friends--Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish, and William Carlos Williams among them--mounted a campaign to secure his release. In this stunning biography, E. Fuller Torrey, who was himself a psychiatrist at St. Elizabeths, assesses the sanity of Ezra Pound. Using Pound's psychiatric hospital records, which Torrey obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and which had never previously been released, Torrey concludes that Pound did not go mad during World War II. Torrey also reveals the story of the salon Pound ran at St. Elizabeths and describes the collaboration of psychiatrists and poets in maintaining the charade of Pound's insanity. He also discloses, for the first time, Pound's support of Hitler as well as of Mussolini and explicates some of Pound's stranger mystical and sexual beliefs. Torrey integrates Pound's chaotic personal life with his poetry, illuminating both. The Roots of Treason is as entrancing as the moveable feast of literary Paris in the 1920s, and as chilling as the most recent acquittal of a murder who claimed to be insane.

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From the Publisher:

Originally published by McGraw-Hill, 1983. Paperback by Harvest Books, 1984.

From the Author:

Except for the fact that I was "fired" for writing it, The Roots of Treason was an immensely satisfying book to have written. I was a career Public Health Service officer, so technically I could not be completely fired. Excerpts of the book appeared in a Thursday edition of the Washington Post, including my accusation that Dr. Winfred Overholser, a deceased former President of the American Psychiatric Association, had committed perjury to save Ezra Pound from going to trial.

The following Monday, I was summoned to the office of the Director of St. Elizabeths Hospital, where I was working at the time. I was told that because of an unexpected "reorganization," I was no longer a Division Director but was being demoted to ward psychiatrist. The message was clear: accusations of perjury against a former President of the American Psychiatric Association would not be tolerated. The following year, I was put on a surplus list, meaning that I could be ordered to any PHS facility in the country. I began to get the feeling that I was no longer wanted.

But yes, I would certainly do it all again. To do battle with Ezra Pound's quirky character, to try to understand him within the context of his times, to have the pleasure of reading his early poetry, to read unpublished correspondence between him and literati such as Frost, Eliot, Hemingway, et al.--all these and more--was richly satisfying. Ezra Pound will remain with me much longer than the job I lost to get to know him.

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Torrey, E. Fuller
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