A Biography of Richard Harding Davis
Age Range: 1864 - 1916
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 Sporadically engaging biography of Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916), the once-celebrated journalist who, among other accomplishments, reported on nearly every international conflict from the 1897 Cuban Revolution to WW I, posed for the male counterpart of the Gibson girl, and introduced the avocado to American dining tables. The eldest child of a newspaperman and a novelist remarkable only for the mawkishness of her literary romances and for her limpet-like attachment to her firstborn, Davis, explains Lubow, came to his writing career quite predictably. When barely out of his teens, the immensely gregarious Davis was already turning out society columns, special reports, and short stories for Charles Scribner and William Randolph Hearst. In addition, he counted Stanford White, Charles Dana Gibson, Ethel Barrymore, and Stephen Crane among his somewhat raffish circle of friends and associates. Interestingly, Davis himself, Lubow notes, was deeply priggish, a legacy of his repressively ``proper'' upbringing. He was also sexually unadventurous and didn't marry until his late 30s, when he formed an alliance with a much younger, ``liberated'' woman. Later divorced, he remarried and fathered a daughter. Harding evidently was a complex figure, but Lubow (a contributing editor to Vanity Fair) fails to plumb the societal implications of his life. A closer examination of the reasons for the championing by contemporary feminists of marriages--like Harding's first--in which spouses were more friends than lovers would have added depth to the portrait, for example. Lubow is more successful in comparing Davis's literary methods and objectives in his several successful novels to those of Stephen Crane. Both writers dealt with life among slum dwellers, Lubow points out; Crane, however, depicted his characters in starkly realistic terms, hoping to underline the need for reform, while Davis sketched his dramatis personae as lovable caricatures, thus reassuring his middle-class audience. Competently organized and smoothly written but lacking significant insights into a potentially intriguing protagonist. (Two eight-page photo inserts--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 20th, 1992
ISBN: 0-684-19404-X
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992