THE LIVES OF ROGER CASEMENT by B. L. Reid

THE LIVES OF ROGER CASEMENT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In 1911 Roger Casement, a Protestant Irishman in the British Consular Service, was knighted by the Crown for his work in exposing racist atrocities in the Belgian Congo and the Amazon. Five years later he was hanged as a traitor for a quixotic attempt to land German arms in Ireland in conjunction with the 1916 Rising. It has taken 60 years for a biographer to rescue him from English calumnies and Irish canonization. Brian Inglis' Roger Casement (1974) was the first serious effort to that end; Inglis managed clinical objectivity but the inner mystery of the man eluded him. Reid (author of Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Quinn) has achieved something more: he has made sympathetic sense out of a life which was fragmented to the point of ""disastrous incoherence."" Reid thinks that Joseph Conrad, who knew Casement in Africa, understood something basic when he wrote: ""I judged that he was a man, properly speaking, of no mind at all. I don't mean stupid. I mean he was all emotion."" What Conrad missed was Casement's ""Pauline conversion"" to Irish nationalism and his increasingly ""ritual or somnambular"" allegiance to Britain. When Casement left Germany for the abortive arms landing, he said ""I am already a dead man."" He wanted desperately to stop the Rising, which he was convinced would fail. It was the final irony in a life filled with ironies and poised on a psychological abyss, a life held together only by courage. Reid agrees with Inglis that the Casement diaries--which the English circulated and the Irish denounced--are authentic. They show Casement, the furtive, compulsive homosexual; but they are also ""tiresome as a fact and as a problem."" Reid's Casement is ""a lesser Hamlet,"" inept and self-deceiving, but genuinely noble--""a divided spirit pursuing wholeness.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1976
ISBN: 0300018010
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press