Novelist/poet Leithauser (A Few Corrections, 2001, etc.) himself admits that this one is long for a poem but short for a novel. Still, it’s a pleasant hybrid no matter how you look at it.
Russel Darlington is one of those intrepid early-modern souls whose faith in science and dedication to human progress helps set the course of the 20th century, for better and for worse. Born in 1888 in Storey, Indiana, Darlington is the son of a wealthy merchant and loses his mother while still a young boy. Fascinated by insects, lizards, and snakes, he becomes a passionate student of biology and many years later is appointed professor of entomology at Old U., his alma mater. Though bookish and shy by nature, he manages to win the heart of Pauline Beaudette, an Old U. classmate from St. Louis, whom he marries against his father’s better wishes. It’s an unhappy union almost from the start: Pauline finds Darlington’s scientific pursuits boring, and she’s bitterly disappointed, as well, in her failure to conceive a child. The two divorce, and Pauline eventually goes mad. Darlington immerses himself in his work, setting off on a long expedition to study butterflies on the tiny Pacific island of Malaya, where he nearly dies after falling from a cliff. He recuperates in the US, resumes his university career, and (with the fortune he inherits from his father) founds a natural history museum. Solitary in his habits and highly focused on his work, he is content to live as a single man—until he falls in love with Marja Szumski, the 21-year-old daughter of his housekeeper.
A fine, quiet, and rewarding portrait, written in fluid verse that is both unobtrusive and elegant.