BURTON: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Byron Farwell
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BURTON: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Full-blooded biography, published in England in 1963 but only now making its US debut, of England's most notorious explorer; by the author of Eminent Victorian Soldiers (1985) and The Great War in Africa, 1914-1918 (1986). Ruffian Dick--one of the kinder sobriquets thrown Burton's way--was an ace linguist, translator, ethnographer, pornographer, and all-around troublemaker, as well as the discoverer of Lake Tanganyika and the first Englishman to penetrate Mecca. A man of great courage and initiative, he was also sometimes cruel and pigheaded. Somehow Farwell steers an objective course through the treacherous shoals of Burton's erratic life, avoiding the psychoanalyzing of Fawn Brodie and other recent biographers in favor of an exuberant, fair-minded study. It's all here: Burton's wild childhood (fist-fights and brothels), expulsion from Oxford, years in India as a soldier and Sufi, African and Middle Eastern explorations, roller-coaster literary career, bitter feuds, peculiar marriage to the romantic, devoutly Catholic Isabel--the entire glorious package. Farwell's at his best dishing out Burton's more bizarre opinions and actions--his love of nose rings on women, his advocacy of flaying alive as punishment, his fascination with male brothels. He also does a good job of dissecting Burton's literary style, which wavers from brilliant observation to such clunky euphemisms as ""quadruped creation"" in lieu of ""horse."" ""A misfit in any age"" and ""one of the rarest personalities ever seen on earth""--just two of the many exotic labels Farwell slaps on his subject. Happily, he makes them stick. Mesmerizing.

Pub Date: Dec. 14th, 1988
Publisher: Viking