KEEPERS OF THE FLAME

LITERARY ESTATES AND THE RISE OF BIOGRAPHY

A surprisingly original study of the literary estates of many famed writers, and a look at the tangled relationship between estate management and biography. Hamilton wrote the strong Robert Lowell (1982) and the admirable In Search of J.D. Salinger (1988). Estates that Hamilton looks into include those of John Donne the Younger, Shakespeare, Marvell, Milton, Pope, Boswell, Robert Burns, Byron, Dickens, Tennyson, Swinburne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Hardy, Kipling, Joyce, Eliot, and Sylvia Plath. John Donne made no mention of his poems in his will and, thinking them a young man's ``evaporations'' and ``vanities,'' would have preferred that these sins be destroyed. Following his death, Shakespeare's plays were edited by two fellow actors and ``set forth according to their first originals,'' as these friends put it, saving eighteen of Shakespeare's plays from oblivion (including King Lear, The Tempest, and Macbeth) and several others, according to Hamilton, from being handed down in ``irretrievably corrupt'' texts. While poets' posthumous papers gave rise to biography, Dr. Johnson wrote his hasty Lives of the Poets to consolidate publishers' copyrights on various posthumous materials. Meanwhile, Boswell took down Johnson's table talk for his monumental Life of Johnson (Macauley later damned Boswell as a drunkard, pipsqueak, and lickspittle), then left a hoard of journals and Boswelliana that engendered the great Boswell papers saga. Hamilton follows the styles of biography as one mode rises over the body of earlier modes: the Victorian biography, for instance, reflects the newly emerging Romantic concept of the artist. Dickens writes long letters to his future ``beeograffer,'' John Forster. Joyce appoints his benefactress Harriet Shaw Weaver as his literary executor; she also inherits his mad daughter. Eliot directed that there should be ``no biographies,'' and his estate will not go public until 2015. Ted Hughes' trial-by-gravestone bequeathed him by Sylvia Plath is quite moving. As a commentary on literary mortality, and on biography and trumpery, this is book is a treasure.

Pub Date: April 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-571-19843-0

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1994

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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