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While Rupert Brooke's literary standing as the supreme soldier-poet of World War I has long since faded, his personal legend--the ""sunny, forever-laughing youth of flawless beauty. . . pure heart and stainless character""--may still linger. So this short study, drawing on sources made available since Christopher Hassall's huge biography came out in 1964, focuses on Rupert's dark, ""emotionally unstable"" side, along with a less vigorous attempt to bring out some genuinely worthy aspects of his talent. Lehmann begins, then, with Rupert's breakdown in 1912, when his sudden, jealous, hysterical passion for chum Katherine (""Ka"") Cox--who'd just begun an affair with someone else--resulted in weeks of tortured scenes, crazed letters, Ka's submission, Rupert's own callous change-of-heart, and his bitter turn against the Bloomsbury crowd (who still claim Lehmann's fierce loyalty). Lehmann suggests the possibility that Rupert's trauma was really about the homosexuals (Lytton Strachey et al.) in his social set, who perhaps threatened his own ambivalent sexuality; in any case, sex was the problem--his ""deep-seated puritan suspicion of physical love"" instilled by Mother and schooling. But while this dab of psycho-biography is reasonable enough (and can be related to a few lines of the poem ""Peace""), it hardly provides a framework for a whole biography. So the rest of the book often seems like an obligatory run-through: Lehmann sketches in Rupert's Cambridge days (theatricals, Fabians), the Georgian Poetry series, travels in the US and Tahiti (where a native girl supplied ""the only perfect and surely consummated love-affair of his life""), WW I enlistment and the war sonnets, ignominious death, posthumous canonization. And if Lehmann's attacks on the bad war poetry and the ""orgy of public lamentation"" offer nothing new, his faint praise--of Rupert as P-R man, light-verse poet, and travel writer--are more patronizing than convincing. The overall effect, then, is that of a rather gratuitous hatchet job in disguise (to put this Bloomsbury enemy in his place once and for all?)--a faintly unpleasant spectacle. Still, the ""Ka"" episode is undeniably intriguing, and those seeking a succinct (if somewhat skewed) alternative to Hassall's huge study may welcome Lehmann's readable, briskly condensed approach.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1980
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston