SIR RICHARD BURTON by Michael Hastings


Email this review


They don't write biographies like this very much anymore and that's a pity. Adventurer, writer, schemer, and bounder, Sir Richard Burton has fascinated biographers as intensely as he annoyed his Victorian associates, but this book is a specialty--anchored in fact, yet dancing on the waves. Rarely, indeed, does writing like this empurple the non-fictive page: ""Dick trumpeted and bellowed from guest to guest speaking all kinds of languages, and the attractive maid Khamoor with bump and grind eastern promise undulated to tickle snicker-gadfly approval from the guests of honour."" And, of Button's taste for foreign slang: ""It was typical of Burton to approach a language through the backdoor, secretive and unseen."" He spoke some 36 of them, in which he managed to make himself disagreeable to everyone he ever worked with, but he translated the Kama Sutra and the Arabian Nights. Tireless but incompetent, he researched brothels in India, visited forbidden Mecca in disguise, led quarrelsome expeditions to East Africa, kept a harem in West Africa, got drunk in Colorado, prospected in Iceland, and was consul in Brazil, Damascus, and Trieste, where the Foreign Office tried desperately to lose him. He made himself notorious with vast tomes about every journey, in a style Hastings well describes as ""ceaseless questing after digressions."" Dependent on Burton's self-glorification or the cover-ups of the prim, long-suffering Lady Burton, Hastings takes his material with a mine of salt but he appreciates his grumpy, greedy, egotistical subject. And why not? Burton has inspired this infectious book.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan