A. E. HOUSMAN: A Critical Biography by Norman Page

A. E. HOUSMAN: A Critical Biography

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Prof. Page (English, Univ. of Alberta) has nothing significant to add to the overall view of poet/scholar Housman; his primary quarrel with Richard Perceval Graves' sturdy 1980 biography is that Graves assumes far too much about Housman's sexlife. (E.g., there's insufficient evidence, says Page, that Housman consummated that Venetian relationship with gondolier Andrea.) In general, however, Page does offer a brisker, more stylish and skeptical chronicle than Graves'--even if Housman remains a biographical subject of limited interest or appeal. Here again, then: Alfred's comfortable childhood--blighted by his mother's death; schooling at Oxford, with academic disappointment and (above all) the unrequited passion for classmate Moses Jackson; the ""frustrating decade as part-time scholar and full-time bureaucrat""; the hard-won professorship, the tetchy friendships, the academic preoccupations, the classical scholarship--and the fame from A Shropshire Lad. Page sees Housman's first poetic outburst (1892-95) as stemming from the Jackson passion, the death of Housman's father, and the Oscar Wilde trial. (The Later Poems were inspired, he suggests, by Jackson's terminal illness.) He emphasizes Housman's playful, humorous side--while presenting the more familiar evidence of an argumentative, prissy nature. (Too often Page falls back on that trusty biographical commonplace--""dualism."") There are detailed appreciations of Housman's lectures and classical studies--and a chapter on the poetry, with a reasonable critical approach that sometimes becomes verbose and deadly as it states the obvious: ""It is time to look at the way in which he objectifies certain preoccupations in order to be able to work out problems and attitudes (giving expression to them being one way of working them out) that he was unable or unwilling to communicate to anyone in direct and literal terms."" A pithier, nearer alternative to the Graves study--but not really a necessary one, especially considering that outsized price-tag for a meagerly illustrated, 200-page book.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Schocken