BYRON

THE FLAWED ANGEL

This fairly routine psychobiography adequately chronicles the life, loves, and poems of Romantic literature's most famous rake. Lord Byron (17881824) was, as one of his most notorious mistresses put it, ``mad, bad, and dangerous to know.'' His violent, overweening ego was in great measure fostered by a doting mother. Estranged from her husband, she raised her son in modest circumstances in her native Scotland; but a series of unexpected deaths in the family brought ten-year-old George Gordon the Byron title, thrusting him from his childhood idyll into the world of the English peerage. Grosskurth (The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis, 1991; Humanities and Psychoanalytic Thought/Univ. of Toronto) vividly limns Byron's school days at Harrow, although his years at Cambridge, and indeed his intellectual formation generally, remain hazy. She judiciously presents the evidence for Byron's very early sexual initiations by a servant woman and by a lecherous lord. Upon his return from his Grand Tour of the Continent, the thinly veiled autobiography of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage caused a sensation. Years of tremendous extravagance followed, marked by huge debts and scores of polymorphous sexual conquests, but Byron outdid himself by conducting a liaison with his own half-sister. Driven to the Continent by creditors, moralists, and a failed marriage (about which Grosskurth offers important new research), Byron fell in with the Shelleys and reached new maturity as a poet. Grosskurth's best chapters treat his final exile, ending in Greece, where he fought for that nation's independence and died of a fever at age 36. In these chapters her underargued psychoanalytic claims—for instance, that Byron was ``tortured by guilt about both his homosexuality and the incest with Augusta''—go on the back burner, and everyday vignettes that show his charisma come to the fore. But too often, unfortunately, Grosskurth's meticulous cataloguing of Byron's madness and badness deadens the reader to this mercurial sadist's attractiveness—that is, to what made him dangerous. (24 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 15, 1997

ISBN: 0-395-69379-9

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1997

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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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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