BERTRAND RUSSELL by Ray Monk

BERTRAND RUSSELL

The Spirit of Solitude, 1872-1921

KIRKUS REVIEW

 This first volume of Monk's biography cohesively, skeptically analyzes the aristocratic philosopher's mathematically logical intellect, Victorian purposefulness, and Edwardian mores. While T.S. Eliot offered a thinly veiled portrait of Russell in the figure of the disturbing, priapic Mr. Apollinax, Monk (Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, 1990) finds a more suggestive portrait in the Mephistophelean, misanthropic Dr. Mallako in Russell's own short story ``Satan in the Suburbs.'' Monk locates the key to Russell's curious mix of characteristics (cold intellectual pursuits, private passions, loudly proclaimed public stands on issues such as pacifism) in his deep sense of alienated solitude, touched with fears of madness. Without overstating his case, Monk goes back to the orphaned Russell's miserable, spiritually imprisoned childhood under his grandmother's Puritanical care, enlivened only by his discovery of geometry and Shelley. After being tutored at his ancestral home--which he called ``a family vault haunted by the ghosts of maniacs''--Russell shook off his religious upbringing and took up philosophy in earnest at Cambridge. The revelation of his family's streak of insanity, however, tainted his engagement to Alys Pearsall Smith and haunted Russell. Monk gives a convincing, meticulous account of Russell's brilliant development with Alfred North Whitehead of ``logical atomism,'' explored in Russell's influential works The Principles of Mathematics and Principia Mathematica, deftly interweaving these explorations with a record of Russell's turbulent life during this fertile period. His marriage was disappointing, and he began a tumultuous love affair with Lady Ottoline Morrell (the first of many liaisons). Devoting the book's last half to Russell's pacifist activities during WW I, Monk takes Russell from cloistered don to international figure, and even hopeful father. In Russell's paradox of a life, Monk uncompromisingly, enlighteningly reveals a complex mixture of caddishly cold behavior, profound intellectual passion, and a fierce social conscience. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-82802-2
Page count: 720pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996