CAVAFY: A Critical Biography by Robert Liddell

CAVAFY: A Critical Biography

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Cavafy is the first comprehensive biography of the legendary Greek poet in English, and while it's extremely well-researched, it's only a half-success. It intends, first of all, to give a full portrait of the poet's meager and misfortunate life, from his birth to wealthy Greek/Alexandrian parents in 1863 and his schooling in England and Constantinople, to his later life and painful death in Alexandria, where he worked for 20 years as a clerk in the Office of Irrigation, and where he wrote his greatest poems. Liddell takes as his sources letters from Cavafy's brothers both during and after the period of the family's financial decline; the reminiscences and biographical sketches of his relatives and literary friends; the poet's own erratic diaries and brief, cryptic notes he made confessing his lifelong homosexual passion. But the letters often go untranslated from the French, and even, in an occasional phrase, from the Greek; and Liddell spends undue time arguing the facts of Cavafy's life with his previous, Greek, biographers. So, despite Liddell's abiding interest in Cavafy, and his familiarity with Alexandrian life, he fails to sustain a narrative tone that makes the poet come alive. Liddell fulfills better his second intention: to classify and evaluate the stages of Cavafy's poetic development and publishing history. With the recent spread of interest in Cavafy, perhaps someone will make more readable use of Liddell's research and ken.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1976
Publisher: Schocken