THE BEAST AND THE MONK: A Life of Charles Kingsley by Susan Chitty

THE BEAST AND THE MONK: A Life of Charles Kingsley

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Kingsley was a Victorian clergyman, writer and polemicist--among his productions are the poem ""The Sands of Dee"" and the children's book The Water Babies. He is also credited with provoking Newman to write Apologia Pro Vita Sua. This biography suggests that the two men had much in common, since, for all his ""muscular Christian"" attacks against ""Popery and effeminacy,"" Kingsley himself was enthralled by male beauty, monastic rigors, and artistic sensuality. Chitty makes use of drawings and letters hitherto inaccessible to show Kingsley as one of those surpassingly erotic Victorians. His preoccupation with the torture of women as well as with self-flagellation is recorded here with abundance, along with his confession that ""I have such strange fantasies about bare feet."" While Kingsley's wife Fanny also craved religiously embellished sexual rituals, Chitty records a great many long separations between the devoted couple even before Kingsley received a Court appointment leaving Fanny to languish at home. There is no tack of ""period"" flavor: Kingsley thought Carlyle repellently cynical, Browning ""low-bred and effeminate,"" Elizabeth Barrett ""obstinate."" Chitty also gives an excellent sense of Kingsley's books (in one novel, Hypatia, the heroine is hacked to death with oyster shells). Kingsley, an ""extraordinarily likeable"" man, became an intimate of the royal family. Nothing here suggests that his obscurity as a thinker is unmerited, but the biography affords a keen, enjoyable purview of one Victorian's effort to sanctify the profane.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Mason/Charter