THE BOY-MAN: The Life of Lord Baden-Powell by Tim Jeal

THE BOY-MAN: The Life of Lord Baden-Powell

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Previously published in Britain to great acclaim, this magisterial (768-page) biography of the hero of the Siege of Mafeking in the Boer War and the founder of the Boy Scouts should be equally well received here. Splendidly researched and organized, written with liveliness and clarity, outspoken and provocative, it attempts to refute--or at least ameliorate--many of the criticisms that have been aimed at Baden-Powell since his death in 1941. Many earlier biographers--Brian Gardner, Michael Rosenthal, and Piers Brendon among them--have leveled charges of racism, fascism, militarism, hypocrisy, and homosexuality against their subject. Wisely, novelist (A Marriage of Convenience, 1979, etc.) and biographer (Livingstone, 1973) Jeal does not attempt to whitewash Baden-Powell: this is no hagiography. Jeal doesn't downplay the opportunism, for instance, practiced by the Baden-Powell family, a singularly unappealing band of snobbish arrivistes headed by Henrietta Grace Baden-Powell, a smothering mother of classic proportions. Meanwhile, the centerpiece is a compelling depiction of the Siege of Mafeking; here, the author refutes earlier charges that Baden-Powell starved the black Africans under his care, while admitting that there were inequities in the food distribution: a balanced and convincing view. The author is equally evenhanded in discussing what he sees as Baden-Powell's repressed homosexuality--he was apparently drawn to brawny ""outdoors"" men and wrote admiringly in his diary of their ""fine athletic sunbrowned bodies."" Jeal finds no evidence, however, of any overt homosexual activity. When he did eventually marry in his mid-50's, his choice was a tomboyish woman who promptly produced three children, then seemed willing to sleep alone while her husband settled down on a nearby sleeping porch. Some of the Boy Scout material seems overextended, but for the most part Jeal moves the story along with a vitality that keeps the reader thoroughly engrossed.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow