Hot Best Seller

A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton

Availability: Ready to download

Their marriage was both improbable and inevitable. Isabel Arundell was a schoolgirl, the scion of England's most distinguished Catholic family. When she first saw him while walking at a seaside resort, Richard Burton had already made his mark as a linguist (he was fluent in twenty-nine languages), scholar, soldier, and explorer--at once a symbol of Victorian England's visi Their marriage was both improbable and inevitable. Isabel Arundell was a schoolgirl, the scion of England's most distinguished Catholic family. When she first saw him while walking at a seaside resort, Richard Burton had already made his mark as a linguist (he was fluent in twenty-nine languages), scholar, soldier, and explorer--at once a symbol of Victorian England's vision of empire and an avowed rebel against its mores. When she turned and saw him staring after her, she decided that she would marry him. By their next meeting, Burton had become the first infidel to infiltrate Mecca as one of the faithful, and, in an expedition to discover the source of the Nile, would soon be the first white man to see Lake Tanganyika. After being married, the Burtons traveled and experienced the world, from diplomatic postings in Brazil and Africa to hair-raising adventures in the Syrian desert. In later life Richard courted further controversy as a self-proclaimed erotologist and the translator of The Kama Sutra. Based on previously unavailable archives, Mary Lovell has written a compelling joint biography that sets Isabel in her proper place as Burton's equal in daring and endurance, a fascinating figure in her own right.


Compare

Their marriage was both improbable and inevitable. Isabel Arundell was a schoolgirl, the scion of England's most distinguished Catholic family. When she first saw him while walking at a seaside resort, Richard Burton had already made his mark as a linguist (he was fluent in twenty-nine languages), scholar, soldier, and explorer--at once a symbol of Victorian England's visi Their marriage was both improbable and inevitable. Isabel Arundell was a schoolgirl, the scion of England's most distinguished Catholic family. When she first saw him while walking at a seaside resort, Richard Burton had already made his mark as a linguist (he was fluent in twenty-nine languages), scholar, soldier, and explorer--at once a symbol of Victorian England's vision of empire and an avowed rebel against its mores. When she turned and saw him staring after her, she decided that she would marry him. By their next meeting, Burton had become the first infidel to infiltrate Mecca as one of the faithful, and, in an expedition to discover the source of the Nile, would soon be the first white man to see Lake Tanganyika. After being married, the Burtons traveled and experienced the world, from diplomatic postings in Brazil and Africa to hair-raising adventures in the Syrian desert. In later life Richard courted further controversy as a self-proclaimed erotologist and the translator of The Kama Sutra. Based on previously unavailable archives, Mary Lovell has written a compelling joint biography that sets Isabel in her proper place as Burton's equal in daring and endurance, a fascinating figure in her own right.

30 review for A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marc Weitz

    Sir Richard Burton has been an idol of mine since childhood. This is the third biography I've read of him, and it's simply the best. I savored every paragraph of this book like it was a delicious steak. Burton spoke 29 languages, was an avid swordsman, soldier, and fighter. He explored the lake regions of Africa, helped solve the mystery of the source of the Nile, successfully snuck into Mecca, and wrote volumes about previously unstudied cultures around the world. Mary S. Lovell really did her r Sir Richard Burton has been an idol of mine since childhood. This is the third biography I've read of him, and it's simply the best. I savored every paragraph of this book like it was a delicious steak. Burton spoke 29 languages, was an avid swordsman, soldier, and fighter. He explored the lake regions of Africa, helped solve the mystery of the source of the Nile, successfully snuck into Mecca, and wrote volumes about previously unstudied cultures around the world. Mary S. Lovell really did her research and turned up amazing new information that dispelled a lot of rumors that persisted about Burton, which I never thought sounded entirely true anyways. Mainly, that his wife was not a 'hanger on,' but an intelligent woman who was as close to being his equal as any woman could be at the time. She was his stalwart supporter and talented in her own right. The descriptions in the book are fantastic. Specifically, descriptions of Burton's trips through Africa, the ambush on the beaches of Somalia, and his trip to America in 1860 were incredibly exciting. I found myself reading the paragraphs over and over, not wanting to miss a detail. Of all the biographies I've read of him, I felt like this one brought me closer than I'd ever been to my childhood hero. My only complaint is that the detail gets tedious at the end of his life when the adventure has ended, and he's just publishing books. Reading about the London publishing scene of the 1880's is not all that exciting. Otherwise, I highly recommend this book about this amazing man.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sunny

    I have to admit that although this took me a long long time to read I was incredibly impressed with the amount of detail that seeped through the pages. Perhaps the only other biography that I have read that compares and probably falls short to this in terms of detail is the biography of Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins. Burton was an incredible incredible character the likes I just guess we will not get to see because people will be too distracted by technology to be interested in some of the fi I have to admit that although this took me a long long time to read I was incredibly impressed with the amount of detail that seeped through the pages. Perhaps the only other biography that I have read that compares and probably falls short to this in terms of detail is the biography of Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins. Burton was an incredible incredible character the likes I just guess we will not get to see because people will be too distracted by technology to be interested in some of the finer things that Burton grew and cultivated in himself. The book is about his life obviously and there is a big section also about his wife. The key things about Burton were his resilience. He famously toured Africa and discovered a lake before anyone else. His language skills were incredible. He was a polyglot and multi-talented. He was one of the first people to pretend to be Muslim and get into the Kaaba. Some people say that he went as far as getting himself circumcised to make it all seem as genuine as possible but got caught out while standing to go for a number 1 when the Arabic tradition was to squat down on your haunches. He was extremely convincing as an Arab and other Arabs could not ever tell that he was a westerner. He was also in India and Pakistan for a long time and it was there that he grew this fascination for travelling and languages. I have to admit that the first time I had ever heard of him was in a completely random book called “to your scattered bodies go” by Phillip Jose farmer which was one of the best sci-fi books I have ever read in my life. Only downer was that this biography was incredibly detailed and marginally on the long side so I had to skim read the last few hundred pages. Here are the best bits: • “I got a simple grammar and vocabulary and marked out the forms and words which I knew were absolutely necessary and learned them by heart by carrying them in my pocket and looking over them at spare moments during the day. I never worked more than a quarter of an hour at a time for after that the lesson lost its freshness. After learning some 300 words easily done in a week I stumbled through some easy book work and underlined every word that I wished to recollect.” • “Plain food, long walks, regular habits, politeness, cleanliness and godliness were the benchmarks of a good upbringing.” • “In the light of England’s revenue from India of 70 million, Richard thought this charge on poor Indian travellers shameful. Oh the meanness of our magnificence! The littleness of our greatness. He wrote.” • “The English (not the Scott or Welsh) have always mistrusted cleverness. Whereas on the continent where Burton was brought up, intellect has always been admitted and cherished.” • “The heartache with which she has lived for so many years was coated with the balm of his words and the face she lifted to his was radiant. I do not want to think it over she told him quietly. I have been thinking it over for six years ever since I first saw you in Boulogne I have prayed for you ever morning and night I have followed your career minutely, I have read every word you ever wrote and i would rather have a crust and a tent with you than be Queen of all the world. And she gave him her answer (to his proposal): yes. YES!” • “He was given a handful of cola nuts which he described as the local chaw ... The nut is easily broken into several generally four sections. The taste is a pleasant bitter and somewhat astringent. Water drunk upon it becomes exceptionally sweet. It must be a fine tonic in these relaxing climates. I am not aware of an extract being made from it if not it would be as well to try. It quiets the sensation of hunger and obviates thirst and it is helps as an aphrodisiac. It was his misfortune that someone else recognised the commercial properties and manufactured a drink called Coca-Cola.” • “Nothing is impossible to him who loves, provided he is not cursed with the spirit of curiosity.” • “He once told John Payne that Islam was the only practical ethical religion and almost free from the two great demoralising elements – dogma and priest craft. Christianity has no practical value as a moral agent.” And finally one of the best poems from the book translated by Burton: the Kasidah by Hajji Abdul El-Ynezdi The hour is nigh; the waning Queen walks forth to rule the later night; Crowned with the sparkle of a Star, and throned on orb of ashen light; The Wolf-tail sweeps the paling East to leave a deeper gloom behind, And Dawn uprears her shinning head, sighing with semblance of a wind; Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect applause; He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his self-made laws. All other Life is living Death, a world where none but Phantoms dwell, A breath, a wind, a sound, a voice, a tinkling of the camel-bell.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    This is a great dual biography of Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) and his wife Isabel. Burton was a fascinating man of the nineteenth century British Empire, and Isabel was his ideal mate - a woman so compatible with the interests and ideas that fired Burton that one can only use the hackneyed phrase "a match made in heaven". This in spite of the fact that Burton was, practically speaking, an atheist, while Isabel was a firmly believing Catholic all her life (though not, because of This is a great dual biography of Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) and his wife Isabel. Burton was a fascinating man of the nineteenth century British Empire, and Isabel was his ideal mate - a woman so compatible with the interests and ideas that fired Burton that one can only use the hackneyed phrase "a match made in heaven". This in spite of the fact that Burton was, practically speaking, an atheist, while Isabel was a firmly believing Catholic all her life (though not, because of the life they led, at all times a practicing Catholic). Rather than my going into all the places the Burton's lived, all the expeditions of discovery that Richard (usually without Isabel) organized and led, all the controversies that followed Burton around for most of his life (on account of his renegade views on everything from religion to sex to the non-British "subjects" of the empire, the latter by the way very liberal for his day), I will just refer you to the Wiki article on Burton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_... I think it highly likely that if you have an interest in nineteenth century exploration (Middle East, Africa), the British Empire of those days, the doings of the Royal Geographical Society, or outspoken, genius personalities, you would find this book a very enjoyable read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James Hartley

    This is a looooooooong book. That's not to say it's not fascinating in places, nor that a book being long is a bad thing, just that it really felt its length. I read the book because I'd kept coming across stories and mentions of Richard Burton and wanted to know more (I'd never heard of Isabel). Burton's achievements, or capabalities, or drive, was incredible, then as now - for learning languages, for writing, for exploring, for documenting - and I can only guess that having such a subject is pa This is a looooooooong book. That's not to say it's not fascinating in places, nor that a book being long is a bad thing, just that it really felt its length. I read the book because I'd kept coming across stories and mentions of Richard Burton and wanted to know more (I'd never heard of Isabel). Burton's achievements, or capabalities, or drive, was incredible, then as now - for learning languages, for writing, for exploring, for documenting - and I can only guess that having such a subject is part of the reason Lovell's book is so exhaustingly long and detailed. Isabel is no slouch, either - getting up with Burton at dawn for most of their lives, writing, too, exploring, too, travelling and defending herself - she was a mean shot and could cure a rattlesnake bite with only a box of matches and a box of whiskey. I think to best enjoy the book you should have read other biographies of Burton as Lovell references them and explains how she has been given or has come across fresh letters and evidence to support or disprove theories. All in all, fascinating in places, but unnecessarily hard work for general reader, I think.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Cooper

    This is the third biography that I have read of the 19th century explorer, adventurer, linguist, scholar, and Satan’s body double Richard Francis Burton, and it is by far the best. (Yes, Burton, who was tall, broad-shouldered, intimidating, and very dark, often shocked others with his Mephistophelean look; it didn’t help that Burton liked to shock.) As a young officer in British India, Burton learned several of the native languages and was able to pass, in the service of intelligence, as a trave This is the third biography that I have read of the 19th century explorer, adventurer, linguist, scholar, and Satan’s body double Richard Francis Burton, and it is by far the best. (Yes, Burton, who was tall, broad-shouldered, intimidating, and very dark, often shocked others with his Mephistophelean look; it didn’t help that Burton liked to shock.) As a young officer in British India, Burton learned several of the native languages and was able to pass, in the service of intelligence, as a traveling trader. However, when he was sent to report upon the boy-brothels of Karachi, his report was altogether too objective and candid for the Army and Foreign Office, permanently blighting his career. Leaving India, he went to Arabia, becoming the first Westerner to successfully complete the pilgrimage to Mecca—again in disguise; and he followed this with a major expedition to Africa that narrowly missed discovering the source of the Nile. Between these travels, he went to America and met Brigham Young. Biographer Lovell found seven boxes of previously unknown letters and documents belonging to Isabel, Burton’s intrepid wife. These allowed her to correct several errors in earlier, otherwise excellent, biographies, most notably that of Fawn Brodie, and paint a fairer picture of Isabel, who previously was best known to history as the villainess who burned Burton’s papers and unpublished manuscripts after his death. Lovell gives this act its proper context, showing that the destruction was much less than has been thought, and that it resulted far less from prudery (Burton was the translator of the Kama Sutra, the unexpurgated Arabian Nights, and other works whose publication would probably have led to his prosecution for obscenity) than from a desire to preserve her husband’s legacy against profiteers and exploiters. She also weaves Isabel properly into the story of Burton’s life, showing how staunchly this daughter of privilege endured hardships and took on adventures infinitely beyond what might have been expected of her. Burton was larger than life, and greatly misunderstood. He did not know how to curry favor and did not care to, and he loved to tell exaggerated stories portraying himself as a ruthless killer and libertine, when the truth was that he never killed except in self-defense—in fact, almost alone among his class, he loathed hunting—and he often went out of his way to protect the helpless. By giving his marriage new attention and examining his life through the perspective of Isabel’s newly discovered papers, Lovell gives a much more fully rounded picture of Burton’s life, both private and public.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Mary Lovell has written a number of biographies of intrepid women, such as Beryl Markham, Amelia Earhart, and Jane Digby, so it should come as no surprise that she is nearly as focused here on Isabel as she is on Richard, infinitely the more famous of the two. Personally, I've always felt that Isabel was a bit of a harridan, but Lovell takes great pains to defend her and create a more balanced picture here. The Burtons had incredibly rich lives, and Lovell leaves few stones unturned as she descr Mary Lovell has written a number of biographies of intrepid women, such as Beryl Markham, Amelia Earhart, and Jane Digby, so it should come as no surprise that she is nearly as focused here on Isabel as she is on Richard, infinitely the more famous of the two. Personally, I've always felt that Isabel was a bit of a harridan, but Lovell takes great pains to defend her and create a more balanced picture here. The Burtons had incredibly rich lives, and Lovell leaves few stones unturned as she describes their exploits and travels. This is a massive biography, but it held my attention fairly well, as well as that of several friends who were reading it at the same time. We had some spirited e-mail discussions about the book, but the general consensus, as I recall, was that while Richard was an amazing man, Isabel was exceptional mostly in her ambitions for her husband.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Great book. Very detailed. I had it on the go as a second book to dip in and out of as the mood took me. He was a complicated, arrogant, hugely intelligent, and very attractive man. I'm left a little bit in love with him. He didn't do politics or diplomacy or religion and it cost him during those deeply conservative times. Such a pity that he didn't get the recognition that was due to him during his lifetime. Great book. Very detailed. I had it on the go as a second book to dip in and out of as the mood took me. He was a complicated, arrogant, hugely intelligent, and very attractive man. I'm left a little bit in love with him. He didn't do politics or diplomacy or religion and it cost him during those deeply conservative times. Such a pity that he didn't get the recognition that was due to him during his lifetime.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Whenever I read a Mary S. Lovell biography, I'm flooded with historical information, new discoveries through her research and a well told story of VERY interesting people. This was no exception. I dove into this, but as I only read at night after a full day, I chipped away at it over about three months. It didn't mean I wasn't thoroughly enjoying the read, I'm just slow. As is the case with biographies, we all know how most historical biographies end - the hero dies. This is not a spoiler. With Ma Whenever I read a Mary S. Lovell biography, I'm flooded with historical information, new discoveries through her research and a well told story of VERY interesting people. This was no exception. I dove into this, but as I only read at night after a full day, I chipped away at it over about three months. It didn't mean I wasn't thoroughly enjoying the read, I'm just slow. As is the case with biographies, we all know how most historical biographies end - the hero dies. This is not a spoiler. With Mary S. Lovell's books, the back 100 - 150 pages of her research notes are no less fascinating than the story itself. I love the history of bold, interesting, brave people making a difference against their circumstances. On to, "Bess of Hardwick."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Brown

    Very few people in history are more interesting than Richard Burton. If Kipling had made him up in one of his books, he would have been too unbelievable. Out of his long list of accomplishments, being the first person to translate the Kama Sutra into English is one of my favorites. He was an amazingly brave, original thinker in all aspects of his life, including his romantic relationships. His attitudes toward women, sex, and his relationship with Isabel is fascinating.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eric Ruark

    This is another great biography about Sir Richard. But this one is centered on the intense love he had for his wife Isabel and her support of him throughout his adventurous career. A wonderful book. Devoured it from cover to cover. A great story about one of the most renown explorers this world has ever seen and the woman he loved and who loved him. I can't say enough about this book. This is another great biography about Sir Richard. But this one is centered on the intense love he had for his wife Isabel and her support of him throughout his adventurous career. A wonderful book. Devoured it from cover to cover. A great story about one of the most renown explorers this world has ever seen and the woman he loved and who loved him. I can't say enough about this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Diane Parsons

    True Romance A thoroughly researched, thoughtfully and intelligently written work about one of the great, but controversial men of the Victorian Era and of the wife who appears to have been his soul mate. This is an incredible love story, expressing, loyalty, fortitude, endurance and mutual support through many highs and lows.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Geraint Waters

    A very interesting and readable account of the fascinating life of Richard Burton - his wife Isabel also features heavily after their marriage - which gives an absorbing and informative picture of the man and particularly of the times he lived in. A book of 900 pages in length would normally daunt me, but this flowed well from beginning to end. Intersects also in Damascus with the life of another of the author's fascinating biography subjects, Jane Digby, which may have kindled her interest in B A very interesting and readable account of the fascinating life of Richard Burton - his wife Isabel also features heavily after their marriage - which gives an absorbing and informative picture of the man and particularly of the times he lived in. A book of 900 pages in length would normally daunt me, but this flowed well from beginning to end. Intersects also in Damascus with the life of another of the author's fascinating biography subjects, Jane Digby, which may have kindled her interest in Burton in the first place. However.... I'd have normally given it 4 stars but have taken one star off for the what seems to me to be the author's constant biased and uncritical defence of the actions of Burton and his wife against the (many) people whom they upset and annoyed and her corresponding deriding of their detractors - poor old John Hanning Speke in particular gets very harsh treatment at the hands of the author. A couple who made so many enemies during their lives (witness Burton's failure to secure promotion and status in the service of the foreign office and the opprobrium heaped on his wife for her actions after her husband's death) surely can't have been consistently as blameless and virtuous as the author makes out. I'm tempted to read another biography of Burton in order to get a rounded view of the man, which I don't believe this book supplies.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book - the first full-length biography of Burton that I had read, with the biography of his almost equally extraordinary wife a distinct plus. It is certainly a "full length biography" but the story is so fascinating and so lucidly and engagingly told that I found myself keen to keep reading page after page. The author is very sympathetic to Burton, but is certainly not uncritical. I enjoyed the perspectives and insights into the workings of Victorian Britain, the import I thoroughly enjoyed this book - the first full-length biography of Burton that I had read, with the biography of his almost equally extraordinary wife a distinct plus. It is certainly a "full length biography" but the story is so fascinating and so lucidly and engagingly told that I found myself keen to keep reading page after page. The author is very sympathetic to Burton, but is certainly not uncritical. I enjoyed the perspectives and insights into the workings of Victorian Britain, the importance of family connections etc., plus of course the "adventures", especially the Central Africa expeidtion with which I was broadly familiar. She comes down heavily on the side of Burton in the Speke affair and I found her account compelling and much more complete than other less extensive accounts that I have read. I found fascinating parallels in this with some of the issues in contemporary science (perhaps not too surprising in retrospect). More than anything, Burton comes over as a highly intelligent and talented, but very human, person in a world where truly God was an Englishman. This biography is very perceptive and gave real insights into the person without entering into unwarranted speculations of psycho-analysis. Just what I like in a biography. All in all, very highly recommended. One of the very best biographies I have read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    If you are interested in the life of Richard Francis Burton this is a good book to read. If you are curious about his "better half", a description that many of Burton's biographers and admirers would take serious exception to, this is a great book to read. Burton's life provides more than enough material for a fascinating exploration. Adding a balanced and informed perspective on Isabel Burton simply adds to the experience. True, the last section drags a bit after all of the adventures of Burton If you are interested in the life of Richard Francis Burton this is a good book to read. If you are curious about his "better half", a description that many of Burton's biographers and admirers would take serious exception to, this is a great book to read. Burton's life provides more than enough material for a fascinating exploration. Adding a balanced and informed perspective on Isabel Burton simply adds to the experience. True, the last section drags a bit after all of the adventures of Burton's early life and the story of their unconventional romance but the author clearly has done her research and finishing the book provides a sense of both enjoyment and accomplishment. And don't skip the appendices and notes at the end....they are actually more interesting than some of the actual book proper.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    What a larger than life couple? Everyone knows that Richard Burton was an extraordinary person – a great adventurer, scholar, military man and translator. But his wife, Isabel, played a special role in his life and, for Victorian standards, was also a pretty special person. This biography reads like a novel, but it does take some time. The printing is quite small and we are talking about 900 pages! The author is very detailed and, although some parts dragged me on (I got a bit lost with all the mi What a larger than life couple? Everyone knows that Richard Burton was an extraordinary person – a great adventurer, scholar, military man and translator. But his wife, Isabel, played a special role in his life and, for Victorian standards, was also a pretty special person. This biography reads like a novel, but it does take some time. The printing is quite small and we are talking about 900 pages! The author is very detailed and, although some parts dragged me on (I got a bit lost with all the military talk and bureaucracy when Burton was in India), the story just came to life when Isabel appeared. What a great love story! I think they were perfect soul mates and wouldn’t have achieved all their potential if it wasn’t for the other.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bardon Kaldian

    R.F. Burton is one of the most fascinating 19th C figures. I’ve read 4 his biographies & his personality still remains somehow blurred- for instance, I don’t know whether he was a bisexual or not. I would say he was not just an adventurer, but a larger than life figure obsessed with eroticism & non-European, chiefly Muslim and Indian cultures (not with their spiritual or religious aspects, but more with ethnographic & physical, mostly erotic practices & mores). A simple adventurer would not take R.F. Burton is one of the most fascinating 19th C figures. I’ve read 4 his biographies & his personality still remains somehow blurred- for instance, I don’t know whether he was a bisexual or not. I would say he was not just an adventurer, but a larger than life figure obsessed with eroticism & non-European, chiefly Muslim and Indian cultures (not with their spiritual or religious aspects, but more with ethnographic & physical, mostly erotic practices & mores). A simple adventurer would not take upon himself to translate thousands & thousands of pages from the Arabic, Sanskrit, Portuguese, …. Also, he did not have some grand plan for the future or politics. I don’t think he pondered on questions like- Imperialism, whence & whither? And what next? From the presented material, there is no indication he had sexual relations with other women, so Isabel had nothing to be jealous about. But what about his possibly homo affairs? Apart from supposed hanky panky in the East, he belonged to English secret erotic societies, which included C.A. Swinburne & various other “Uranians”. What Isabel thought about it? I guess she was not jealous, something along the line boys playing with each other, who cares…. Isabel actually saved & promoted his career, pulling strings in high political & Imperial circles each time Burton’s irascible temper got him fired or demoted. They truly were soul mates, no doubt about it. She couldn’t live without him, nor vice versa. And- this is my speculation- I guess theirs was a sexless marriage. He wasted his erotic energies elsewhere, but not on females. Was he an atheist? I don’t think so. Just look at his mausoleum. He was, it seems to me, an eclectic theist who tried to incorporate in his life various cultural-religious traditions, Christian, Muslim, Hindu. Although, his religiosity looks unconventional, more cultural & ethnographic than spiritual or metaphysical. Burton was too much of an extrovert to be pious. His “religion”: Burton was a universalist, who accepted all living great religions he came in contact with. He died a Catholic, which is perfectly understandable, having in mind Isabel’s role in his life. Without her, he would have been wasted a long time ago, devoured by imbecilities of British bureaucracy. Many anti-Catholic writers try to promote idea that Isabel “forced” him on his death-bed- which is absurd. Where Burton differed from his wife was his magnanimous & non-dogmatic approach to religions. He temporarily converted to Islam & became a dervish of Qadiri Sufi order, so that he could enter Mecca not as an “infidel”. But, this was just an episode in his life. He never continued Islamic religious practices in any way; more, he translated from Portuguese a super-Christian Camoes’ epic. As I said- he was not an introvert, contemplative or religious temper. Burton used all religions to satisfy his curiosity about mostly non-European worlds. Doubtless, he possessed an incredible amount of energy & vitality, curiosity about life, but- I don’t see any “deeper” purpose in it. He was not a thinker; nor simply an explorer (just look at his epic efforts in translation); nor did he possess an ambition to become a prominent figure in politics or higher culture. Be as it may, he was, I’d say, a man whose calling was a dynamic life on earth combined with passion for translation, especially on erotica, and insatiable curiosity of everything culturally non-European. Then, he was, as I said, not a thinker but an observer. From his experiential knowledge, he had been drawing conclusions about human collectives. Of course- this is not “scientific”. How can you definitely ascertain traits of some community just passing through their habitats, or living among them a short time? What is refreshing about Burton is that he is impossible to categorize. He was, personally, not an Imperialist (although he participated in the expansion of the British empire); he observed many things about many people, and he was led by a dominant schools of thought of his time (cranial capacity etc.); Burton was a rare writer from the 19th C who insisted on black Africans’ cruelty & savagery (I forgot what he said about US freedmen)- in stark difference to almost all authors of that time who had been harping on Negro’s simple silliness & devotion to his Massa. Burton saw blacks as a threat, and there he was much more realist than other whites (even those from the South). Burton simply did not think about the future of technology, science, Europeanization of the world & possibility that Oriental civilizations could adopt European way of life & education as something integral to their future identity. And he would be astonished by Islamism, because Islamic cultural circle was in his eyes, more liberal & “free” re many areas of life (especially sexuality), so that some Muslim Pakistani grouping in UK would have made him speechless. What remains, in my view, strange & virtually impossible to decode is his attitude towards miscegenation. He frequently described himself as a “Gypsy”. There was something in him that rebelled against “whiteness”, and never mind his real extraction, his slightly darker complexion, combined with too much time spent among the “natives”- create a strange feeling that, while race realist, he was not fully aware of necessity to preserve or re-define universal Western European civilization. Perhaps Pukka Sahib attitude of complete Euro global dominance prevented him to seriously ponder the situation where Euro-colonizers could clash with the newly invigorated "natives".

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chiara

    A pretty long read but interesting. Ever since I saw the 1990 movie The Mountains of the Moon I've been curious about Richard Francis Burton's life and adventures. He was driven by an insatiable love of travel. He began the record of his most famous journey to Africa with these words: "Of the gladdest moments, methinks in human life, is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands..." A pretty long read but interesting. Ever since I saw the 1990 movie The Mountains of the Moon I've been curious about Richard Francis Burton's life and adventures. He was driven by an insatiable love of travel. He began the record of his most famous journey to Africa with these words: "Of the gladdest moments, methinks in human life, is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands..."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This one heavy tome! There is a massive amount of research in this book, it goes into depth about Burton's motivations and personality. Lovell is an accomplished writer, so the prose is excellent. Even if you're not a fan of biographies, this is a fascinating glimpse of the era of exploration in Africa and the Middle East. This one heavy tome! There is a massive amount of research in this book, it goes into depth about Burton's motivations and personality. Lovell is an accomplished writer, so the prose is excellent. Even if you're not a fan of biographies, this is a fascinating glimpse of the era of exploration in Africa and the Middle East.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mark Seghers

    Of the remarkable things Burton did in his life, being married to Isabel Burton doesn't even make the list. Rather than read about what their marriage was like, I yearn to understand why a man covered in scars from Sufi mystic dervish ceremonies, who soaked his skin in walnut oil to pose as an Egyptian physician on a Hajj, to sought the source of the Nile, who fought Somali pirates, wrote and translated libraries of literary, historical, anthropological, and sociological works - how a man like t Of the remarkable things Burton did in his life, being married to Isabel Burton doesn't even make the list. Rather than read about what their marriage was like, I yearn to understand why a man covered in scars from Sufi mystic dervish ceremonies, who soaked his skin in walnut oil to pose as an Egyptian physician on a Hajj, to sought the source of the Nile, who fought Somali pirates, wrote and translated libraries of literary, historical, anthropological, and sociological works - how a man like that would marry a homely, devout Catholic who had hardly ever left her little island. For not answering this question to my satisfaction, I give a lackluster review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tia Gonzales

    5++++for sheer volume of material, much of it new.....a new perspective on Isabel Burton who seems to be much less thwarted in her ambition & desire for adventure than I was previously led to believe by Lesley Blanche "Wilder Shores of Love". 5++++for sheer volume of material, much of it new.....a new perspective on Isabel Burton who seems to be much less thwarted in her ambition & desire for adventure than I was previously led to believe by Lesley Blanche "Wilder Shores of Love".

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marguerite Kaye

    I'd give this 5 stars for the writing and research, but only 3 for the subject, so I've made it an average of 4. Previously I've thoroughly enjoyed several of Mary Lovell's biographies but this one didn't really work for me. Don't get me wrong, it was as brilliantly researched as ever, it was beautifully written and it contained some fresh material. What's more Ms Lovell isn't shy of giving her opinion, something I very much value in a biographer. No, the problem was not the writer but the subje I'd give this 5 stars for the writing and research, but only 3 for the subject, so I've made it an average of 4. Previously I've thoroughly enjoyed several of Mary Lovell's biographies but this one didn't really work for me. Don't get me wrong, it was as brilliantly researched as ever, it was beautifully written and it contained some fresh material. What's more Ms Lovell isn't shy of giving her opinion, something I very much value in a biographer. No, the problem was not the writer but the subject. I hate to say it, but the more I read of Richard and Isabel Burton, the less I liked them. The sound like the kind of couple, frankly, that I'd have been horrified to have to sit down to dinner with. I didn't expect this. I've been coming across Burton in my other reading on and off for the last few months and was looking forward to finding out more. He sounded interesting. He sounded erudite, witty, and controversial. But when I got to know him through this book, what I thought more than anything was that he sounded like a pompous boor with a highly inflated opinion of himself and a very low one of pretty much everyone else - especially those who took agin him - and there were a great many of these (that neither he nor Isabel could understand this, I think, endorses my view of him). Now there's no doubting that he was a great explorer. His bravery and bravado were immense. His literary output was prolific, and we have him to thank for taking what was the Arabian Nights and turning it from a fairy tale to the bawdy, funny, fascinating and truly significant work that is One Thousand and One Nights. He's also credited with translating a number of erotic works including the Kama Sutra, and also the Perfumed Garden, though apparantely this is wrong, since Isabel controversially burned his translation after he died. So yes, Burton is admirable. As to Isabel, it is she I think whom Lovell most wanted to write about. She who has been much maligned as the ignorant, bigoted woman who destroyed his papers and held him back, made enemies for him and also made a saint of him. Lovell does a brilliant job of destroying and debunking these myths, and putting Isabel in her righteous place by Burton's side, as a true help meet, an excellent literary agent and most of all, the woman that made all his wanderings and writings possible. She also managed to scrape a more than modest living for the pair of them wherever they ended up, despite Burton's spendthrift ways. So go Isabel. But seeing Isabel restored still didn't cut it for me I'm afraid, because in my opinion she worshipped at the wrong shrine. She adored her husband, and she thought she was adored back, but I wasn't particularly convinced by that, one of the things that got my back up about Burton. He took her for granted, he expected ridiculous things for her and when she came through, he was very rarely grateful. He wanted a wife, but he didn't always want one by his side, and the times when Isabel was left waiting in the wings for him - well, another thing that irritated me. However, this is a thorough and well-written biography. It has filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge, but I have to say, enough so that I don't want to know any more of Richard and Isabel. But if you do, then I'd highly recommend it. And if you've not read any of Ms Lovell's other bios then I'd highly, highly recommend those, particularly those of Jane Digby and the Mitfords.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    A biography of Richard Burton - 'but not the famous one', as Mary Lovell humourously observes in her introduction. But in his day, of course, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton was the famous one, indeed the only one. He was a soldier, scholar, linguist, explorer, spy, geographer, diplomat, writer - the kind of Victorian polymath we don't tend to see anymore. He spoke more than 25 languages - upwards of 40, apparently, if you include dialects. He was instrumental in introducing the British publi A biography of Richard Burton - 'but not the famous one', as Mary Lovell humourously observes in her introduction. But in his day, of course, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton was the famous one, indeed the only one. He was a soldier, scholar, linguist, explorer, spy, geographer, diplomat, writer - the kind of Victorian polymath we don't tend to see anymore. He spoke more than 25 languages - upwards of 40, apparently, if you include dialects. He was instrumental in introducing the British public to the Eastern classics, One Thousand and One Nights and the Kama Sutra. He undertook the hajj to Mecca in disguise, on pain of death had he been discovered, even undergoing circumcision to reinforce his Arabian identity. He was one of the first explorers of central Africa, and unknowingly at the time discovered the source of the Nile. His wife Isabel was no less noteworthy in her own way, and it is refreshing to read a biography of a couple that gives equal weight to the female partner. Isabel worshipped Richard all her life, falling in love with him at first sight, her destiny apparently written in the stars, according to a gypsy prediction many years before she met him. She followed Richard all over the world, eagerly sharing in his adventures, relishing the kinds of hardships and deprivations that would have wilted any other finely-reared Victorian lady. She was a full partner in all his scholarly and literary endeavours, editing, proof-reading, checking, dealing with publishers and printers - something she has rarely received credit for - as well as being a published author in her own right. Between them they were a remarkable pair, and it is no wonder they provoked such lasting controversy. Both tended to buck accepted opinion, Victorian social etiquette and cultural mores, and Richard especially took delight in shocking people. He was possibly the most undiplomatic of diplomats and made numerous enemies who frequently hindered his career prospects and lastingly damaged his reputation. As Lovell points out on numerous occasions, Richard's refusal to 'play the game' meant that his prescient words and insightful actions often went unrecognised and unheeded, often to England's detriment. Mary Lovell clearly has a great sympathy for her subjects and in writing this book she has had access to much otherwise-neglected material. She certainly plumbs their lives with great thoroughness and depth, and for all of its near-1000 pages it never drags or bores. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, as indeed I have all of Mary Lovell's biographies. She sets about to dismantle some of the lingering rumours and misapprehensions that have clung to both Burtons since their deaths - Isabel's burning of Richard's papers after his death, his rumoured closeted or repressed homosexuality, his feud with John Hanning Speke. I'm certainly convinced by her arguments, although never having read any other biographies that might not mean much!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Five star research, three-and-a-half star writing. Best of all: a scintillating five star subject. This, the more interesting, Richard Burton was one of the most fascinating characters of the nineteenth century. Polyglot (he mastered twenty-nine languages in the course of his life), adventurer-geographer (he was the first white guy to describe Lake Tanganyika), adventurer-adventurer (he travelled in disguise to Mecca and Medina and the “forbidden city” of Harrar), fencing master, translator of Ka Five star research, three-and-a-half star writing. Best of all: a scintillating five star subject. This, the more interesting, Richard Burton was one of the most fascinating characters of the nineteenth century. Polyglot (he mastered twenty-nine languages in the course of his life), adventurer-geographer (he was the first white guy to describe Lake Tanganyika), adventurer-adventurer (he travelled in disguise to Mecca and Medina and the “forbidden city” of Harrar), fencing master, translator of Kama Sutra and Arabian Nights, British Consul in Fernando Po, Sao Paulo and Trieste. His was a life well lived. Along the way, we get great insights into nineteenth-century, class-obsessed England, the workings of the Raj and the Foreign Office, the vicissitudes of African exploring, Arabian cultures; we get good fodder to ruminate on religion, marriage, illness, aging, death. Importantly, my main criterion for a good biography is amply met: the writer gives the reader enough information to allow the latter to disagree with the former on occasion. Mary Lovell obviously loves her subjects. She frequently chastises, mostly on good grounds, it seems to me, earlier more critical biographers. She argues convincingly that Isabel’s role in Richard’s life was much more important than most biographers give her credit for. And I accept that the main reason Richard’s later career did not live up to its early promise was the pettiness of his enemies – he was too brilliant and brash for a society that valued conformity above all else. Where I part company with the author is when, near the end of her admirable book, she makes a feeble attempt at erasing the two main stains on Isabel’s reputation. This pious, loving wife had the Catholic Last Rites performed on (the probably dead body of) her husband, who had been a life-long freethinker. Moreover, she burned the more risqué of his manuscripts after his dead, “to preserve his reputation”. While I might be persuaded to consider the former a peccadillo – ordering some geezer in a frock to smear ointment on an atheist corpse only diminishes the giver of the order, in my opinion – I consider the latter a Mortal Sin, since it diminishes Richard Burton’s legacy. In my religion, book burners are relegated to the ninth circle of Hell. This being said, I still liked the book a helluvalot. One of the great pleasures, for me, of reading a fine biography is the vicarious living it allows. In my dreams, I have been Robert Oppenheimer, and Thomas Jefferson, and Donald Barthelme. I can assure you, being Richard Burton for a fortnight or so has been great fun.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chandrashekar Gangaraju

    I have not yet read about a more interesting personality than Richard Burton. Just the wide variety of topics that he was interested in, the number of languages he learnt, the places he explored, his frankness and above all his kindness and openness is so refreshing to read. He is probably the only one who readily took on a muslim name. His tolerance of customs and religions is also rare among explorers of his generation. I came across interesting terms such as horripilation (gooseflesh), Zoolec I have not yet read about a more interesting personality than Richard Burton. Just the wide variety of topics that he was interested in, the number of languages he learnt, the places he explored, his frankness and above all his kindness and openness is so refreshing to read. He is probably the only one who readily took on a muslim name. His tolerance of customs and religions is also rare among explorers of his generation. I came across interesting terms such as horripilation (gooseflesh), Zoolectricity (previous term for hypnosis). Isabel's lengthy list of things to do to be good wife is so moving. There are very few men who are lucky to have wives like her. They both were early animal welofare activists. I admire authors like this who are ready to go through numerous archives to bring us the full story.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brian Neumann

    A well-written, brilliantly-researched biography of the man contemporaries called "the most interesting figure of the nineteenth century." Burton's life is absolutely fascinating, and the amount of research Lovell conducted is truly impressive. When Lovell describes Burton's most famous adventures (sneaking into Mecca or exploring East Africa) the book is absolutely excellent. But in between these grand adventures, the book falls flat, and it's obvious that Lovell is writing more to correct prev A well-written, brilliantly-researched biography of the man contemporaries called "the most interesting figure of the nineteenth century." Burton's life is absolutely fascinating, and the amount of research Lovell conducted is truly impressive. When Lovell describes Burton's most famous adventures (sneaking into Mecca or exploring East Africa) the book is absolutely excellent. But in between these grand adventures, the book falls flat, and it's obvious that Lovell is writing more to correct previous biographies than to educate or entertain the general public. Overall, this is a good book...but the longer a book is, the better it needs to be in order to justify reading it, and this book just isn't good enough to justify 944 pages.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    The biographer thought there were errors in the Burtons' story, in this book she set out to correct them, notably Richard was not a homosexual, his marriage was not a chaste one and Isabel despite her destroying the manuscript of The Scented Garden after Richard's death was an intelligent and essential part of Richards life. I found the book a little ponderous, perhaps the Burtons' lived a little too much for my taste. The biographer thought there were errors in the Burtons' story, in this book she set out to correct them, notably Richard was not a homosexual, his marriage was not a chaste one and Isabel despite her destroying the manuscript of The Scented Garden after Richard's death was an intelligent and essential part of Richards life. I found the book a little ponderous, perhaps the Burtons' lived a little too much for my taste.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dr. Cristina Bettencourt

    Fascinating life from one of these amazing multiple humans in one - intellectual, explorer, a stretch from translating the epopeic Os Lusiadas from my country, to a National Geographic Society hero, Richard Burton is handed over to prosperity by the mistress of biography, Mary S. Lovell. And the book gives the mundane woman like me the pleasure to trick people by mentioning, yes, I just read the biography of Richard Burton... (Pause).. You know, the explorer.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    A great read, entertaining and illumative. I have read no other biography of Burton so find it hard to coment on the accuracy of Lovell's portrayal of this fascinating couple,. I can say I greatly enjoyed reading this biography of a fascinating Victorian couple. A great read, entertaining and illumative. I have read no other biography of Burton so find it hard to coment on the accuracy of Lovell's portrayal of this fascinating couple,. I can say I greatly enjoyed reading this biography of a fascinating Victorian couple.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Streator Johnson

    While this is the only biography on Either Burton, so I can't comment on whether some of the statements she makes about past Burton research are accurate or appropriate, I enjoyed the book immensely. All one ca say is WHAT A GUY! And, as for Isabel, she put up with a lot! While this is the only biography on Either Burton, so I can't comment on whether some of the statements she makes about past Burton research are accurate or appropriate, I enjoyed the book immensely. All one ca say is WHAT A GUY! And, as for Isabel, she put up with a lot!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mary Thompson

    Hard to evaluate this as merely a book because the two subjects of this biography, Richard and Isabel Burton, are overwhelming! Well worth reading about their adventures and individual outlooks on an age that could not begin to match their blazing emotions.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.