The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World

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Overview

Richard Burton was one of Victorian Britain's most protean figures. A soldier, explorer, ethnographer, and polyglot of rare power, as well as a poet, travel writer, and translator of the tales of the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra, Burton exercised his abundant talents in a diverse array of endeavors. Though best remembered as an adventurer who entered Mecca in disguise and sought the source of the White Nile, Burton traveled so widely, wrote so prolifically, and contributed so forcefully to his generation's most contentious debates that he provides us with a singularly panoramic perspective on the world of the
Victorians.

One of the great challenges confronting the British in the nineteenth century was to make sense of the multiplicity of peoples and cultures they encountered in their imperial march around the globe. Burton played an important role in this mission. Drawing on his wide-ranging experiences in other lands and intense curiosity about their inhabitants, he conducted an intellectually ambitious, highly provocative inquiry into racial, religious, and sexual differences that exposed his own society's norms to scrutiny.

Dane Kennedy offers a fresh and compelling examination of Burton and his contribution to the widening world of the Victorians. He advances the view that the Victorians' efforts to attach meaning to the differences they observed among other peoples had a profound influence on their own sense of self, destabilizing identities and reshaping consciousness. Engagingly written and vigorously argued, The Highly Civilized Man is an important contribution to our understanding of a remarkable man and a crucial era.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Examiner

In The Highly Civilized Man, Dane Kennedy, a history professor at George Washington University, offers a probing account of a complex man who rises above all the popular clichés, from the public's fascination with biographical details that could form the subject of an H. Rider Haggard novel to the modern academy's annoying interpretation of Burton as an exploitative 'Orientalist'...At the heart of The Highly Civilized Man is one of the most compelling characters of the 19th century and Kennedy has filled his pages with acute insights about this adventurous polymath.
— Anthony Paletta

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Dane Kennedy looks at Burton from several angles: the gypsy who favored local costume and relished all differences; the explorer for the British Empire (his years with the East India Co.); the sexologist who experimented with, experienced and did his part to crack Victorian prudery; and the Bohemian in London. Kennedy also looks at Burton the proponent of the then-fashionable 'scientific racism,' Burton the proponent of polygamy and perhaps pederasty (although this subject is treated delicately) and Burton the egomaniac.
What emerges is a man who, above all, spent a lifetime trying to break out of 'the prison life of civilized Europe.'
— Susan Salter Reynolds

New Statesman

Burton was, as Kennedy skilfully shows, a committed self-fashioner who longed for fame and understood the fascination the Orient held for his audience...Kennedy is adept at teasing out the implications of Burton's ambivalent status as an 'orientalist' agent of western imperialism who at the same time rebelled against the empire, immersed himself in the east, and chased after knowledge for the sake of knowledge...[This is a] thoughtful study.
— Paul Laity

Financial Times
Dane Kennedy's insightful book about [Richard Burton] is as much an exploration of Victorian ideas about sex and race as a biography. As a traveller who disdained repressive mores, he seemed to operate outside his homeland's values. But he believed in the inherent superiority of British culture and shared assumptions about scientific racism...In the past he has been romanticised as freely crossing racial, linguistic, sexual and national barriers; The Highly Civilized Man brings him back in touch with his own society.
Times Higher Education Supplement

Most biographers have tended to portray [Burton] in Nietzschean terms as a heroic, independent spirit operating outside the bounds of social convention. Kennedy, however, sets out to counter this picture of isolation and, further, to provide insight into Burton's Victorian world. The author succeeds in both aims where others have either failed or simply perpetuated Burton's self-promotion. In seven poignant chapters (and an eighth title 'Afterlife'), Kennedy chronologically views Burton's peripatetic career as gypsy, Orientalist, impersonator, explorer, racist, relativist and sexologist...Burton emerges from Kennedy's biography as a man who contributed more than most Victorians to the body of knowledge of other peoples that constituted the Victorian imperial archive...In this book, Kennedy explains, for the first time, the reasons for Burton's almost manic immersion in other cultures and allows us to comprehend the concerns that characterised the Victorian engagement with difference.
— Christopher Ondaatje

Times Literary Supplement

[Kennedy] is the first Burton biographer to stress that Burton exemplified fundamental Victorian preoccupations and thus was actually a representative figure of his age...Kennedy successfully demonstrates that Burton's life can be freshly interpreted by situating him within Victorian history, and also that Victorian history can be illuminated in new ways through Burton's life...The biography itself [is] a gripping intellectual adventure...This wonderfully engaging and nuanced biography is written clearly, informed by theory, but not beholden to it. This is the best biography of Burton as a man intimately involved with the central questions of his day, and of ours.
— Michael Saler

Newsweek

Richard Burton burst onto the British public scene in the early 1850s with his account of visiting Mecca disguised as a Muslim pilgrim. Translations of The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra followed. Kennedy's entertaining and insightful biography recasts this interpreter of non-Western societies as a figure relevant for the 21st century. Burton embodied 'the transition from a Victorian to a Modernist consciousness,' and, by encountering a multiplicity of peoples, raised ethnic and cultural issues that are more relevant today than ever.
— John R. Bradley

Vancouver Sun

A work of uncommon excellence.
— George Fetherling

New Criterion

[Kennedy's] fascinating study is not a new biography, but an extended reflection on his subject's multiple, and protean, manifestations.
— Eric Ormsby

Al-Ahram Weekly

Kennedy has produced an elegantly written account of Burton's life, seeing in him a representative of various 19th-century European types, including the gypsy, orientalist, impersonator, explorer and sexologist.
— David Tresilian

Philippa Levine
Fresh, lively, and entertaining, Dane Kennedy's new assessment of Richard Burton punctures the tired stereotypes that have long dogged Burton scholarship. Kennedy reads Burton within a series of key Victorian debates around science, sex, religion, race and empire, yet still holds onto his subject's remarkable individuality. Eminently readable, satisfyingly erudite, and always fair in its judgments, this is the biography Burton deserves.
Antoinette Burton
This intelligent and nuanced biography draws out Richard Burton's many facets and locates them in the context of the various Victorian worlds he participated in and helped to shape. Kennedy capitalizes on his career-long knowledge of the imperial and colonial spheres to produce this meticulous, thoughtful and compelling narrative.
Wm. Roger Louis
Dane Kennedy's perceptive and imaginative biographical study provides insight into the Victorian world of religion, race, and sexuality while fairly assessing the unremitting controversies of Burton's life and work.
Washington Examiner - Anthony Paletta
In The Highly Civilized Man, Dane Kennedy, a history professor at George Washington University, offers a probing account of a complex man who rises above all the popular clichés, from the public's fascination with biographical details that could form the subject of an H. Rider Haggard novel to the modern academy's annoying interpretation of Burton as an exploitative 'Orientalist'...At the heart of The Highly Civilized Man is one of the most compelling characters of the 19th century and Kennedy has filled his pages with acute insights about this adventurous polymath.
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Susan Salter Reynolds
Dane Kennedy looks at Burton from several angles: the gypsy who favored local costume and relished all differences; the explorer for the British Empire (his years with the East India Co.); the sexologist who experimented with, experienced and did his part to crack Victorian prudery; and the Bohemian in London. Kennedy also looks at Burton the proponent of the then-fashionable 'scientific racism,' Burton the proponent of polygamy and perhaps pederasty (although this subject is treated delicately) and Burton the egomaniac.
What emerges is a man who, above all, spent a lifetime trying to break out of 'the prison life of civilized Europe.'
New Statesman - Paul Laity
Burton was, as Kennedy skilfully shows, a committed self-fashioner who longed for fame and understood the fascination the Orient held for his audience...Kennedy is adept at teasing out the implications of Burton's ambivalent status as an 'orientalist' agent of western imperialism who at the same time rebelled against the empire, immersed himself in the east, and chased after knowledge for the sake of knowledge...[This is a] thoughtful study.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Christopher Ondaatje
Most biographers have tended to portray [Burton] in Nietzschean terms as a heroic, independent spirit operating outside the bounds of social convention. Kennedy, however, sets out to counter this picture of isolation and, further, to provide insight into Burton's Victorian world. The author succeeds in both aims where others have either failed or simply perpetuated Burton's self-promotion. In seven poignant chapters (and an eighth title 'Afterlife'), Kennedy chronologically views Burton's peripatetic career as gypsy, Orientalist, impersonator, explorer, racist, relativist and sexologist...Burton emerges from Kennedy's biography as a man who contributed more than most Victorians to the body of knowledge of other peoples that constituted the Victorian imperial archive...In this book, Kennedy explains, for the first time, the reasons for Burton's almost manic immersion in other cultures and allows us to comprehend the concerns that characterised the Victorian engagement with difference.
Times Literary Supplement - Michael Saler
[Kennedy] is the first Burton biographer to stress that Burton exemplified fundamental Victorian preoccupations and thus was actually a representative figure of his age...Kennedy successfully demonstrates that Burton's life can be freshly interpreted by situating him within Victorian history, and also that Victorian history can be illuminated in new ways through Burton's life...The biography itself [is] a gripping intellectual adventure...This wonderfully engaging and nuanced biography is written clearly, informed by theory, but not beholden to it. This is the best biography of Burton as a man intimately involved with the central questions of his day, and of ours.
Newsweek - John R. Bradley
Richard Burton burst onto the British public scene in the early 1850s with his account of visiting Mecca disguised as a Muslim pilgrim. Translations of The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra followed. Kennedy's entertaining and insightful biography recasts this interpreter of non-Western societies as a figure relevant for the 21st century. Burton embodied 'the transition from a Victorian to a Modernist consciousness,' and, by encountering a multiplicity of peoples, raised ethnic and cultural issues that are more relevant today than ever.
Vancouver Sun - George Fetherling
A work of uncommon excellence.
New Criterion - Eric Ormsby
[Kennedy's] fascinating study is not a new biography, but an extended reflection on his subject's multiple, and protean, manifestations.
Al-Ahram Weekly - David Tresilian
Kennedy has produced an elegantly written account of Burton's life, seeing in him a representative of various 19th-century European types, including the gypsy, orientalist, impersonator, explorer and sexologist.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674025523
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,504,304
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Dane Kennedy is the Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs at The George Washington University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

1. The Gypsy

2. The Orientalist

3. The Impersonator

4. The Explorer

5. The Racist

6. The Relativist

7. The Sexologist

8. The Afterlife

A Note on Sources

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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