The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World


Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
5.1 X 0.9 X 7.9 inches | 0.7 pounds
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About the Author

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


[Kennedy's] fascinating study is not a new biography, but an extended reflection on his subject's multiple, and protean, manifestations.--Eric Ormsby"New Criterion" (03/01/2006)
A work of uncommon excellence.--George Fetherling"Vancouver Sun" (12/03/2005)
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"Al-Ahram Weekly" (04/20/2006)
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.--Philippa Levine, University of Southern California
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.--Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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.--Wm. Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin
With this scholarly and eminently readable biography of the famed Victorian Richard Burton, best known in his own era for publishing an account of his traveling to Mecca disguised as a Sufi pilgrim and for translating an uncensored edition of The Arabian Nights, Kennedy seeks to alter the perception of the man as totally estranged from the strait-laced society of 19th-century Britain.--Sean Michael Fleming"Library Journal" (08/01/2005)
Kennedy succeeds in re-establishing Burton as a relevant figure for a 21st-century world grappling with issues of ethnic, cultural and sexual diversity.--Publishers Weekly (07/11/2005)
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 clich├ęs, 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.-- (09/12/2005)
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.'-- (09/11/2005)
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.-- (10/17/2005)
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.-- (10/01/2005)
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.-- (10/21/2005)
[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.-- (12/09/2005)
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.-- (11/28/2005)