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ELT 38:4 1995 Comprehending Rupert Brooke William E. Laskowski. Rupert Brooke. New York: Twayne, 1994. xiv + 153 pp. $29.95 LN RUPERT BROOKE, a new book in the Twayne English Authors Series, William E. Laskowski aims "to understand Brooke in his cultural and artistic context," in other words, "not to rescue him but to comprehend him." In spite of the disclaimer (and his subsequent failure to remember that Americans and the English are divided by more than their common language), Laskowski sets out to correct the corrective impulse of recent studies like Keith Clark's The Muse Colony (1992), and Adrian Caesar's Taking It Like a Man (1993), both published in England and both involving Brooke. In his effort "to disentangle the writer, the work, and the reputation," Laskowski deconstructs the legends of Rupert Brooke in the Ught of the cultural climate that gave rise to each of them. What the volume finally suggests is that it is not Brooke's life or his writings that merit study, so much as the responses to his death in the first year of World War I and to the myths (and counter-myths) it inspired. This emphasis takes on special significance because neither the facts of Brooke's life nor the corpus of his work finally amounts to much and his lack of distinction as either a Georgian or a war poet leaves Laskowski with little to suggest in the preface other than Brooke's heretofore unrealized value "as a transitional figure" en route to Modernism. Whatever the merit of this assertion, it alone would hardly seem to justify a volume in the Twayne series, much less the critical interest Brooke continues to elicit here and in England, albeit rarely alone. As if to suggest as much, the longest and the most substantial of the four chapters is the last, "Brooke's Reputation." On the way to his analysis of Brooke's posthumous "canonization and demonization," Laskowski attempts to represent the facts of Brooke's life fairly, a task he simplifies by almost entirely excluding Brooke's family from the "Chronology" and beginning chapter 1, "Rupert Brooke: His Life," at Rugby, as if his public persona had been preceded only by an immaculate, anonymous birth, and a family tree with no roots and very few branches. (To be fair, Laskowski does mention the "Ranee" in the first paragraph, and names and identifies his father, Tooler," as a headmaster at Rugby in the second.) Laskowski is at his most corrective in chapters 2 and 3 ("Brooke's Poetry," and "Brooke's Prose," respectively, the third, curi564 BOOK REVIEWS ously, being a few pages longer than the second), and though his insights are worthwhile, it's not really clear whether his intended audience is general readers discovering Brooke for the first time, or those without need for background like that offered in the Twayne volumes on, for example, Rose Macaulay (1969) and Virginia Woolf (1978, rev. 1989). The first chapter establishes Brooke as a "divided personality," whose "doubleness" was partly a function of where he was and who he was with when he was alive, and how he was remembered after he died. In thus framing Brooke's life, Laskowski succeeds in clarifying biographical data misrepresented not only by his earliest biographers and editors (like Edward Marsh and Geoffrey Keynes), but by more recent authors, like Samuel Hynes and Robert Pearsall, who may have relied on these earlier writings. If Laskowski seems to belabor the "double identity" of Rupert Brooke as a child, it may be because of the importance he places on Brooke's fixation with Peter Pan and perpetual childhood (something discussed by Walter de la Mare in 1919, although Laskowski rather dismisses his work in the annotated bibliography). In implying (which is all, finally, he can do) that the more insidious manifestations of Brooke's double identity (like anti-Semitism and anti-feminism) may have eventually sullied the "promise" inherent in the counter-legend of Rupert Brooke that evolved among friends like Virginia Woolf and Rose Macaulay after his death, Laskowski suggests how insubstantial Brooke's life was. Finally, in asserting that "in the use that was made of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 564-567
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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