Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke by Paul Delany (review)
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Reviewed by
Paul Delany. Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke. McGill-Queen's University Press. xxxiv, 342. $37.95

Although many are familiar with the romanticized figure of World War I soldier-poet, Rupert Brooke, few are aware of the man's inner demons. Paul Delany, who is Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University, offers readers a tantalizing, almost titillating portrait of Brooke's brief, but eventful life. Rigorously researched, this biography delves into the minutiae of Brooke's comings and goings, especially the ways in which his struggles with sexuality informed many of his life choices.

Presented more as a psychological profile than a literary biography, Delany convincingly demonstrates some of the underlying causes for Brooke's long-term malaise and vagabond ways, much of it revealed through his deft handling of correspondence and other archival evidence. Also successful is Delany's description of the poet's early years, as well as his discussion of Brooke's encounters with the Neo-Pagans and the Bloomsbury group. Such elements help anchor the biography and give material substance to some of the more internal concerns described in the book. [End Page 200]

In his painstaking attempt to document Brooke's every real or considered liaison, however, Delany sometimes sacrifices some of the richness that biography affords; that is, at different points it reads like a diary or mere cataloguing of romantic encounters that ultimately becomes repetitive, even strained at times in terms of their importance. This is not to say that the information should have been jettisoned, but drawing out such incidents is an unfortunate consequence of trying to write a full biography about such a brief life. Nor is the above comment meant to suggest that the biography is unscholarly; on the contrary, Delany demonstrates a commanding knowledge of Brooke's life materials. But in wanting to demythologize the writer, Delany ultimately focuses too much on the poet's psychological history, thus limiting opportunities for in-depth discussions about Brooke's more public reception and intellectual influences, especially literary influences – a surprising omission given that, as Delany himself acknowledges, "[Brooke's] poetic talent was not of the highest rank, [but] it still had qualities that made him the most popular English poet for ten years or more." In fact, it is only in the last few chapters that Delany begins to discuss in any meaningful way Brooke's poetry, as previous quotations from his work functioned largely as biocritical aids to help highlight Brooke's object of desire at the time.

Also puzzling are those moments when Delany offers biographical details without fully considering context or relevance. In his chapter on Brooke's trip to North America, for instance, he mentions Brooke's visit to Ottawa where he "formed his only real friendship with a Canadian," the poet Duncan Campbell Scott. Yet Delany seems to suggest that this friendship was mostly due to Brooke's interest in Scott's opinions and attitudes toward Indigenous people. Delany even declares with unsubstantiated authority that "No doubt Scott praised the [Indian] policy to Rupert." But wouldn't Brooke have also been attracted to Scott for the Canadian's success as a poet? Although Delany makes no mention of it, it is worth noting that Scott talks about a memorable walk with Brooke that same summer in his 1922 address "Poetry and Progress," and the topic of conversation was writers, not Indigenous peoples. Such a lack of nuanced discussion, then, serves to weaken rather than strengthen Delany's position, and there is more than one instance of this shortcoming.

In the end, Delany's psychological preoccupations in Fatal Glamour help re-create "a life" of Rupert Brooke – not "the life," as the title boldly claims. In other words, although Delany succeeds in opening up potential new avenues of critical inquiry about the young English poet, especially Brooke's pre-war years, readers will still have to wait for the authoritative biography to be published on this enigmatic literary figure. [End Page 201]

Thomas Hodd
Département d'anglais, Université de Moncton
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