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158 LETTERS IN CANADA 1991 general idea of biography, but on his conception of what constitutes a standard biography. We are left asking, 'What does King mean by a "standard biography?" ' The answer, I believe, lies in his subsequent claim that 'a great number of new facts about Blake's existence ... discovered in the past sixty years ... make a new life of him essential.' King appears to believe that a 'standard' biography differs from others in that it gives the reader 'fact,' not conjectures or interpretations. To a great extent, King seeks to restrict himself to things 'matters of record,' and here, largely, to material provided by G.E. Bentley's Blake Records (1969). Through King we learn a good deal about Blake's commercial dealings, about how much he earned each year of his life, about how much he received for each engraving, about how much he charged per lesson to teach engraving, about his earnings compared to other engravers during the period, and about his declining success in marketing his work. This attempt to reduce Blake's life to verifiable facts is something that we can value, especially given the equal tendency in Blakean criticism to mythologize this poet. It is equally, however, a great weakness of this biography, for much of Blake's life and his work require interpretation to be adequately understood.Instead of interpreting Blake's poetry, King primarily seeks to explain the immediate biographical circumstances surrounding each poem's composition. We are given a biography of Blake's material life, but not of his spirit, nor of the political, social, theological, and intellectual worlds that he sought to transform through his work. King's biography is an important contribution to Blake studies. In its desire to provide an empirical understanding of this poet, it gives us only one dimension of Blake's life. (ALAN BEWELL) D.L. Macdonald. Poor Polidori: A Critical Biography of the Author of 'The Vampyre' University of Toronto Press. xiv, 333, illus. $60.00 Why a study of Polidori? I first pondered this question when Lorne Macdonald asked me to write a supporting statement for the project from which the present impressive study has now emerged. I was happy to do so, yet the question remains. There was the obvious answer: Polidori had not been, as they used to day, 'done.' But another reason impressed me, namely that Polidori is one of those figures who are interesting simply because of who they were when they were, in short as a focus for literary /cultural history. For it is hard to argue that Polidori is interesting on literary grounds alone - The Vampyre is in no way comparable in profundity or complexity to Frankenstein, which shared an origin in the famous ghost-story contest of the Shelleys, Byron - and Polidori. Polidori's novella was crucial to the HUMANITIES 159 vampire genre, no doubt, but to say, as Macdonald does, that the vampire is 'a major Romantic symbol' seems stretching it a bit. The Vampyre is a by-product of the enormous cultural explosion who is Byron, the one poet whose life was as important as his writing was, whose influence spread over Europe and America affecting an immense array of cultural forms - literature, music, painting, politics, religion, nationalist expression. Almost everything important about Polidori is owing to his link with the mad, bad lord who was so dangerous to know. The Vampyre would have been impossible without Byron: 'Polidori's tale is obviously parasitic on Byron's idea.' Furthermore, Byron is himself the object of the novel as a crypto-roman aclef, in the manner of Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon. How much of The Vampyre's impact was because of its attribution to Byron and because it was somehow about Byron? The sense that Polidori's life can be divided into 'Before Byron' and 'After Byron' is central to this study. When Byron does enter its narrative, the effect is striking: Byron's words leap off the page, in vivid contrast to Polidori's comparative dullness. The effect, as one reads this scholarly and entertaining account, is to recall nothing so much as Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, where the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 158-162
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-25
Open Access
No
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