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Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders Paperback – Unabridged, August 21, 2008
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In response to the scandal generated by his open affair with the proto-feminist and free love advocate Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Wright had begun to build Taliesin as a refuge and "love cottage" for himself and his mistress (both married at the time to others).
Conceived as the apotheosis of Wright’s prairie house style, the original Taliesin would stand in all its isolated glory for only a few months before the bloody slayings that rocked the nation and reduced the structure itself to a smoking hull.
Supplying both a gripping mystery story and an authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, Drennan wades through the myths surrounding Wright and the massacre, casting fresh light on the formulation of Wright’s architectural ideology and the cataclysmic effects that the Taliesin murders exerted on the fabled architect and on his subsequent designs.
More About the Author
He received his B.A. in English (1966) from the University of Florida and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Renaissance English Literature from the University of South Florida (1983) and was a seminarian at Yale, studying the English Renaissance lyric there under the luminous Thomas M. Greene.
He enjoyed a twenty-six-year career in the UW System, mostly at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County, in the virtual shadows of Wright's Taliesin, and is the author of dozens of published scholarly articles. His out-of-the-classroom passions include the Philadelphia Phillies, the Green Bay Packers, Martin guitars, and golf in the North Carolina mountains. And, of course, his beloved wife Beth and three remarkable children. Oh, also three dogs-- Bambi, Jack, and Midey--accrued largely because the aforesaid three remarkable children have yet to produce progeny.
Currently attending an evangelical Anglican church, his own theological background is grounded in Eastern Orthodoxy.
He's a happy man, all told.
Top Customer Reviews
The first half of the book is a biography of Wright's life up until the murders at Taliesen. There are several mysteries explored here. Why did Wright's mother nearly suffocate him with her love and attention? Why did his father leave the family? Why did Wright, a champion of family values and a doting father, abruptly run off to Europe with the neighbor lady and nearly destroy his career in the process? Love and morality in Wright's life appeared to have about as firm a foundation as Taliesen, which had to be built three times.
The remainder of the book provides the details of the horrific murders at Taliesen and tries to uncover the motive of the murderer, Julian Carlton. Drennan shows us how the murders affected Wright both emotionally and professionally. In the epilogue he intrigues us with a description of how Wright's style dramatically changed after the murders and how it may have influenced architecture in America at large.
Drennan has an elegant, clear writing style, reminiscent of the best classic British detective fiction. The book does not disappoint and remains thought-provoking long after the turn of the last page.
All of this is prologue to the crime that is at the heart of this book: the murder of Wright's 'soul mate' Mamah Borthwick Cheney, 6 others and the destruction by fire of Taliesin. The aftermath is also here. The capture and ultimate fate of the murderer, the effect on Wright, the man, and his later architecture. Wright devotees will find the occassional nugget of new information, but much of this ground has been mined before by other biographers. Drennan's conclusion that Wright's architecture subsequently turned almost fortress like is easy to accept, psychologically a neat fit and upon closer examination wrong. The factors that caused Wright's abandoning of the Prairie style were in place before the tragedy and played out well after it.
What we are really to be interested in here, judging by the hatchet on the dust jacket, is the crime. A horrendous crime indeed, involving enough blood, gore and roasted flesh to do a Hollywood slasher movie proud. A detailed reconstruction of the murders is put forward, with various alternatives presented. The perpetrator's motive, thin as it was, is also discussed. Oddly, given that this is a book at least partially about architecture, no floor plan of the crime scene is provided.Read more ›
At last, an author has had the courage, persistence and skill to delve into Wisconsin's crime of the 20th century. It's a wonder no writer previously tackled this topic, given that it involves a horrific killing that claimed the paramour of America's foremost architect, as well as his signature home design, Taliesin. We're all fortunate Drennan accepted the challenge.
The actions of the murderer Julian Carlton and their impact on Wright now have the necessary coverage though, thanks to William R. Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House." Drennan, professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County, has written a solid book that gives novices a picture of the famous architect and scholars a new look at his lowest point.
Drennan starts with the blueprints of Wright's life, showing how his family's Unitarian roots and his own Emersonian free spirit contributed to his architectural maturation. After years chafing under suburban comfort he entered into an affair with feminist thinker Mamah Borthwick Cheney, constructing Taliesin as their love nest. This piece was shattered by Carlton's hatchet and gasoline, and Wright's style - artistically and personally - was never the same afterwards.
Drennan's research is exhaustive, going over interviews, newspaper articles, memoirs and even decades-old gossip to piece together the full picture of Wright. He shows the opposition of Spring Green's moral residents to Wright's "sinful" ideals, how racism played a part in Carlton's motivations and suggests the killings were what removed the "prairie house" community design from his homes.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As an architect I found this story to be a compelling bit of American history of which I was unaware. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon
As a Wisconsin native, it was an interesting read about the legendary Mr. Wright and about the murders that no one around here (Madison) ever hears about. Read morePublished 4 months ago by zoldar
I enjoyed this book. It was a little slow at first, but I am glad I stuck with it to the end.Published 5 months ago by Elliott D Petty
At least two famous men are considered "great," or even "the greatest." One of them was Charles Dickens, who lived as a fraud his entire life. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Patricia P. Downing
Enjoyed this book very much. Took at little getting used to reverse chronology of the women involved, but eventually found it interesting.Published 6 months ago by Catherine M.
Strictly for Frank Lloyd Wright completists, William Drennan’s exhaustive study of the murders of Wright’s paramour and most of their household in 1914 is a lawyerly reconstruction... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Bart Mills