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Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography Paperback – February 11, 2009


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Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography + Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody (Gender and Culture Series)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195386930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195386936
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,432,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography is a landmark in the field: simply the best thing of its kind, and a remarkable achievement that we may not live to see bettered. If you read no other book on G&S, you must read Ainger."-- G&S News


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Michael Ainger taught French and Italian for 30 years in the London secondary schools. Retired from teaching, he has worked at the Guildhall is a freelance researcher and writer. He has worked at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By L. E. Cantrell VINE VOICE on April 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the preface of this dual biography of Gilbert and Sullivan, Michael Ainger draws attention to the previous book dealing with the same topic, Leslie Baily's "The Gilbert and Sullivan Book." Ainger points out that in the half century that has passed since the publication of Baily's book, great collections of Gilbert-and-Sullivaniana have become available in Britain and America, and that he has been able to incorporate their contents into this book.

In the past few days I have read both books for comparison (which makes this my third time through with Baily, not much when spread over fifty years.) There can be no doubt that Mr. Ainger crams more facts into his closely set and rather gray-looking 504 pages than Baily put in his typographically more generous and colorful 475.

Here is an example: Baily reproduces a newspaper engraving in which Gilbert and Sullivan are present in a courtroom as they attempt to defend their ownership of "H.M.S. Pinafore" against the claims of some disgruntled former financial backers. Standing in the dock and testifying is the great actor-manager, Sir Henry Irving--employer of novelist Bram Stoker and model for his Count Dracula. Baily does not explain what the greatest Hamlet of the Nineteenth Century had to do with "H.M.S. Pinafore." Ainger has no room for the old drawing but he does explain what Irving was saying. (It had to do with the technical meaning of the word, "run," when applied to theatrical productions. Now you know.)

Or consider this: Baily often refers to the lovely, wealthy, cultivated, married American lady--irrevocably separated from her husband--with whom Sullivan had a long and intimate liaison.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Phyllis A. Karr on September 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Since my early childhood in the 1940s, I have known the basic stories of how Sullivan and Gilbert died; and this is the first time I have cried upon rereading the facts. Not that Ainger's writing can be called "sentimental." It is clear, calm, and objective -- exactly the style I like best in nonfiction. (If more biographies for young people had been written like this, I might today be reading biographies for pleasure instead of research.) Following an earlier reviewer's suggestion, I read Ainger's biography side by side with Leslie Bailey's and, while Bailey's does have some interesting tidbits absent from Ainger's account, it is a coffee-table book to this newer one. Nor does Ainger squander wordage with critical analysis of the works themselves, as too many literary and musical biographers do, to the probable annoyance of any reader whose critical opinion differs. I think that the key to what makes Ainger's easily the best biography I have yet read about either Gilbert, Sullivan, or both -- Steadman's on Gilbert is the only one that comes close -- is that Ainger treats them as people rather than icons. He doesn't gloss over the things that went wrong, but where possible he looks for human reasons why these things happened. If you want a really well-told reconstruction of the lives of influential Victorians, this is the shop for it.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Christopher J. Deraney on February 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a student of the operatic stage, and currently in my Masters trainging, I have come to further appreciate reading for enjoyment and extended learning. Now in my mid-twenties, I have appeared in four (with a fifth waiting in the wings) Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Until I bought this book I had only a limited, but interesting knowledge of the calamity these men created.

I appreciated the thought and careful attention to detail that was put in this book. Two biographies in one kept it interesting and full of suspense until the very end, while not tiring or exhausting the reader with useless detail. Not only did I come to know more about my favorite of the opera repertoire, but I got a chance to spend half a decade in Victorian England (leaving me to wonder why we do not still write letters as a means of correspondence). The critical account that Mr. Ainger produces, not only provides us with the history behind the operas, but even the detailed happenings of the actors, authors, and composers individual lives. As an actor, I was able to transfer myself, almost placing myself, ex-oficio in the triumvirate of Gilbert, Sullivan, and D'Oyly Carte. I would have never imagined Sir Arthur Sullivan hob-knobbing with not only Englands elite, but the likes of Gioacchino Rossini, Clara Schumann and Charles Dickens. My only reservation with this book was that it tended to be slightly wordy in areas of very small importance, but hardly deterring from the kinship of the rest of the novel.

With much more knowledge to be obtained, and plenty of studying and years of school left, I am much more appreciative of the chances I have had to follow in the creator of the Major-General's foot steps, and would wholly recommend this book, riveting to the end, to any lover of Gilbert and Sullivan.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steve Harrison VINE VOICE on October 23, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Up to a point this is a well-written and generally entertaining attempt at combining two biographies into one. The focus flips back and forth between Gilbert and Sullivan, giving each several paragraphs at a time; this sounds awkward and artificial but works surprisingly well.

An early chapter on Gilbert's and Sullivan's ancestors contains much more detail than even extreme G&S fans will have much interest in.

The next portion of the book -- on Gilbert and Sullivan's careers before they became collaborators -- is its best. The back-and-forth technique underscores how their lives gradually spiraled together.

After that the book is based almost entirely on correspondence among Gilbert, Sullivan, D'Oyly Carte, and his wife and then, as they begin to die, a few other people. Good biographies synthesize correspondence to explain their subjects' lives and thoughts. This one just regurgitates it. And so we learn everything that's in the letters (including inconsequential trivialities such as the complete itineraries of everyone's frequent trips to the Continent or how many times Gilbert swam in his lake each year) and nothing that isn't. Since Gilbert destroyed his personal letters and since Sullivan's were glib and superficial we end up not knowing much about them as people except what we can read between the lines from letters they wrote about other subjects.

Another problem is that the subject of most of these letters was a problem or controversy of one sort or another. What we learn of G&S therefore tends toward the darker sides of their personalities. We can easily figure out that Sullivan was weak, self-centered, and self-indulgent and Gilbert petty, argumentative, distrustful, and controlling.
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