Customer Reviews


5 Reviews
5 star:
 (4)
4 star:    (0)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Portrait
Endearing, moving and mysterious, this is as sensitive a portrait of John Clare as we are likely to get. Bate's love for his subject is obvious throughout the book, in which he succeeds so well at walking the line between adoration and accuracy. Teeming with observations such as "for Clare even a fishpond is saturated with feeling and memory," Clare's unusually...
Published on June 14, 2004 by Gianmarco Manzione

versus
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another doorstop compendium
If you want all the facts about John Clare, the romantic peasant poet who died forgotten in the madhouse, this is the book for you. If you want a sense of who Clare was and how he fits into English poetry as a whole, it isn't. Keats admired Clare, but complained that his poetry was diffuse because it lacked emotional concentration. This biography has the same fault...
Published 13 months ago by A Customer


Most Helpful First | Newest First

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Portrait, June 14, 2004
By 
Gianmarco Manzione (St. Petersburg, FL) - See all my reviews
This review is from: John Clare: A Biography (Hardcover)
Endearing, moving and mysterious, this is as sensitive a portrait of John Clare as we are likely to get. Bate's love for his subject is obvious throughout the book, in which he succeeds so well at walking the line between adoration and accuracy. Teeming with observations such as "for Clare even a fishpond is saturated with feeling and memory," Clare's unusually intense absorption in nature is brought to light here with the kind of beauty and empathy only a fellow-writer such as Bate could achieve.
Yet despite Bate's insistence on Clare's genius (I'm quite insistent on it myself after having read the biography and skimming through the Selected Poems) he does not look away from uglier aspects of Clare's life: his infidelity and apparent spousal abuse, his alcoholism and, most of all, the ever-bewildering case of his diagnosis as a "lunatic." This is where Bate's book becomes particularly poignant, and I wish he had spent less time gossiping about Clare's wrangles with publishers and more on the man's complicated and harrowing character. For this reason I felt the book to be a bit longer than it needed to be, but perhaps I'd feel differently had the material in the last 150 pages, which deals extensively with Clare's mental illness, been fleshed-out even more. Surely accounts of Clare's occasional belief that he was Lord Byron or Jack Randall the boxer are of far more interest than how many pounds he was paid for a poem published in the London Magazine.
Nonetheless, Bate does an excellent job of avoiding the temptation to romanticize Clare's dramatic mental illness (for which, in the end, "manic-depression" seems to be the most accurate but not necessarily conclusive diagnosis. In her incredible book, Touched With Fire, Kay Redfield Jamison lists Clare's name among the poets she counted as victims of manic-depressive illness). Unlike other biographers of writers (Quentin Bell's book about Virginia Woolf comes to mind) Bate does not settle for Clare's own metaphorical explanations for his "madness." Indeed, Bate often disputes the very term "madness" and exposes it as a dated and even superstitious label. He does not so thoroughly drench the artist's mental struggles in myth and theory as to have it become the stuff of folklore. Surely it would be flattering to think of Clare as some divinely inspired mystic, but Bate's many more logical scenarios are a refreshing contrast to the "mad genius" stereotype.
While Clare attributed his madness to the day he watched a friend fall to his death from a tree as a child, Bate's more plausible suggestions include: Clare's concussion after tumbling out of a tree himself as a boy, his heavy drinking, the awful malnutrition of his diet, the tormenting stress of his perpetual poverty amid obligations to his wife and seven children, his frustrating efforts to further himself as a poet while having to beg for farm work, and "mercury-poisoning resulting from attempted treatment for syphilis." In a further example of Bate's mature handling of this particular issue, he writes that "we should not rule out the possibility that his own derangement was partially shaped by his reading about the mental suffering of other writers." Clare was terribly impressionable. However, where Bate tells us that Clare's "episodes" afflicted him only after being admitted to the aszlum as if to imply that he was bound to become psychotic after living among the mad for two decades, Jamison writes in "Touched With Fire" that "manic-depressive illness not only worsens over time, it becomes less responsive to medication the longer" it goes untreated, so it seems only logical that his condition would have worsened with age, especially since no such "treatment" as Jamison discusses was available in his day.
Compounding the reasonable possibilities Bate offers is the fact that Clare's very devotion to write poetry may have been interpreted as madness by his neighbors. Tragically, this seems to be a chief reason why he was eventually confined. As Bate says early on, "In summer he walked in the woods and fields alone, a book in his pocket . . . his love of books began to isolate him from other boys . . . the villagers found this behavior very odd: `some fancying it symptoms of lunacy.'" Even after reading the book, it is anyone's guess as to whether Clare was insane; but stories of his battles against what illness he may have suffered from as well as the ignorance, incompetence and greed of those purporting to care for him make for a rather heart-breaking read. What we can be sure of, though, is that mad or not, Clare had become more of a liability than a father or husband. "There is no evidence that he was taken to the asylum because he was `mad' in the sense of having lost consciousness of his identity . . . he was taken to the asylum because he needed better care than could be provided by his family," Bate writes.
Though he probably takes a bit too much liberty in attempting to explain nearly every one of Clare's symptoms in a more rational light, Bate's assertions about Clare's psychological temperament make for some absolutely riveting explications and commentary. "To say that he had written the works of Byron and Scott was but an extreme way of saying he had written works that he hoped might one day be regarded as the equal of" those works, he supposes. In an even farther-fetching attempt at psychoanalysis, Bate explains Clare's delusion that he was a famous boxer as a dramatization "of the fact that Clare spent his life fighting battles - for his poetry, for recognition, for survival, against his inner demons." While this is probably the point at which Bate seems more of an adoring and apologetic fan than biographer, who's to say? We will never really know what was going on inside that jewel of a mind, and considering all that was taken from the man in his life by his illness, time, or other people, maybe that secret is the one thing we can let Clare keep.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Great, February 9, 2005
By 
This review is from: John Clare: A Biography (Hardcover)
This is a wonderful biography of Clare. Bate not only paints a convincing picture of this largely self-taught genius, but he also provides illuminating information about the social context in which Clare moved. His speculations concerning Clare's mental illness are also on the mark. Take your time with this book. It's an enjoyable ramble through the fields and by the end you'll have a well-rounded picture of John Clare and a greater appreciation for his work.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Fine Biography of Clare, April 25, 2006
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: John Clare: A Biography (Hardcover)
Jonathan Bate's admirable biography of John Clare is worthy of this unique poet. There were moments while reading the first two hundred or so pages of John Clare A Biography when I began to sense I was residing in Clare's mind and footsteps which is truly a tribute to Bate's fine scholarship and narrative skills. The remainder of the book is excellent as well. Very memorable and very much worth reading and exploring.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fab, October 29, 2003
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: John Clare: A Biography (Hardcover)
A magnificent bio of a fabulous poet. I got to page 167 or so before it occured to me to check what page I was on. When one forgets one is reading, one knows one is reading excellence.
This bio is excellence and this poet is sublime.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another doorstop compendium, December 28, 2013
This review is from: John Clare: A Biography (Hardcover)
If you want all the facts about John Clare, the romantic peasant poet who died forgotten in the madhouse, this is the book for you. If you want a sense of who Clare was and how he fits into English poetry as a whole, it isn't. Keats admired Clare, but complained that his poetry was diffuse because it lacked emotional concentration. This biography has the same fault. It shows so little emotional and imaginative identification with Clare that he soon seems a bore-- flat, like the farm landscape he wrote about. Libraries are overstuffed with doorstop biographies of this genre: "Clare did this, then he did that, then he did this".. blah blah blah.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

John Clare: A Biography
John Clare: A Biography by Jonathan Bate (Hardcover - November 15, 2003)
Used & New from: $2.74
Add to wishlist See buying options
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.