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A Traitor's Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1751-1816 Hardcover – November 30, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0374279318 ISBN-10: 0374279314 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 519 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374279314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374279318
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,438,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Richard Sheridan is primarily remembered for three brilliant plays: The Rivals, The School for Scandal, and The Critic. With these elegant comedies of manners, he almost single-handedly revived the comic spirit of the Restoration, deemed too coarse by the more refined society of the latter 18th century. In Sheridan's work, the clichés of traditional melodrama are turned on their heads (The Rivals, for example, features a man who forces his son to marry the woman he himself is in love with), and romantic intrigues become a forum for discussing political issues and the nature of theater itself. Sheridan's major plays were all written by the time he was 28. While melodramas, adaptations, and pantomimes followed, his career as a playwright was just a prelude to a long involvement in other fields, most notably managing London's Drury Lane theater and a political career that eventually led to a seat in the House of Commons. Little has been written about his later political and business life.

There are romantic intrigues, political battles, and dodges from the debt collectors aplenty in Sheridan's later life, though they seem but a lengthy epilogue to the wit and creativity of his early years. O'Toole is wonderfully lucid, however, in explaining the struggles for Irish autonomy in this period (Sheridan would all his life, to the detriment of his social standing, identify himself as Irish), and he offers an in-depth analysis of the elaborate political and social arena of the time. Particularly well drawn are Sheridan's complex romantic relationships with his wives, involving infidelities and duels. But when compared to the brilliance of his early plays, the historical details of his later life seem somewhat lackluster. --John Longenbaugh

From Publishers Weekly

O'Toole's mistitled biography exaggerates the hold of Sheridan's (and O'Toole's) native Ireland on his careers as playwright and politician. Although Sheridan supported Irish causes as well as English reforms, he never returned to the island he left as a boy in 1759, and despite a sometimes self-destructive idealism, he was opportunist enough to spend 32 of his 64 years in parliament. In his early 20s, with The Rivals and The School for Scandal, he became the most successful writer of comedy in his time. Politics magnetized him, however, and he put his genius for wit and invective into Whig partisanship?when not earning a reputation for boozing and womanizing. He died in 1816 in a house emptied by seizures for debt of nearly everything but his abused and ailing second wife, and the beds in which they lay. In The Critic, O'Toole (currently drama critic for the New York Daily News) notes, Sheridan "went further than ever before in blurring the boundaries between the stage and the world, between theatre and politics." O'Toole builds his quirky biography on Sheridan's living that way as well. A great parliamentary orator, he packed speeches doomed to fail amid the era's political cynicism with an exuberance of language that might have earned him riches if performed at his debt-ridden playhouse, Drury Lane. During decades of misguided loyalty to the worthless Prince of Wales, Sheridan relished his dangerous role on England's real stage. In O'Toole's often elegant telling, Sheridan possessed a risky excess of Irish feeling and an overwhelming rage for ruin.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I was familiar with Sheridan from his theatrical comedies, plays that have become standard in the repertoire. I was dimly aware of his service in Parliament. I wasn't aware of his extensive involvement in the great political questions of the day, particularly the Irish questions, nor of his centrality in the great debates of the late 18th century--the American war for independence, the expanding power of the East India Company, and many others.
The book covers all of this, but what elevates this bio from the typical is the author's focus on Sheridan's rhetoric--his use of language. The richness of wordplay, situation, and satire in his plays turns out to be just a special case of a characteristic lifestyle of thought and interaction. It's just splendid to read this sort of thing from an intelligent writer. The book gets you thinking, and there are points at which you may challenge the author's conclusions, but you're not going to find many biographies of this depth, thoroughness, and thoughtfulness. A great read!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Allan Brain on March 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Sheridan (1751-1816) is best known for a few plays, superficially comedies of manners and morals, mainly The Rivals and The School for Scandal. O'Toole's work explores beneath the surface of these and other literary works, showing them as the products of Sheridan's personal and political life.
Widely praised in the English and American press, this biography portrays Sheridan as a passionate (and compassionate) politician. He was a major player in a struggle for various complicated and sometimes seemingly contradictory causes and parliamentary power in the era of the American Revolution, King George III's intermittent madness, the French Revolution, and troubles in the British empire.
Sheridan is shown to be a humanitarian, and, less convincingly, an Irish patriot in the guise of an English politician who happened to be Irish by birth at a time when Ireland was at times openly rebellious toward England. The family heritage in Ireland was actually Protestant, but tolerant of Catholicism to the point of having Jacobite tendencies, i.e. favoring the return of the Stuart monarchy that had ended with James II in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. Sheridan's father, Thomas, was a man of the theatre, and also a scholar, concerned particularly with propriety in matters of language and spoken discourse. Richard was not his father's favorite and his mother, herself a writer, died while Richard was still a young boy.
O'Toole's biography manages to relate the playwright's works to his family circumstances without indulging in psychological speculation. For example, the memorable character Mrs. Malaprop, in The Rivals, (immortalized by our word "malaprop" or "malapropism") is shown to be in part based on Thomas, who had pedantic tendencies.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By JGM on September 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful biography of a fascinating and engaging personality. Sheridan is a fine poet and an honorable politician (a nearly impossible achievement in the eighteenth-century as it is today), a genuine wit, he was also one of the greatest playwrights in the London theater of his day.

Sheridan was a man of fashion and society, but not a fop. He wrote clever, romantic comedies, liked to live on the edge and yet always held fast to his principles -- supporting the American colonists, for instance, in their struggle for independence -- while refusing to be bought at any price.

He lived in grand style from the first moment that he arrived in London (despite having nothing but his wife's dowry), spending all of the money that he made as quickly as he earned it -- sometimes MORE quickly than he earned it. He was passionate about few women but appreciative of the beauty of many, and he was a devoted and caring father. (His poem "If a Daughter You Have" is a small gem.)

When he came home one night to find his theater burning as a result of a fire (probably set by his enemies in parliament), he calmly sat and sipped some wine, explaining to shocked witnesses: "Surely a man can have a glass of wine by his own fire."

Toward the end of his life, although he was burdened by crippling debts, he refused an offer of a large sum of money in compensation for his support offered by the American colonists. He explained that his support had been a matter of principle.

Read this biography and anything by Sheridan himself.
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