skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
[personal profile] skygiants
A while back, [personal profile] rushthatspeaks wrote a gorgeous review of T.H. White's The Goshawk that I am not even going to attempt to duplicate. But it convinced me to read the book. [personal profile] rushthatspeaks also suggested reading Sylvia Townsend Warner's T.H. White: A Biography first, though, which I did, and that I am going to talk about.

Okay, so you guys know I have an undignified interest in dead-author gossip. This book cannot be classified as dead-author gossip; it is a deep and complicated portrait of a man who was very clever, and very much a romantic, and often very unhappy. It is also unfairly interesting for a biography of a man who spend vast swathes of his life living as close to hermitude as possible and, as best I can tell, had one great incident of mutual passionate love in his life, and that was with his dog.

(No, seriously, the love story of T.H. White and his dog Brownie is the kind of thing 19th-century novels are made of. Brownie spies him one day in an inn, decides that he is her one true love, sneaks into his bedroom at night, abandons her former owners and follows him home. T.H. White takes her in with a sort of absent affection but mostly ignores her, bestowing most of his attention on goshawks and other avian creatures, until Brownie decides that life is not worth living if her master does not care about her and falls ill with what seems to be the canine version of Romantic Consumption. T.H. White, on the verge of losing her, realizes what a fool he has been, rushes to her side, professes love, promises never to cheat on her with hawks or falcons again; the finale from Rent plays over the imaginary soundtrack; Brownie miraculously recovers! From this point on she is the most important thing in White's life, but again, given his general habits of hermitude, she doesn't seem to have faced much competition.)

The thing is, if you've read and loved The Once and Future King, there will be no doubt in your mind that T.H. White was capable of enormous intelligence and humor and compassion. He was also a man who generally had trouble convincing himself that there was anything worthwhile about human beings at all, including himself. He was the kind of person who would temporarily adopt, feed and clothe an entire family of Italian grifters because he was bored and lonely; also the kind of person who would fly into a rage with a visiting friend because everything was not going exactly as planned in his head; also the kind of person who would bring his half-trained goshawk to the pub and hang out all night with an angry bird on his shoulder without noticing any problems with this plan. Sylvia Townsend Warner is very skilled at making you see all of this, which, aside from the fact that she's a very good writer, is what makes this an excellent biography.

So I got to know T.H. White, and then I read The Goshawk.


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