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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography

The Voice of Victorian Sex

Rupert Christiansen

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Voice of Victorian Sex

Title: The Voice of Victorian Sex
Author: Rupert Christiansen
Genre: Biography
Written: 2001
Length: 94 pages
Availability: The Voice of Victorian Sex - US
The Voice of Victorian Sex - UK
The Voice of Victorian Sex - Canada
  • Arthur H. Clough 1819-1861

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good brief overview of Clough's life and work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 12/5/2001 Jane Gardam
The Tablet . 30/6/2001 James Ferguson
TLS . 11/1/2002 Matthew Bradley

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is a long and readable essay setting Clough in his time" - Jane Gardam, The Spectator

  • "Told in isolation, the rather anodyne events of Clough's life might fit comfortably into ninety-six small pages, but his poetic achievement (and the latter is undoubtedly his primary claim on posterity) requires much more room for manoeuvre than can be attained in a work only marginally longer than Clough's own Bothie. Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable prolegomena to Clough, because it gives a flavour of the good humour and irony that make his poetry so readable" - Matthew Bradley, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Arthur Clough is among many once vaguely famous and now largely forgotten English poets of the 19th century. In his brief biographical essay Rupert Christiansen makes a good case for rediscovering or at least reconsidering the man and his work.
       Born in 1819, Clough was a young man of great promise. Sent off to Rugby, then under the stewardship of the famous Dr. Thomas Arnold, he thrived there and seemed poised to take the world by storm. Academically gifted, conscientious, hard-working -- everyone thought he was destined for great things. "Clough wasn't exactly smug, but he was certainly a prig" Christiansen admits.
       The next step was Balliol College, Oxford, but Clough couldn't handle this environment as well. Academically much more limited than the environment he had been exposed to at Rugby he couldn't find himself there, performed poorly (eventually finishing with a disgraceful Second). He never found a proper mentor, and those who were influential only confused him more.
       A major issue throughout Clough's life (at least Christiansen harps on it a great deal) was sex, and in this Christiansen sees Clough as epitomizing that awkward age. Ashamed of his lust, he nevertheless filled his diary with asterisks (to indicate some self-help relief) and then indulged in what Christiansen suspects are furtive visits in female company (probably of the professional variety). It seems to have torn Clough apart -- and figures also in much of his later writing.
       Clough's poor degree didn't help his professional advancement. Matters of principle didn't either -- so, for example, the need to subscribe to the 39 Article of the Church of England in order to take an MA degree, which troubled him greatly. These were religiously troubled and contentious times, and religion would continue get in the way of most of his career aspirations.
       Eventually he published a well-received poem, The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich, an interesting text for the times, nicely introduced by Christiansen.
       Clough married and had a few children, and then found a calling of sorts -- assisting his wife's cousin, Florence Nightingale. He died aged only 42, only some of his poetry published, his life never really having gotten on track.
       It was an interesting life, and it is briskly presented by Christiansen, making for a very good introduction to the man and his work. Christiansen does a nice job of quoting from the journals, letters, and especially the poems. Sex is a bit much on his mind, but seems also to have determined much of Clough's own life -- a constant wrestling with his own lust and society's attitude towards sex (a changing attitude, much as the one towards religion was). Clough also kept interesting company -- from the Arnolds to Emerson -- and produced some exceptional work.
       It's an odd and sad life-story, but Christiansen has done a nice job of it. Worthwhile, especially as it is a very quick and small read (attractively and truly pocket-sized).

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The Voice of Victorian Sex: Arthur Clough: Other books of interest:
  • Index of Biographies
  • George MacDonald Fraser's tales of Clough's disgraced Rugby classmate, Flashman

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About the Author:

       Rupert Christiansen is an opera critic and has written numerous works of non-fiction.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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