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Robert Lowell: A Biography

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Born in 1917 into an aristocratic Boston family Robert Lowell was not yet thirty when his first major collection of poems, Lord Weary's Castle, won the Pulitzer Prize. With Life Studies, his third book, he found the intense, highly personal voice that made him the foremost American poet of his generation. He held strong, complex and very public political views. His private Born in 1917 into an aristocratic Boston family Robert Lowell was not yet thirty when his first major collection of poems, Lord Weary's Castle, won the Pulitzer Prize. With Life Studies, his third book, he found the intense, highly personal voice that made him the foremost American poet of his generation. He held strong, complex and very public political views. His private life was turbulent, marred by manic depression and troubled marriages. But in this superb biography (first published in 1982) the poet Ian Hamilton illuminates both the life and the work of Lowell with sympathetic understanding and consummate narrative skill. 'Our one consolation for Ian Hamilton's early death is that his work seems to have lived on with undiminished force... The critical prose, in particular, still sets a standard that nobody else comes near.' Clive James


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Born in 1917 into an aristocratic Boston family Robert Lowell was not yet thirty when his first major collection of poems, Lord Weary's Castle, won the Pulitzer Prize. With Life Studies, his third book, he found the intense, highly personal voice that made him the foremost American poet of his generation. He held strong, complex and very public political views. His private Born in 1917 into an aristocratic Boston family Robert Lowell was not yet thirty when his first major collection of poems, Lord Weary's Castle, won the Pulitzer Prize. With Life Studies, his third book, he found the intense, highly personal voice that made him the foremost American poet of his generation. He held strong, complex and very public political views. His private life was turbulent, marred by manic depression and troubled marriages. But in this superb biography (first published in 1982) the poet Ian Hamilton illuminates both the life and the work of Lowell with sympathetic understanding and consummate narrative skill. 'Our one consolation for Ian Hamilton's early death is that his work seems to have lived on with undiminished force... The critical prose, in particular, still sets a standard that nobody else comes near.' Clive James

30 review for Robert Lowell: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katie Marquette

    Hamilton has written a very interesting biography of a very complex poet. I hardly knew anything about Robert Lowell before reading this biography, having only read a handful of his poems and merely glanced through his famous "Life Studies." Although I wanted some more detail in places (I seem to always feel this way after reading a biography and perhaps it is an unfair critique), I think Hamilton has done a fine job of informing readers about the tumultuous life of Lowell ('Cal'). I found mysel Hamilton has written a very interesting biography of a very complex poet. I hardly knew anything about Robert Lowell before reading this biography, having only read a handful of his poems and merely glanced through his famous "Life Studies." Although I wanted some more detail in places (I seem to always feel this way after reading a biography and perhaps it is an unfair critique), I think Hamilton has done a fine job of informing readers about the tumultuous life of Lowell ('Cal'). I found myself alternately pitying and hating Lowell. His manic illness caused him to act in unbelievably cruel ways at times and I mostly felt immense admiration for his second wife of 23 years, Elizabeth Hardwick, for helping her troubled husband through these times (despite his many infidelities). It has become clear to me that Lowell was a man of immense genius. He was also proud, spiteful, conceited, and egotistical. These are human flaws and ones he easily recognized and often admitted shamefully to friends. Known as one of the fathers of 'confessional poetry' he has been both admired and berated for his use of autobiography in his work. In his poem, "Unwanted", he somewhat regretfully admits, "Alas, I can only tell my own story." A superb biography and great starting point for anyone interested in Lowell's life and work. A favorite quote (which Lowell repeated to himself daily) - "My dreams at night are so intoxicating to me that I am willing to put on the nothingness of sleep. My dreams in the morning are so intoxicating to me that I am willing to go on living."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carol Masciola

    I enjoy this genre a lot, the literary biography, and this one seemed to do a good job of describing the life, times and poetry of Robert Lowell. Lowell was manic-depressive, and it was incredible to me how he managed to work, a prolific poet and teacher, despite having to be hospitalized almost every year with mania and delusion. The book follows the evolution of his poetry, his friendships with other well-known poets, his acquaintance with the Kennedys, his three marriages, especially his long I enjoy this genre a lot, the literary biography, and this one seemed to do a good job of describing the life, times and poetry of Robert Lowell. Lowell was manic-depressive, and it was incredible to me how he managed to work, a prolific poet and teacher, despite having to be hospitalized almost every year with mania and delusion. The book follows the evolution of his poetry, his friendships with other well-known poets, his acquaintance with the Kennedys, his three marriages, especially his long marriage to the critic and essayist Elizabeth Hardwick, who stayed with him (until their breakup) through his many, many manic episodes, which always included colossal, out-in-the-open obsessions and affairs with other women, and his many hospitalizations. A short, brilliant, and very often sad life, with a legacy of some of the 20th century's most remarkable poetry.

  3. 4 out of 5

    E. Mary

    What a fascinating life! Like Kay Redfield Jamison's "An Unquiet Mind", a must-read for anyone interested in manic-depression and creative genius.

  4. 4 out of 5

    lindsey maher

    Mental illness can create genius

  5. 4 out of 5

    Frederick

    I read this because Nick Hornby liked it. In some ways, it was very interesting: Lowell lead an interesting life at an interesting time. I believe that what Nick may have liked about it was how intimate a biography this is. RL's life is very well documented in his abundant letters. For me there are two difficulties with this book: RL suffered from bipolar disorder and thus, was not terribly kind to some of those whom he loved (and he loved many) and the fact that I am not a poet, and find his po I read this because Nick Hornby liked it. In some ways, it was very interesting: Lowell lead an interesting life at an interesting time. I believe that what Nick may have liked about it was how intimate a biography this is. RL's life is very well documented in his abundant letters. For me there are two difficulties with this book: RL suffered from bipolar disorder and thus, was not terribly kind to some of those whom he loved (and he loved many) and the fact that I am not a poet, and find his poetry difficult to understand. Still, if you are looking for a story about a tormented genius, this is it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Holly Selph

    This was a pretty big investment--500 pages on a poet I cannot stand, but I've wondered since my teens if I was missing something. This settled it. Well-written and comprehensive document of his life, but I'm glad to be putting it back on a shelf. Mine eyes hurt.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicolas Shump

    Hamilton is somewhat notorious for his People Magazine approach to his various biographical subjects. This is not much different than his usual m.o. Gets the basic facts right, but nothing to write home about.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    It’s important to read about something you know absolutely bugger all about. This was one such case. A belter of a biography even to a layman about a poet I’d never heard of, and, on finishing the book, was glad I hadn’t.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jamey

    Good biography.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Hans P.

    Fantastic literary biography.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adam Day

  12. 4 out of 5

    Heid

  13. 4 out of 5

    Neil

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alistair

  15. 4 out of 5

    JHK131

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael Romanos

  17. 4 out of 5

    Grant

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tiana Dietz

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas

  21. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cecilia

  23. 4 out of 5

    Susan Katz

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alissa Elliott

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  26. 4 out of 5

    MRSAJONEZ

  27. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Florin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chad Germany

  29. 4 out of 5

    Infinite Zest

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

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