'I want to live... I want a wild roving vagabond life... I wish I were a man. If I were I would be Richard Burton; but, being only a woman, I would be Richard Burton's wife ... I would at this moment sacrifice and leave all to follow his fortunes, even if you all cast me out - if the world tabooed me.'
ISABEL BURTON, from a letter to her mother
A Rage To Live (Little Brown, London) Publication date 1998 Hardback
ISBN 0 316 64385 0
A Rage To Live (Abacus, London) Publication date 1999 Paperback
ISBN 0349 11016 6
A Rage To Live (W. W. Norton, New York) Publication date 1998 Hardback
ISBN 0 393 04672 9
A Rage To Live (W. W. Norton, New York) Publication date 2000 Paperback
ISBN 0 393 32039 1
Frequently described within his own lifetime as 'the most interesting figure of the nineteenth century', Sir Richard Burton has been the subject of numerous biographies. Remarkably, however, A Rage to Live is the first book to detail fully his relationship with Isabel, his intelligent, striking and unconventional wife.
Burton was a brilliant, charismatic man - a unique blend of erudite scholar and daring adventurer. Fluent in twenty-nine languages, he found it easy to pass himself of as a native, thereby gaining unique insight into societies otherwise closed to Western scrutiny. He followed service as an intelligence officer in India with a daring penetration of the sacred Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina disguised as a pilgrim. He was the first European to enter the forbidden African city of Harar, and discovered Lake Tanganyika in his search for the source of the Nile. His genius and his fearlessness should have made him a valuable asset to colonial England, but he was also an outsider, a restless wanderer with a strong, instinctive dislike of authority, who delighted in shocking polite society with his clever and cynical observations. His fascination with, and research into, the intimate customs of ethnic races (which would eventually culminate in his brilliant Kama Sutra) earned him a racy reputation in that age of sexual repression.
Little surprise, then, that Isabel Arundell's aristocratic mother objected to her daughter's marriage to this most notorious of figures. Isabel, however, was a spirited, independent-minded woman and was also deeply, passionately in love with Richard. Against all expectations but their own, the Burtons enjoyed a remarkably successful marriage, yet Isabel's role in many Burton biographies is reduced to one - misinterpreted - event the burning of certain unpublished papers after Burton's death.
Drawing on stunning new evidence - Isabel Burton's own papers which were believed burned after her death, as well as many other previously unpublished sources - Mary S. Lovell reassesses two lives packed with romance, incident and adventure. The result is an extraordinary, vibrant biography of a fascinating, controversial and celebrated couple.
Message for Burton researchers: All Mary's research papers for the Burton biography are now lodged at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham, Mddx. Please contact Mark Novellis, Curator for access. Telephone: 020 8831 6000. Fax: 020 8744 0501. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What the reviewers said:
"A monumental biography - Mary Lovell is the real thing: a biographer passionately interested in her subjects. She realises her material and retells with tremendous verve all the best stories."
"Burton deserves this big book with its evidence of the hard work of real scholarship - Lovell's years spent deciphering and transcribing Burton's almost illegible hand and correcting the mistakes of earlier biographers."
"Many good books have been written about Burton but this ranks with the best of them... Lovell has done wonders in restoring Isabel to her rightful place."
Patrick French in Sunday Telegraph.