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Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan: His Life and Character [Paperback]

Andrew Crowther
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Oct 2011
The author of The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, HMS Pinafore and the other great Savoy libretti, W.S. Gilbert, witty, caustic and disrespectful, was one of the celebrities of the late Victorian age. In his time he had been many things: journalist, theatre critic, cartoonist, comic poet, stage director, writer of short stories and dramatist; a political satire he wrote was banned by the Lord Chamberlain at the personal insistence of the Prince of Wales. He wrote the most brilliantly inventive plays of his time. With Arthur Sullivan he wrote comic operas that defined the age. He became richer and more famous than he could have imagined, but at the price of his artistic freedom. This is the story of an angry and quarrelsome man, discontented with himself and the age he lived in, raging at life’s absurdities and laughing at them. In this book his glorious, contradictory character is explored and brought vividly to life.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press (1 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075246860X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752468600
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 758,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andrew Crowther was born in Bradford in 1969. He's been fascinated by the works of W S Gilbert since he was about fifteen, which is why he keeps writing about the man.

He wants it to be known that if you like any of his books you are actively encouraged to review them. Also if you dislike them. Even bad publicity is good publicity.

He writes plays as well, one of which has been seen at the Edinburgh Free Fringe.

Product Description


'[W.S. Gilbert] had a keen eye for the foibles and eccentricities of his countrymen and their institutions. Andrew Crowther movingly describes the effects of Gilbert's unhappy childhood on his character and the way that he found escape and release in the fairy tale world of pantomime. He is particularly informative on the genesis of Iolanthe, perhaps the most biting and successful piece of social and political satire in the Savoy canon. Loudly let the trumpet bray!' - Ian Bradley, the author of The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan 'A sympathetic and illuminating portrait of a quintessential Englishman' - Ian Bradley --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

ANDREW CROWTHER is an expert on W.S. Gilbert, Secretary of the W.S. Gilbert Society, and the author of Contradiction Contradicted: the Plays of W.S. Gilbert. He lives in Bradford and is himself a playwright. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gilbert's character revealed 15 May 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am very taken with this biography of WS Gilbert written, I presume, to coincide with the centenary of his death. I am glad about this because there is very little else around to remind us of the fact.

Andrew Crowther loves his subject but does not tarry over details, instead keeping the pace brisk and fresh. I have read numerous books on the subject but never before has Gilbert's personality been so clearly brought to life for me. Using the lightest of touches, the author manages to show us that Gilbert was, like Ralph Rackstraw, 'a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms'.

There are many interesting new snippets to add to the familiar events and bons mots. In particular, I was fascinated by the chapter on Gilbert's plot book for Iolanthe and how the opera seemed to take its familiar form comparatively late in the creative process. I had not known that the house we all know as Grim's Dyke had been previously known as Graeme's Dyke until Gilbert renamed it. Extraordinary that it cost only £30,000, even then. I had not heard Gilbert's retort before that he could justify flirting with young would-be actresses in The Flirtorium because he was 'too good to be true' to his wife, Lucy!

One tiny observation: Mr Crowther says that Mrs Howard Paul was 'edged out' of the first production of HMS Pinafore. My understanding has always been that she was taken very seriously ill and died not long after the First Night? It is interesting to speculate how the rest of the Savoy Operas might have developed had there continued to be two elderly ugly ladies rather than the usual one?! Gilbert was, after all, very loyal to his regular team at the Opera Comique and then the Savoy.

All in all, then, a very welcome addition to the bibliography of Gilbert, the Savoy canon and, it is worth adding, theatrical life in the second half of nineteenth century London.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WS Gilbert 27 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well - I liked it, but it seemed too much to follow the current "University" convention of referencing and sourcing any comments made. Which made it a bit - lifeless at times. I thought the writer might allow himself some personal opinions - which he could easily cite as such.

He dismisses the "Gilbert kidnapped as a baby" story on the basis of "no written evidence". What written evidence was he expecting ? The Venice police would be unlikely to have a record that far back ! Isn't Gilbert's statement enough evidence ?

He comments that the existence of a family Bible proves that the Gilberts intended to have children. Not convincing - a family Bible was just a standard wedding present - everyone had one - and anyway, in Victorian times, there was an automatic assumption that marriages produced children. It was what marriage was for. (As it says in the Prayer Book !). I suppose the (unanswerable) question is - how hard they tried ?

I am always fascinated by the intensity of Gilbert's verse in the matter of impossible / unachievable loves. I had assumed something darker, but understand now that this must have referred to the string of young girls he was attached to while he was married.

I was surprised that the book did not note that "I have a song to sing O" has the distinction of both words and music being written by Gilbert !

Did Gilbert know that Captain Shaw would be in the audience of Iolanthe - or was it accidental ? I had hoped the book would answer this.

And - I was surprised not to see some popular myths about Gilbert at least mentioned - there is a common tale that Queen Victoria's "We are not amused" was said in reference to Pinafore (not true in fact, but commonly believed).
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5.0 out of 5 stars hard to put down 15 Jan 2014
I bought this book a while back and have read it through twice. To be honest it isnt the sort of material I read but I bought on impulse and having worked with the author I knew he is the fascinating sort. Well I could not put the book down on my first read and I felt like I had learned a lot by the end. Amyway I see the author on my train everyday and it occured to me that I hadnt yet reviewed. In short this is a fantastic read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Gilbert Biography of Them All 13 Jan 2012
By Douglas Whaley - Published on
Andrew Crowther has devoted much of his life to the study of W.S. Gilbert and qualifies as the leading Gilbertian expert of our time. This biography is his masterwork, and it's a tremendous accomplishment. Most biographies of Gilbert are little more than a list of dates, incidents, statistics, with various well-known anecdotes thrown in. Crowther has a more ambitious goal: the re-creation of the personality of this complicated man, who at once was the funniest man in Victorian England and the most infuriating human being on the planet. Gilbert wrote and directed the most delightful comic operettas ever known, while denigrating them at the same time as they made his fortune. To be Gilbert's friend or coworker, Crowther demonstrates, was also to subject yourself to the constant possibility of a quarrel (and not infrequently, a lawsuit). But, having made it clear what a troubled and troubling man Gilbert was, Crowther then takes care to demonstrate that Gilbert could be loving, generous, and compassionate in other settings. From Gilbert's kidnapping as a small child to his heroic death while rescuing a drowning woman, this biography gives us a Gilbert who is a real human being. None of Gilbert's other biographers have done that. Anyone interested in getting to know what William Gilbert was really like should start here.
5.0 out of 5 stars W. S. Gilbert biography 2 April 2013
By Phyllis A. Karr - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Good, informative reading. If I'd been exposed to biographies of this kind during my formative years, I might today be reading biographies for pleasure instead of only when I have other specific reasons for learning more about the biographee and/or his/her milieu.
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