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Tough-going and confusing
on 23 August 2017
I struggled with this book for two main reasons. The first one is that I think Mr. Mabey was desperately trying to write an interesting biography when really he’s not a very good writer of biographies. It has no flow; there’s nothing about it that makes you want to read on, to discover more about White’s life.
The second reason, which stems from the first, is that he is confusing. He quotes heavily from White’s vast correspondence with his immediate family members, distant relatives, clergy colleagues, neighbours, scientists etc. etc., and then goes into so much detail of these correspondents that he frequently lost me. Who is Mabey writing about now? Oh yes, Charles Lamb, who was writing a poem about Barrington, who, let me think, was the fourth son of Viscount Barrington, who knew Thomas Pennant, whom White met while visiting his brother Benjamin, or was it his brother Thomas … oh I’m completely lost now. Back to the start of the chapter to work out who all these people are. Or not.
And don’t say “well that’s because it’s a biography, and biographies go into all that detail.” No, I don’t buy that argument. I have read scores of biographies, and never have I come across one so confusingly difficult to read as Richard Mabey’s Gilbert White.
If you are a research student writing a thesis on Gilbert White, you will undoubtedly find much of interest here. If not, I wouldn’t bother picking it up.