Madder Music, Stronger Wine: The Life of Ernest Dowson, Poet and Decadent
Ernest Dowson, the subject of this biography, was one of the major poets of the romantic late-Victorian Decadent period. He died in 1900 at the age of 32. His life is both a story of doomed love and one of a man’s struggle to create beauty in the face of adversity: Dowson was an alcoholic and a severe depressive who created much of his best work when suffering from the tuberculosis which was to kill him when he was a homeless vagabond owning nothing but a tattered manuscript book of verse. Yet this little-understood figure of the Victorian literary world wrote some of the most-quoted lyrics in English verse (“gone with the wind”, “days of wine and roses”) in the company of contemporaries such as Wilde, Yeats and Beardsley, who illustrated Dowson’s work. The poet’s circumstances carried all the elements of tragedy: both parents committed suicide, he never had a fixed home, and his life was blighted by an impossible affair with a girl he first met when she was 11. The book examines Dowson’s obsessions and explores his life and work in the context of the social mores and attitudes of his era. It sets out to show how his strange delights and sexual excesses were worked into the pure verse of lyrics such as “Cynara”.
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