Christiansen, Rupert (Elliot Niels) 1954-
CHRISTIANSEN, Rupert (Elliot Niels) 1954-
PERSONAL: Born September 6, 1954, in London, England; son of Michael (a newspaper editor) and Kathleen (a journalist; maiden name, Lyon) Christiansen. Education: Millfield, King's College, Cambridge, M.A., M. Litt., both 1981.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Caroline Dawnay, PFD, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Associated with Oxford University Press, 1979-82; freelance writer and editor, 1982—; Harpers & Queen, arts editor, 1988-95; Contemporary Review, editor with Paul Driver, 1989; The Spectator, opera critic, 1989-96; Observer, deputy arts editor, 1990-93; Gates Theatre, director, 1995—; Daily Telegraph, opera critic, 1996—; Mail on Sunday, dance critic, 1996—. Member of the editorial board of Opera magazine.
MEMBER: Two Brydges Place.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright Scholar, Columbia University, 1977-78; Somerset Maugham Award, Society of Authors (United Kingdom), 1988-89, for Romantic Affinities: Portraits from an Age, 1780-1830; elected member of London Library Committee, 1989; Royal Society of Literature fellow, 1997.
Prima Donna: A History, Bodley Head (London, England), 1984, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
Romantic Affinities: Portraits from an Age, 1780-1830, Bodley Head (London, England), 1988.
(Editor) The Grand Obsession: An Anthology of Opera, Collins (London, England), 1988.
Tales of the New Babylon: Paris, 1869-1875, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1994, published as Paris Babylon: The Story of the Paris Commune, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor) Cambridge Arts Theatre: Celebrating 60 Years, Granta Editions (Cambridge, England), 1997.
The Visitors: Culture Shock in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2000, published as The Victorian Visitors: Culture Shock in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Voice of Victorian Sex: Arthur H. Clough, 1819-1861, Short Books (London, England), 2001.
A Pocket Guide to Opera, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2002.
William Shakespeare: The Mystery of the World's Greatest Playwright (a biography for children), Short Books (London, England), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Spectator, Times Literary Supplement, Harpers & Queen, Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, New Yorker, and Talk.
SIDELIGHTS: In his first book, Prima Donna: A History, Rupert Elliott Niels Christiansen examines the careers of some of the world's most prominent female opera singers, also known as "prima donnas." Noting the difficulty of this project, reviewers praised Christiansen for describing the voices and singing styles of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century singers, for whom no recordings—only written accounts—exist, as well as those of contemporary artists. Christiansen also focuses on the personalities behind the professionals; he discusses the private lives of the singers, their rivalries, the enthusiastic devotion of their fans, and their sometimes theatrical and imperious behavior. The conduct of many of these opera singers caused the phrase "prima donna"—which originally merely referred to the female lead singer of an opera—to be associated with any person of vain or temperamental disposition. Prima Donna was called "a continuously absorbing, smoothly written and moderately well-informed book" by Michael Tanner in a Times Literary Supplement review, while Spectator contributor Brian Masters asserted that Christiansen "succeeds admirably, combining entertainment and information to a degree which stirs one to make for the [opera house] box-office and seize some of this experience for oneself."
Christiansen's second book, Romantic Affinities: Portraits from an Age, 1780-1830, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, is an informal survey of romanticism inspired by what the author saw as the dullness of existing books on the subject. Romanticism is a late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century literary and artistic movement glorifying emotionalism, the individual, and the imagination over traditional ideals upheld by classicists, such as the use of restraint, reason, and intellect. However, the movement is not characterized by a rigid philosophy. Romantics such as poet William Wordsworth were inspired by nature, while poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote of atheism, republicanism, and vegetarianism. Christiansen gives a broad view of the romantic age by examining the often turbulent lives of literary and political figures such as English poet John Keats, French revolutionary Madame Roland, Russian poet Aleksander Pushkin, and English author Mary Wollstonecraft. He discusses the artistic similarities and personal connections between such figures, exploring their passions, influences, and sources of inspiration. In order to avoid scholarly dryness, Christiansen wrote Romantic Affinities as "a book of stories: of long walks, failed love, bank loans, slammed doors, seedy hotels," according to a passage of the book quoted by Angela Leighton in her Times Literary Supplement review. Leighton found Christiansen's approach successful, pronouncing Romantic Affinities "entertainingly anecdotal as well as intelligently documentary," while London Times contributor Peter Ackroyd deemed the book "exuberant and inventive—and of course, in its own way, thoroughly 'romantic.'"
Christiansen is also the editor of The Grand Obsession: An Anthology of Opera, an exploration of opera and its artists from poet and librettist W. H. Auden to composer Richard Wagner. Notable names such as singer Lotte Lehmann, composer Gaetano Donizetti, and journalist and critic H. L. Mencken are among those whose tales and perceptions Christiansen compiled for his book. Jonathan Keates commented in a Times Literary Supplement review that although Christiansen includes entertaining anecdotes and trivia in his anthology, he "focuses with equal zest on opera's validation of its artistic status." Spectator contributor Geoffrey Wheatcroft called The Grand Obsession a "merry and entertaining scrapbook."
In his next book, Tales of the New Babylon: Paris, 1869-1875, published in the U.S. as Paris Babylon: The Story of the Paris Commune, Christiansen moves his focus from artistic to social history, telling the gripping story of Paris, France, before and after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Using a reprinted travel guide from lavish prewar Paris, Christiansen shows readers the splendor and prosperity of the city, and then, through a series of intense narratives, shows how months of battles, sieges, and revolts nearly destroyed it. He accomplishes this with "a foundation of excellent research, and … great narrative skill," wrote one Publishers Weekly reviewer, who called the book itself an "engrossing … [and] gripping social history." Booklist's Jay Freeman felt that in Paris Babylon, "Christiansen offers a cogent, beautifully written examination of the society that made the conflagration of the Commune almost inevitable."
Eighteenth-century Europe is also the backdrop for Christiansen's The Visitors: Culture Shock in Nineteenth-Century Britain, published in the U.S. as The Victorian Visitors: Culture Shock in Nineteenth-Century Britain. In this work, the author examines Victorian England, not in the direct manner a reader of straight history might expect, but instead from the perspectives of contemporary outsiders (including American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, French painter Gericault, German composer Richard Wagner, and even an aboriginal Australian cricket team) who visited Britain during this era and recorded their impressions in journals and letters. Moreover, Christiansen draws from many sources to provide a unique take on Anglican history and to "construct a more complex and multifaceted portrait of British society than conventional histories allow," according to Emma Parry, a contributor to Publishers Weekly, who went on to call his thesis "both credible and insightful."
Christiansen continues his exploration into the personalities of Victorian England with The Voice of Victorian Sex: Arthur H. Clough, 1819-1861, a biography of the radical British thinker and poet who challenged the hearts and minds of his generation. Using previously unpublished sources, Christiansen mines into Clough's life, uncovering a tortured libido and philosophical doubt which haunted Clough up until his untimely death at forty-two years of age. "Christiansen makes a good case for rediscovering, or at least reconsidering, the man and his work," wrote Matthew Bradley in a review published on the Complete Review Web site. Bradley continued, "Sex is a bit much on [Christiansen's] mind, but seems also to have determined much of Clough's own life," adding, "It's an odd and sad life story, but Christiansen has done a nice job of it."
In A Pocket Guide to Opera, Christiansen returns to one of his main wellsprings of knowledge and interest: the world's great music. This guide breaks down the history of opera both chronologically and geographically while offering summaries, historical contexts, and opinions of individual works. Operas from America, England, Germany, Italy, France, and the Slavic countries, by composers from von Weber to Shostakovich to Engelbert Humperdinck, are discussed in this book. "Though Christiansen includes all the major operas one would expect," wrote Barry Zaslow in Library Journal, "some of his choices reveal a slightly British bias and result in odd imbalances." Zaslow did, however, define A Pocket Guide to Opera as "informative and engaging."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Christiansen, Rupert, Romantic Affinities: Portraits from an Age, 1780-1830, Bodley Head (London, England), 1988.
Debrett's People of Today, Debrett's Peerage Ltd. (London, England), 2004.
Booklist, March 1, 1995, Jay Freeman, review of Paris Babylon: The Story of the Paris Commune, p. 1176; May 1, 2001, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Victorian Visitors: Culture Shock in Nineteenth-Century Britain, p. 1659.
Book World, July 9, 1995, review of Paris Babylon, p. 6.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, September, 1995, B. Rothaus, review of Paris Babylon, pp. 192-193.
French Studies, October, 1996, Jill Forbes, review of Tales of the New Babylon: Paris, 1869-1875, pp. 466-468.
Historian, summer, 1996, Victoria Thompson, review of Paris Babylon, p. 897.
History: The Journal of the Historical Association, October, 1996, Mike Rapport, review of Tales of the New Babylon, pp. 693-694.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1995, review of Paris Babylon, p. 39; March 15, 2001, review of The Victorian Visitors, p. 376.
Library Journal, February 15, 1995, R. James Tobin, review of Paris Babylon, p. 166; May 15, 2001, Scott H. Silverman, review of The Victorian Visitors, p. 139; August, 2002, Barry Zaslow, review of A Pocket Guide to Opera, p. 97.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 14, 1995, review of Paris Babylon, p. 2; August 12, 2001, review of The Victorian Visitors, p. 6; December 2, 2001, review of The Victorian Visitors, p. 27.
New Statesman, January 25, 1985, p. 31.
New York Times, March 15, 1995, Richard Bernstein, review of Paris Babylon, p. C18; June 14, 2001, Richard Eder, review of The Victorian Visitors, p. E10.
New York Times Book Review, June 9, 1985, p. 13; January 15, 1989, p. 14; April 5, 1995, Robert Gildea, review of Paris Babylon, p. 23; June 3, 2001, Ben Macintyre, "Raindrops Keep Falling on Mein Head," review of The Victorian Visitors, p. 44.
Observer (London, England), May 29, 1994, review of Romantic Affinities, p. 18; August 28, 1994, review of Tales of the New Babylon, p. 19; October 16, 1994, review of Tales of the New Babylon, p. 23; October 23, 1994, review of Tales of the New Babylon, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, January 16, 1995, review of Paris Babylon, p. 444; April 9, 2001, Emma Parry, review of The Victorian Visitors, p. 65.
Spectator, November 10, 1984, p. 28; May 28, 1988, p. 27; October 29, 1994, Jonathan Keates, review of Tales of the New Babylon, p. 38; May 27, 2000, Peter Vansittart, review of The Visitors: Culture Shock in Nineteenth-Century Britain, pp. 39-40; May 12, 2001, Jane Gardam, review of The Voice of Victorian Sex: Arthur H. Clough, 1819-1861, p. 38.
Times (London, England), January 28, 1988.
Times Literary Supplement, November 16, 1984, p. 1309; February 12, 1988, p. 168; June 24, 1988, p. 708; January 27, 1995, Graham Robb, review of Tales of the New Babylon, p. 30; July 7, 2000, Peter Mandler, review of The Visitors, pp. 3-5; January 11, 2002, review of The Voice of Victorian Sex, p. 26; December 1, 1995, review of Prima Donna: A History, p. 12.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 28, 1995, review of Paris Babylon, p. 6.
Victorian Studies, summer, 2002, Ross G. Forman, review of The Victorian Visitors, pp. 723-726.
Wall Street Journal, March 14, 1995, Donald Lyons, review of Paris Babylon, p. A12.
Complete Review Web site, http://www.completereviews.com/ (February 7, 2003), Matthew Bradley, review of The Voice of Victorian Sex.
PFD Web site, http://www.pfd.co.uk/ (May 24, 2004), "Rupert Christiansen: Author."
Telegraph Web site, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (June 30, 2004), reviews by Rupert Christiansen.*