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Fraser, Robert (H.) 1947-

FRASER, Robert (H.) 1947-

PERSONAL: Born May 10, 1947, in London, England; son of Harry McKenzie (a lawyer) and Ada Alice (Gittins) Fraser; married Catherine Birkett (a lecturer in law), 1987; children: Benedict Joseph. Ethnicity: British. Education: Attended Winchester Cathedral Choir School, 1956-60; University of Sussex, B.A., 1968, M.A., 1970; Royal Holloway College, London, Ph.D., 1984. Religion: Anglican.

ADDRESSES: Home—19 Belvedere Rd., London SE19 2HJ, England. Office—Literature Dept., The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana, lecturer in English, 1970-74; University of Leeds, Leeds, England, lecturer in English, 1974-78; University of London, London, England, research associate at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, 1986-91, research fellow in School of Advanced Study, 1997—; Cambridge University, Trinity College, Cambridge, England, lecturer in English, 1991-93, director of studies in English, 1992-93; The Open University, Milton Keynes, England, senior research fellow in literature, 1999—. Visiting professor, University of Kuwait, 1988, and University of Sao Paulo, 1990.

MEMBER: International PEN (England).

AWARDS, HONORS: Wingate scholar, Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, 1989-92.

WRITINGS:

The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah, Heinemann (New York, NY), 1980.

West African Poetry: A Critical History, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1986.

(Editor) The Collected Poems of George Barker, Faber (New York, NY), 1987.

The Making of "The Golden Bough": The Origins and Growth of an Argument, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.

Sir James Frazer and the Literary Imagination, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.

Proust and the Victorians: The Lamp of Memory, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor and author of introduction) James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor) The Selected Poems of George Barker, 1995.

Victorian Quest Romance: Stevenson, Haggard, Kipling, and Conan Doyle, Northcote House (Plymouth, England), 1998.

Lifting the Sentence: The Poetics of Postcolonial Fiction, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1999.

The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2001.

Ben Okri: Towards the Invisible City, Northcote House (Tavistock, England), 2002.

Literary editor, West Africa, 1978-81; contributing editor, Wasafiri, 1984—.

PLAYS

Kwame's Aunt, 1972.

Soul Brother, 1973.

Gesualdo (The Life and Death of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa): A Madrigal Show for Voices and Actor-Narrator, produced on a tour of South Wales and the west of England by Welsh Theatre Company, 1974.

The Last Supper, produced in Leeds, England, at University of Leeds, 1975.

January and May: A Chaucerian Carnival, produced in Leeds, England, at Swarthmore Centre, 1976.

Something in the Air, produced in Leeds, England, at Leeds Workshop Theatre, 1977.

A Mistress Not So Coy: A Dialogue for Two Torsos, produced in Leeds, England, at Swarthmore Centre, 1978.

"God's Good Englishman": An Investigation into the Life and Opinions of Dr. Samuel Johnson, produced in Oxford, England, at Oxford Playhouse, 1984.

"Pessima O . . .": Lord Byron and the Contessa Teresa Guiccioli, produced in Nottinghamshire, England, 1988.

The Parisian Painter, produced at Buxton Opera Festival, 1989.

Thirty-six interviews with Frasier, conducted from 1993 through 1997, are stored in the British Library National Sound Archive.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Book with the working title Culture and Migration.

SIDELIGHTS: Former Cambridge Don, currently a fellow at the University of London and senior research fellow at The Open University in England, Robert Fraser has written a number of literary studies on a variety of authors, such as Sir James Frazer and the poet George Barker. Critics have praised his works for helping bring to light some of the forgotten, lost, or unnoticed aspects of England's literature. For example, his book The Making of the Golden Bough, an evocation of the imaginative genesis behind Sir James Frazer's monumental comparative study of magic and religion, was lauded by Roger Just in the Times Literary Supplement for its "care, precision, good sense and, given the complexity of the task, an admirable lightness of touch." Later, in editing Frazer's The Golden Bough, Fraser reinserted passages that had been extirpated by Frazer's wife in the 1922 version of the book because they were too controversial for the time. "Fraser's selection reinstates the passages on ancient sexuality and restores those addressing the crucifixion to their original place in the 1900 edition," according to Stan Smith in the Review of English Studies. This is important not only to remain true to the original work, but also because it will help readers to understand what T. S. Eliot meant when he said that Frazer's work influenced his most famous poem, The Waste Land. "Exegetes of The Waste Land will benefit from easy access to the mesmeric descriptions of cultic religion in the Middle East," said Smith, who added that "Robert Fraser has done a great service in thoroughly historicizing a text which remains 'one of the great classics of the world.'"

In 2001, Fraser published an extensive biography of the poet George Barker, who lived from 1913 to 1991. A largely forgotten poet today, Barker was once the darling of the literary community. He was compared to Dylan Thomas and was much admired by such giants as William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot, although others criticized him for the unevenness of his work. A profligate man who had several lovers and wives, and who sired fifteen children, Barker was also known for his abrupt fits of temper and almost juvenile attitude that others owed him a living. Nevertheless, his exceeding charm won him many friends and loyal followers. Fraser, who had known Barker during his later years, has the advantage of offering a personal perspective to The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker. As Lloyd Evans wrote in the Daily Telegraph, "Fraser has created a fascinating tribute. His prose is of the best kind—fluent, lucid and with no 'style' peeping through anywhere. . . . The book is crammed with gossip and quotable anecdotes." However, another reviewer, Guardian contributor Ian Sansom, noted that Fraser's personal take on the poet paints somewhat of a one-sided story: The author "gives Barker the benefit of the doubt at every twist and turn of his extraordinary life story, absolving him of all responsibility in wrong-doing." Sunday Times critic Humphrey Carpenter questioned if the lengthy biography, which is over six hundred pages long, was really "justified for someone as ultimately unimportant as Barker." Nevertheless, poet Carol Ann Duffy commented in Mail on Sunday that Fraser's "close, shoulder-to-shoulder empathy with his subject" enlivened the book, and in Financial Times Poet Laureate Andrew Motion mused, "Imagine being Barker's biographer, and picking your way, unravelling . . ."

Robert Fraser told CA: "I was brought up within the fold of the high Anglican church, and ever since I have been preoccupied with questions of religious truth and the meeting or friction between religion and other sources of human energy, such as art, music, or sexuality. I think that much of my work could also be seen as characterized by a certain obliqueness. In Proust and the Victorians, for instance, I attempted a paroroma of one of the great periods of English, Scottish, and Irish culture, but viewed it through the unusual lens of Proust's imagination. Early in 2003 I offered a warning in the Times Literary Supplement on the dangers of the impending Iraq war, a subject that I approached sideways via the Bellicose Strain in some of Handel's oratorios. (Music has always been an importan nexus, in my theater work as elsewhere.) I believe, however, that the final justification of all good writing lies, not so much in its content, as in its form. You make a basket out of wicker; the end product, however, is not wicker: it is a basket."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Daily Telegraph (London, England), February 2, 2002, Lloyd Evans, "Give Tongue, Give Tongue: Lloyd Evans Admires a Poet Who Was Lucky to Be Given Anything."

Financial Times (London, England), February 9, 2002, Andrew Motion, "Equally Devoted to the Gutter and the Stars," p. 4.

Guardian (London, England), March 2, 2002, Ian Sansom, "Master of the Red Martini: Ian Sansom on a Lucky Poet Who Partied His Way to Posterity," p. 8.

Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 24, 2002, Carol Ann Duffy, "Rhapsody on a Bohemian," p. 64.

Modern Language Review, October, 1993, Colin Nicholson, review of The Making of "The Golden Bough": The Origins and Growth of an Argument, p. 954; October, 1995, W. I. Hodson, review of Proust and the Victorians: The Lamp of Memory, p. 1018.

Nineteenth-Century Literature, December, 1992, review of Sir James Frazer and the Literary Imagination, p. 399.

Reference & Research Book News, September, 1994, review of Proust and the Victorians, p. 40.

Review of English Studies, November, 1996, Stan Smith, review of The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, p. 627.

Spectator, July 7, 1990; February 23, 2002, Frederic Raphael, "An Old Bohemian, Amoral and Fiercely Moralising," p. 37; November 16, 2002, D. J. Taylor, "Books of the Year," p. 48.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), February 3, 2002, Vernon Scannell, "Faithful to His Muse, Not to His Women: Vernon Scannell on a Readable If Over-long Life of George Barker, Whose Fecundity Was Not Limited to His Poetry."

Sunday Times (London, England), March 17, 2002, Humphrey Carpenter, "A Pugilist Poet with a Taste for Danger," p. 44; April 27, 2003, John Hegley, "A Little Night Reading," p. 40.

Times (London, England), February 20, 2002, Robert Nye, "The Roaring Boy's Delinquent Spirit, in Verse and in Life," p. 18.

Times Literary Supplement, January 11, 1991, Roger Just, "The Making of the Golden Bough: The Origins and Growth of an Argument," p. 3; August 26, 1994, Edward Hughes, review of Proust and the Victorians, p. 11; February 22, 2002, Anthony Thwaite, "In Love with the Muse: The Early Fame and Later Neglect of George Barker," pp. 3-4; January 17, 2003, Robert Fraser, "'Whatever Is, Is Right': Handel's Penultimate Oratorio and the Pity of War," pp. 13-14.

Victorian Studies, spring, 1992, Robert Ackerman, review of The Making of "The Golden Bough," p. 337.

ONLINE

Open University Web site,http://www.open.ac.uk/ (September 15, 2003), faculty page.

OTHER

The Priest of Nemi, BBC Radio 3, January 3, 1991.

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