Search - List of Books by Robert Fraser

"Television should be kept in its proper place - beside us, before us, but never between us and the larger life." -- Robert Fraser
Professor Robert Fraser FRSL, author and biographer, was born on 10 May 1947 in Surbiton, Surrey, the second son of Harry MacKenzie Fraser, a London solicitor, and Ada Alice Gittins of Pontypool in the county of Montmouthshire. His brother is Malcolm Fraser, Emeritus Professor of Opera at the University of Cincinnati and co-founder of the Buxton Festival. At eight he won a choral scholarship to Winchester Cathedral where he sang the daily services whilst studying at the Pilgrims School in the Close. Among his fellow choristers were the future newscaster Jon Snow and international tenor Julian Pike. After attending Kingston Grammar School he went on to the University of Sussex to read English with David Daiches and Anthony Nuttall. He later wrote a doctorate on tradition in English poetry at Royal Holloway, University of London while simultaneously studying Harmony, Counterpoint and Composition at Morley College with Melanie Daiken and James Iliff. He began his teaching career at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana where he lectured from 1970 to 1974 before moving to the University of Leeds to teach under Geoffrey Hill. He subsequently held posts in the University of London and at Trinity College, Cambridge where he was Director of Studies in English until 1993, tutoring among others the novelist Belinda Starling and the actor Alexander Armstrong. He is currently Professor of English at the Open University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

His choral background can be detected in his work for the stage, such as the performing translation of Domenico Cimarosa’s opera Il pittor parigino performed at Buxton in 1989. He has also published articles on the cultural and political contexts of the music of Purcell and Handel. He is the author of several biographical works for the theatre, including plays on the lives of the composer Carlo Gesualdo and of Byron. God’s Good Englishman, his dramatic portrait of Samuel Johnson, opened at the Oxford Playhouse in 1984 and toured Britain with the actor Timothy West in its title role.

Academically he is a specialist in the writing of his near namesake, the classicist and cultural anthropologist James George Frazer, on whom he has published several books, and the genesis of whose best known work on magic, religion and myth he charted in The Making of The Golden Bough: The Origins and Growth of An Argument. A study in intellectual gestation, it was later integrated into the full “archive” edition of Frazer’s magnum opus as a special introductory volume. In 1994 he edited for the Oxford World’s Classics a “new abridgement” of Frazer’s classic that brought some of its most provocative ideas back into general circulation, including theories on Christianity and sacred prostitution. At the same time, he is a respected critic of the work of Marcel Proust, on whom he has published a much-cited study, and spoken on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time.

In the wider literary world Fraser is principally associated with the life and work of certain twentieth-century British poets. In the early 1980’s he conducted a dispute with Laura Riding, former consort of Robert Graves, who took issue with his review of her Collected Poems. In 1987 he edited the Collected Poems, and in 1995 the Selected Poems, of T.S. Eliot’s protégé George Barker. His life of Barker, The Chameleon Poet, aroused opposition among some members of the poet’s own family. But on its appearance in late 2001 it was warmly reviewed by the poets laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Andrew Motion, and by the writers Anthony Thwaite, Vernon Scannell, Humphrey Carpenter and Frederic Raphael; it was chosen by the novelist D. J. Taylor as Spectator Book of the Year for 2002. Fraser is currently writing for the Oxford University Press a life of Barker’s life-long friend David Gascoyne (1916—2001): poet, proponent of English Surrealism, Christian Existentialist and mystic.

Fraser was one of the guiding spirits behind Heinemann Educational Book’s celebrated African Writers Series, and is a founding editor of the twenty-five year old journal Wasafiri. He has published a “critical history” of West African poetry, along with monographs on Ben Okri- a personal friend - and the Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah. During 2004-7 he travelled in India and Africa researching a comparative account of publishing in those regions which appeared in 2008 as Book History Through Postcolonial Eyes: Re-Writing the Script. Over the same period he co-edited with his friend Dr Mary Hammond of Southampton University a two-volume survey of international publishing entitled Books Without Borders. In October 2005, in connection with this work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society

He has been described as a writer “who tries to keep one foot planted in, and the other well outside, academe”. Yale’s Harold Bloom has noted his powers of comparative analysis, and Harvard’s Biodun Jeyfo has commended the “superb work” of “this meticulous scholar-critic”. The classicist Roger Just has also drawn attention to his “care, precision, good sense andadmirable lightness of touch.”. But his writing has also given rise to vocal dissent, adopting as he does a line that seems now radical, now trenchantly traditionalist. His “refusal” in the words of John Macleod “to work with” standard models of theory has on occasions given rise to sharply worded rejoinders. He has little time for critical fashion and in 1999 coined the mocking term “Theocolonialism” to describe the subordination of independent judgement to passing fad, and the purported tendency among some academics in the field of literary studies to leap aboard noisy bandwagons.

He is married to the law lecturer Catherine Birkett. Their son Benjo is a student of theoretical physics.
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Total Books: 51
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