Review of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton by Edward Rice

It ain’t all about the polyamory, a review of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton by Edward Rice

But what about the poly?

For those of you wondering why this review is appearing on Poly Weekly, Sir Richard Francis Burton was a believer in non-monogamy. In fact, he tried to convince his wife to allow him to take multiple wives, telling  her that she would always be the one in charge. She forbade it and, to all available records, he abided by her position. It turns out that folks have been trying to convert from monogamy to non monogamy for much longer than you might have thought!

Poly in topic as well as lovers

One of the common points Minx and I like to make is that, at heart, being polyamorous really isn’t any different from being monogamous in terms of how to treat your partners and manage your relationships. For all that we poly folk tend to think we are special snowflakes, we really aren’t. Most of the time the answer to any given poly relationship question is the same for any given mono relationship question. The obvious exceptions lie in the family of sexual behavior and health, but other than that, most of the time the answer to, “What should I do when….” is the same when the speaker is mono or poly.

As a consequence of that outlook, my blog posts will cover topics other than those strictly related to practicing polyamory. I personally have learned more about how to have successful poly relationships by reading Shakespeare than I have by reading most works that were written by and for folk practicing poly. So I’ll be putting up everything from stories I like to tell to thoughts on politics because I believe that you might find value from disparate fields. Well, that, and also because I bore easily and so won’t limit myself to only one topic.

Sir Richard Francis Burton, not the one married to Elizabeth

To that end, let’s get to this week’s topic, a review of Edward Rice’s biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton. This is an amazing book about an amazing man that I fully recommend to anyone with any interest in the meeting point of Victorian England and 19th century India, Africa, and the Middle East as experienced by someone who sat at that intersection like no one else could.

A master swordsman, Burton took a spear through the face and lived to tell the tale. He spoke 29 languages and learned most of them from whores, mystics, and vagabonds. Considered too uncivilized for polite English society, he nevertheless found friends from kings and queens to pornographers and prostitutes, and he screwed his way across multiple contents. While the details of his role in the Great Game (the colonial competition between European powers for influence around the world) will be forever unknown, lost to the vaults of secrecy and the pyre of his work his wife lit after his death, we can be sure he helped bring the U.K. wealth, knowledge, and territory.

Those who know me and who know anything of him will agree that the two of us are kindred spirits. While I could never hope to match his brilliance, I do share his love of women, fighting, thinking, and telling stories about them all. His father wanted him to be a member of the clergy; his wife wanted him to be a Catholic; the public wanted him to be a hero. All he ever wanted to be was enlightened, the baddest mother fucker around, rich as hell, and surrounded by women whose beauty was matched only by their intellect and their libido. I get that.

Now, he was also kind of an asshole. A racist, he was more than comfortable talking about the deficiencies of those from sub-Saharan Africa. While he traveled everywhere, he rarely found anyplace he actually liked. Most cities he described as dirty places of continual mendacity broken up by great sex with amazing women. To him most countrysides were desolate places of physical ordeal broken up by vistas of incredible beauty. But every place was complained about constantly. Rice says he can read through to see that Burton actually liked the places he complained about, and perhaps I would say the same if I read more of Burton’s original work. But to do that I’d have to speak French, Hindustani, and Arabic as well as English. Burton could not be bound by a single language when he wrote.

Ever willing to ascribe one meaning or another to gender, he was also a strong opponent of female genital mutilation (or “female circumcision,” as it was then called). He spoke often of the damage he felt Victorian dressing customs caused women, in terms of everything from the shoes to the corsets, and was a strong advocate of a woman’s right to sexual pleasure. While he denigrated Africans regularly, he denigrated both slavery and slavers even more, finding that horrible institution to be the evil it was and is.

The book covers not only Burton but also the world he lived in. From grooming customs of Muslims in the 1800s to the concepts of how U.K. explorers lived and got funding during this age of exploration. Pick up Edward Rice’s book when you are ready to learn and think while being taken away to a different world that no longer exists, but whose shadows are still dotting our existence every day.

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