Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
The Highly Civilized Man

The Highly Civilized Man

Richard Burton and the Victorian World

Dane Kennedy

ISBN 9780674039483

Publication date: 07/01/2009

Richard Burton was one of Victorian Britain's most protean figures. A soldier, explorer, ethnographer, and polyglot of rare power, as well as a poet, travel writer, and translator of the tales of the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra, Burton exercised his abundant talents in a diverse array of endeavors. Though best remembered as an adventurer who entered Mecca in disguise and sought the source of the White Nile, Burton traveled so widely, wrote so prolifically, and contributed so forcefully to his generation's most contentious debates that heprovides us with a singularly panoramic perspective on the world of theVictorians.

One of the great challenges confronting the British in the nineteenth century was to make sense of the multiplicity of peoples and cultures they encountered in their imperial march around the globe. Burton played an important role in this mission. Drawing on his wide-ranging experiences in other lands and intense curiosity about their inhabitants, he conducted an intellectually ambitious, highly provocative inquiry into racial, religious, and sexual differences that exposed his own society's norms to scrutiny.

Dane Kennedy offers a fresh and compelling examination of Burton and his contribution to the widening world of the Victorians. He advances the view that the Victorians' efforts to attach meaning to the differences they observed among other peoples had a profound influence on their own sense of self, destabilizing identities and reshaping consciousness. Engagingly written and vigorously argued, The Highly Civilized Man is an important contribution to our understanding of a remarkable man and a crucial era.


  • Fresh, lively, and entertaining, Dane Kennedy's new assessment of Richard Burton punctures the tired stereotypes that have long dogged Burton scholarship. Kennedy reads Burton within a series of key Victorian debates around science, sex, religion, race and empire, yet still holds onto his subject's remarkable individuality. Eminently readable, satisfyingly erudite, and always fair in its judgments, this is the biography Burton deserves.

    —Philippa Levine, University of Southern California


  • Dane Kennedy is Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

From this author