A Traitor's Kiss

Fintan O'Toole, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $30 (519p) ISBN 978-0-374-27931-8
O'Toole's mistitled biography exaggerates the hold of Sheridan's (and O'Toole's) native Ireland on his careers as playwright and politician. Although Sheridan supported Irish causes as well as English reforms, he never returned to the island he left as a boy in 1759, and despite a sometimes self-destructive idealism, he was opportunist enough to spend 32 of his 64 years in parliament. In his early 20s, with The Rivals and The School for Scandal, he became the most successful writer of comedy in his time. Politics magnetized him, however, and he put his genius for wit and invective into Whig partisanship--when not earning a reputation for boozing and womanizing. He died in 1816 in a house emptied by seizures for debt of nearly everything but his abused and ailing second wife, and the beds in which they lay. In The Critic, O'Toole (currently drama critic for the New York Daily News) notes, Sheridan ""went further than ever before in blurring the boundaries between the stage and the world, between theatre and politics."" O'Toole builds his quirky biography on Sheridan's living that way as well. A great parliamentary orator, he packed speeches doomed to fail amid the era's political cynicism with an exuberance of language that might have earned him riches if performed at his debt-ridden playhouse, Drury Lane. During decades of misguided loyalty to the worthless Prince of Wales, Sheridan relished his dangerous role on England's real stage. In O'Toole's often elegant telling, Sheridan possessed a risky excess of Irish feeling and an overwhelming rage for ruin. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1998
Release date: 11/01/1998
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