At first glance, Frost is a logical choice for a young adult biography because he is probably the United States’ most famous and familiar poet. Yet Frost’s poetry is deceptively difficult, even for adult readers, and is generally misunderstood. Bober’s book does little to repair this problem; in fact, A Restless Spirit perpetuates most of the common misconceptions about Frost and his work.
After he secured an audience and started to gain fame, Frost was a conscious and expert self-promoter, creating the persona of a genial and grandfatherly New England nature poet. This image made him more marketable, but it led people to misread his poetry. Frost’s poetry is not genial, sentimental, or even pastoral, and as an introduction to his poems, Bober’s book is fuzzy and inaccurate, reinforcing the idealized portrait of Frost as an essentially nice man and his poems as essentially pleasant object lessons in how to live a simple life.
As Bober weaves introductions of the poems into the narrative of Frost’s life, she occasionally elucidates, as with the short but evocative lyric “The Pasture.” More often, however, she oversimplifies and even misrepresents, as when she perpetuates the common, simplistic, and woefully inaccurate reading of “The Road Not Taken” as a poem about nonconformity. It would be difficult, maybe impossible, and perhaps unnecessary to introduce young adults to the dark, tragic vision in Frost’s poetry,...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
The standard adult and scholarly biography of Frost is Lawrance Thompson’s three-volume Robert Frost, published between 1966 and 1976. Although Thompson’s was also an authorized biography, receiving the cooperation and blessing of Frost himself, it does not have the adulatory tone of Bober’s book. In fact, Thompson’s biography was a revolutionary addition to Frost scholarship, as it shocked the popular world in the mid-1960’s by uncovering the dark side of Frost’s personality. In many ways, Frost was an insecure, petty, and even mean man, far different from the public persona that he cultivated and nursed. Frost’s real personality is quite irrelevant to the achievement of his poetry, but awareness of this dark side, rather than sentimental adherence to the public persona, does help the reader understand Frost’s poetry more accurately. In 1981, Thompson’s rather unwieldy work was condensed into a more readable single volume by Edward Connery Lathem.
Many critics believe it unfortunate that the mythical image of Frost is perpetuated when there is much more to learn from the harsh reality. Young adult readers could use Bober’s book as an introduction to the more accurate texts, and advanced young adult readers could go directly to the more difficult reading. Because Bober relies heavily on Thompson’s account in A Restless Spirit, even to the point of close para-phrase in many passages, the transition to Thompson’s work should not be too difficult.