A Restless Spirit Critical Context - Essay

Natalie S. Bober

Critical Context

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.