Rupert Chawner Brooke was born in Rugby, England, on August 3, 1887. His father, William Parker Brooke, was a Rugby schoolmaster, an undistinguished but competent classical scholar, a person perhaps most noticeable for his very lack of noticeable traits. Rupert’s mother, Mary Ruth Cotterill, dominated the family and is often described as an organizer—energetic, efficient, strict, even domineering. One of Rupert’s brothers, Dick, died after a short illness in 1907; another, Alfred, was killed in World War I three months after Rupert’s death. Several commentators have made much of the death of a child who would have been Rupert’s older sister, implying that somehow Rupert was always affected by the notion of being a disappointing replacement for an adored and much-lamented daughter.
Rupert Brooke realized many benefits from, but at the same time was assuredly strained by, his family’s association with the British educational system. Although not unhealthy, neither was he robust, and he was heartily encouraged to develop his intellectual skills first and foremost. As a youth he exhibited a tendency to role-play, most often typified by world-weariness and grandiloquent language. His more engaging qualities included an active mind, interest if not excellence in some sports, and (to understate) a pleasing appearance that later became a significant part of his legend.
Brooke’s life at Rugby was notable for the variety of his academic, social, and even athletic interests, and for his ability to develop close friendships with interesting people, a trait that stayed with Brooke always. Many of his friends were remarkable and passionately loyal to him; even mere acquaintances could not deny intense curiosity about him. As a poet, his early works show a young man enchanted with words and full of the impulse to parody the masters. He was more enthusiastic than polished, becoming increasingly so with each English poet whose secrets he discovered, digested, and imitated. Brooke adored writing contests and seemed to delight in shocking the sensibilities of his friends and family.
As a student at King’s College, Cambridge, Brooke continued these activities, but now for the first time found real independence from his family in a stimulating and glamorous setting. In addition to his reading and writing, he now discovered the delights of political debate, the mysteries of such disciplines as psychology, and the pleasures of acting. He excitedly joined political discussions, joined the Cambridge Fabian Society, and worked diligently on its behalf. As an actor he exhibited no real talent, in spite of his ability to deliver poetic lines with great enthusiasm and a physical presence that, according to many, was...
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Rupert Chawner Brooke was born in Rugby, England, on August 3, 1887. His father, William Parker Brooke, was an instructor of classics at Rugby School, one of the most prestigious of England’s public schools, but it was Mary Ruth Cotterill, Rupert’s mother, who dominated the family. Young Brooke, the middle child among three brothers, attended Rugby School, playing cricket and football, excelling in English, winning prizes for his poetry, and becoming Head Boy. Many of his contemporaries were attracted to his personality; others noted his tall, blond physique, reminiscent of a young Apollo.
From Rugby, Brooke entered King’s College, Cambridge, where, under the influence of more modern writers and intellectuals, he abandoned some of the Decadent fin de siècle postures found in his earlier poetry. He also made friends among some of England’s most famous political and artistic families: the Asquiths, Darwins, Oliviers, and Stracheys. Freed from the day-to-day influence of his family, he joined the socialist Fabian Society and university dramatic groups; he also began writing for the Cambridge Review, a university journal with a national reputation. During his Cambridge years, from 1906 to 1909, he wrote at least sixty poems, about a third of which were printed in his first volume of poetry, Poems, in 1911.
Failure to receive a first-class degree and the complications of emotional exhaustion prompted Brooke to leave Cambridge for the small village of Grantchester, just a few miles distant but far enough from the attractions of the university city. His friends and acquaintances congregated around him there, and his time at the Old Vicarage, his principal residence in Grantchester, assumed almost mythic proportions, although he lived there principally for only two years. In addition to his poetry, Brooke became an accomplished literary critic; he particularly admired Robert Browning and John Donne, and although always opposing free verse, he...
(The entire section is 811 words.)