Cover image for The beauty of the husband : a fictional essay in 29 tangos
The beauty of the husband : a fictional essay in 29 tangos
Carson, Anne, 1950-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, 2001.
Physical Description:
147 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3553.A7667 B43 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



The Beauty Of The Husbandis an essay on Keats's idea that beauty is truth, and is also the story of a marriage. It is told in 29 tangos. A tango (like a marriage) is something you have to dance to the end. This clear-eyed, brutal, moving, darkly funny book tells a single story in an immediate, accessible voice--29 "tangos" of narrative verse that take us vividly through erotic, painful, and heartbreaking scenes from a long-time marriage that falls apart. Only award-winning poet Anne Carson could create a work that takes on the oldest of lyrical subjects--love--and make it this powerful, this fresh, this devastating.

Author Notes

Anne Carson was born December 16, 1950. Carson is a poet, an essayist, and a classicist. She is the director of the graduate program in Classics at McGill University, where she also teaches Latin and Greek.

Carson is perhaps besst know for Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, which won the 1998 QSPELL Prize for Poetry. Carson recently won the 2001 Griffin Poetry Prize for Men in the Off Hours. Carson also won the T.S. Eliot poetry prize for The Beauty of the Husband, the first woman to win the award in its nine-year history. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998 and received a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship in 2000. Carson is the author of seven books.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In Carson's most welcoming and intimate work to date, she loosens the robes of erudition that cloaked Men in the Off Hours [BKL Mr 1 00] in an aura of wry intellectualism. Here the tango provides inspiration for lashingly precise yet sultry and graceful poems that depict the eroticism and possessiveness, competition and resentment of a marriage in dissolution, a process envisioned as both an elaborate dance and vicious warfare. Most poems are written in the voice of the wronged wife, who answers the question, how could she love such a selfish man, by saying, "Beauty. No great secret. Not ashamed to say I loved him for his beauty. / As I would again." With Keats as her touchstone, Carson--audacious, funny, poised, and extraordinarily smart--considers our often contradictory needs for beauty and love. She adeptly marshals images of cleanliness and dirt, the story of Persephone, considerations of the intensity and frivolity of game playing, and the dynamics of dialogue to push her piquant inquiry into the nature of desire far beyond familiar parameters. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

After the Canadian classicist, polymath and MacArthur "genius grant" winner's much-acclaimed verse-novel Autobiography of Red (1997)Äand exactly a year after Men in the Off HoursÄcomes a second book-length, mostly-narrative poem: this charming, edgy, insistently intertextual and finally heartbreaking sequence about unlikely courtship, modern marriage, divorce and "primordial eros and strife." The 29 short chapters Carson calls "Tangos" imagine and analyze, in jaggedly memorable verse, the ill-starred romance between the narrator and her charismatic, needy and unfaithful husband, who writes her romantic letters in her teenage years, introduces her to his tragic friend Ray, cheats on her with women named Merced and Dolor, takes her on a tour of the Peloponnese and begs her to reverse her decision to leave him. The plot emerges through Carson's meditative, elusive fragments, mysteriously isolated couplets, excerpts from versified conversations and letters, interior monologues and (as Carson's readers have come to expect) digressions on matters of classical scholarship. This kind of thing is imitated badly and often by others, but Carson's phraseology within poems remains her own: "Rotate the husband and expose a hidden side," she urges early on; later, "words// are a strange docile wheat are they not, they bend/ to the ground." And if some of Carson's devotees seek just such cryptic moments, others will want, and get, more direct shows of emotion: "Proust/ used to weep over days gone by," she asks the reader, "do you?" (Feb.) Forecast: Carson was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature this yearÄshe is one of the very few poets writing now to cross over into trade-like sales. The wave of publicity may have crested, but this book should be well reviewed, and name recognition should kick in if the book is displayed along with current fiction, which the subtitle obviously encourages. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A professor of classics at McGill University and the author of Autobiography of Red, a National Book Critics Circle nominee, Carson has rapidly become one of North America's most acclaimed academic poets. But even though she spangles her work with the costume jewelry of literary and historical allusion, challenging the reader with obscure, referential puzzles, she also evinces a rare grasp of emotional chemistry. This "fictional essay" on marriage and adulteryDreally an impressionistic poetic meditationDcuts more truly, more deeply than any plain-spoken confessional monolog, dramatizing inner and outer conflict with a precise, knowing wit. The husband holds "Yes and No together with one hand/ while parrying the words of wife." The wife marvels "at her husband's ability to place the world within brackets." Sensibilities unravel and reassemble as contradictions beget tautologies: "If I could kill you I would then have to make another exactly like you./ Why./ To tell it to." Rooted in a literary consciousness at once Romantic and ironic, this is as fresh and compelling a poetic treatment of a familiar subject as one is likely to find in any century.DFred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



II. BUT A DEDICATION IS ONLY FELICITOUS IF PERFORMED BEFORE WITNESSES--IT IS AN ESSENTIALLY PUBLIC SURRENDER LIKE THAT OF STANDARDS OF BATTLE You know I was married years ago and when he left my husband took my notebooks. Wirebound notebooks. You know that cool sly verb write. He liked writing, disliked having to start each thought himself. Used my starts to various ends, for example in a pocket I found a letter he'd begun (to his mistress at that time) containing a phrase I had copied from Homer: 'entropalizomenh is how Homer says Andromache went after she parted from Hektor--"often turning to look back" she went down from Troy's tower and through stone streets to her loyal husband's house and there with her women raised a lament for a living man in his own halls. Loyal to nothing my husband. So why did I love him from early girlhood to late middle age and the divorce decree came in the mail? Beauty. No great secret. Not ashamed to say I loved him for his beauty. As I would again if he came near. Beauty convinces. You know beauty makes sex possible. Beauty makes sex sex. You if anyone grasp this--hush, let's pass to natural situations. Other species, which are not poisonous, often have colorations and patterns similar to poisonous species. This imitation of a poisonous by a nonpoisonous species is called mimicry. My husband was no mimic. You will mention of course the war games. I complained to you often enough when they were here all night with the boards spread out and rugs and little lamps and cigarettes like Napoleon's tent I suppose, who could sleep? All in all my husband was a man who knew more about the Battle of Borodino than he did about his own wife's body, much more! Tensions poured up the walls and along the ceiling, sometimes they played Friday night till Monday morning straight through, he and his pale wrathful friends. They sweated badly. They ate meats of the countries in play. Jealousy formed no small part of my relationship to the Battle of Borodino. I hate it. Do you. Why play all night. The time is real. It's a game. It's a real game. Is that a quote. Come here. No. I need to touch you. No. Yes. That night we made love "the real way" which we had not yet attempted although married six months. Big mystery. No one knew where to put their leg and to this day I'm not sure we got it right. He seemed happy. You're like Venice he said beautifully. Early next day I wrote a short talk ("On Defloration") which he stole and had published in a small quarterly magazine. Overall this was a characteristic interaction between us. Or should I say ideal. Neither of us had ever seen Venice. Excerpted from The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos by Anne Carson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.