The Glamour of Strangeness: Artists
and the Last Age of the Exotic
by Jamie James
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
364 pages, $30.
THIS BOOK STARTED OFF by raising my hopes. Acknowledging that “the biographer’s attempt to extract a truthful portrait of a life from the record is difficult enough without trying to whittle it into shape to fit a factitious hypothesis,” James seemed to promise that he would not try to contort his subjects to fit any Procrustean bed of theory. “Yay!” I thought.
He also confessed that one of the first books to catch his childhood imagination was a compilation of Richard Halliburton’s works, the same author whose Royal Road to Romance (1925) I repeatedly read while in grade school. For the unfortunate uninitiated: Halliburton was a well-to-do young man who, upon graduating from Princeton in 1921, set off on limited funds to visit many of the romantic sites about which tales had captivated his youthful fancies. His series of travel books, supplemented with amateur photographs, captured the imagination of Americans who, after World War I, began to dream of seeing the globe described by returning veterans. This book would not only be theory-free, it would offer romance.