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Orion on the Dunes: A Biography of Henry Beston

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A masterful portrait of an essential and unexamined writer. In the first biography of Beston, scholar Daniel Payne--granted unrestricted access to the writer's archives and drawing on interviews with friends and family--has crafted a scrupulously researched narrative; one presenting a masterful portrait that traces the intellectual growth and tumultuous life of a vital Amer A masterful portrait of an essential and unexamined writer. In the first biography of Beston, scholar Daniel Payne--granted unrestricted access to the writer's archives and drawing on interviews with friends and family--has crafted a scrupulously researched narrative; one presenting a masterful portrait that traces the intellectual growth and tumultuous life of a vital American writer whose work and thought exerted a tremendous pull on poets, naturalists, and novelists alike. Beston's most famous work The Outermost House, is universally considered a classic of American nature writing, frequently compared to the works of Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs.This is the backstory to a life at once hidden and transparent that is here finally revealed.


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A masterful portrait of an essential and unexamined writer. In the first biography of Beston, scholar Daniel Payne--granted unrestricted access to the writer's archives and drawing on interviews with friends and family--has crafted a scrupulously researched narrative; one presenting a masterful portrait that traces the intellectual growth and tumultuous life of a vital Amer A masterful portrait of an essential and unexamined writer. In the first biography of Beston, scholar Daniel Payne--granted unrestricted access to the writer's archives and drawing on interviews with friends and family--has crafted a scrupulously researched narrative; one presenting a masterful portrait that traces the intellectual growth and tumultuous life of a vital American writer whose work and thought exerted a tremendous pull on poets, naturalists, and novelists alike. Beston's most famous work The Outermost House, is universally considered a classic of American nature writing, frequently compared to the works of Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs.This is the backstory to a life at once hidden and transparent that is here finally revealed.

42 review for Orion on the Dunes: A Biography of Henry Beston

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    Henry Beston’s The Outermost House a favorite book of mine [review here], and yet I knew little about him. That’s because until 2016, almost 50 years after Beston’s death, no biography existed. Author-researcher Payne reveals that Beston wrote several other nature books, children’s fairy tale books, and a treatise recounting his harrowing WWI experiences. He also reveals an emotional man who suffered greatly, despite early literary success, a loving wife (poet Elizabeth Coatsworth) and family, a Henry Beston’s The Outermost House a favorite book of mine [review here], and yet I knew little about him. That’s because until 2016, almost 50 years after Beston’s death, no biography existed. Author-researcher Payne reveals that Beston wrote several other nature books, children’s fairy tale books, and a treatise recounting his harrowing WWI experiences. He also reveals an emotional man who suffered greatly, despite early literary success, a loving wife (poet Elizabeth Coatsworth) and family, and financial wealth throughout his life. My opinion is that Beston suffered from untreated PTSS. However, he also never took responsibility for the hurt he caused others, especially his children. His first job was volunteer ambulance driver in WWI, followed by Navy war correspondent. The aftermath of these jobs was aversion to all sorts of noise, fear of war, inability to concentrate on writing or other tasks, and a detachment from home life. Finances were never a concern—he purchased a third home during the Depression. Yet I suspect that his wife being a more prolific and famous writer with larger income added to his unspoken anger. Coatsworth never stopped supporting him in many ways, including encouragement and patience with his painstaking writing style. Like many midcentury fathers, including my own, Beston never let his daughters forget that he would have preferred sons. Overall, he neglected them altogether, acting out his own rage without involving them. One daughter’s “intractable” personality was a carbon copy of Henry’s own (though he didn’t see it), while the other daughter was simply afraid of him. Fortunately for Henry, and largely due to their mother, the girls were able to become closer to him when they had children of their own and he’d mellowed a bit. This well-cited book is literally one of a kind. Anyone who liked The Outermost House or the children’s tales “The Lost Half Hour” or “The Seller of Dreams” will enjoy learning about their unusual author.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    So, I freely admit I’ve been slightly obsessed with the Outermost House since I peered in the windows of the actual Fo’castle as a child. I read it every year or so, and it still grounds me. I knew little, however, about Henry Beston’s life. Daniel Payne’s biography is at its best when he writes about the younger Henry and the context of WW1, without which, awful as it was, the Outermost House might never have existed. The younger Henry appears strong, sensitive, seemingly all that comes through So, I freely admit I’ve been slightly obsessed with the Outermost House since I peered in the windows of the actual Fo’castle as a child. I read it every year or so, and it still grounds me. I knew little, however, about Henry Beston’s life. Daniel Payne’s biography is at its best when he writes about the younger Henry and the context of WW1, without which, awful as it was, the Outermost House might never have existed. The younger Henry appears strong, sensitive, seemingly all that comes through his writing. I was not surprised, though, that the older Henry, later choosing semi-domestication with his wife Elizabeth Coatsworth, became somewhat crotchety and, dare I say, a little entitled white-maleish at times. Payne’s biography is engaging, descriptive, and clear. I look forward to reading the Outermost House again with this expanded perspective.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Med

    Exccellent portrait of an unusual man, influenced by his WWI experiences. Wish it had talked a little more about why he changed his names to fit into his social milieu. Excellent portrayal of a upper middle class twentieth century marriage in first part of the centuery

  4. 5 out of 5

    Godine Publisher & Black Sparrow Press

    This involving and illuminating portrait, rooted in Payne’s unprecedented access to private archives, vastly deepens our appreciation for Beston’s profundity, prescience, and artistry. —Booklist, starred review An engaging and incisive biography of Beston, illuminating the life and philosophy of one of our preeminent nature writers. —The Wall Street Journal As it was in his life, “Outermost House” is at the heart of this story, but Payne’s great service is what else he has to tell us about Henry B This involving and illuminating portrait, rooted in Payne’s unprecedented access to private archives, vastly deepens our appreciation for Beston’s profundity, prescience, and artistry. —Booklist, starred review An engaging and incisive biography of Beston, illuminating the life and philosophy of one of our preeminent nature writers. —The Wall Street Journal As it was in his life, “Outermost House” is at the heart of this story, but Payne’s great service is what else he has to tell us about Henry Beston…Thanks to Daniel Payne, Henry Beston’s light is shining stronger. —The Barnstable Patriot Restless, brooding, and exuberant, Beston strides across the pages of Daniel Payne’s scrupulously researched new biography, Orion on the Dunes. —Catherine Staples, The Massachusetts Review

  5. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Payne is very good at selecting the passages from Beston's works that are the most powerful and revealing. The portrait of Beston is full of respect, but also frank about his faults. Overall, Payne has a light touch that lets his subject shine through but enough interpretation to make the biography thoughtful. Payne is very good at selecting the passages from Beston's works that are the most powerful and revealing. The portrait of Beston is full of respect, but also frank about his faults. Overall, Payne has a light touch that lets his subject shine through but enough interpretation to make the biography thoughtful.

  6. 4 out of 5

    John

    Really exceptionally well written story of an someone I knew little about. Beston lived an amazing life and had the gift to tell the stories of that life - a joy to read about him.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David Kassay

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark Kolada

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bridget Macdonald

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Barry

  11. 5 out of 5

    Virginia Bernhard

    Much-needed biography of a very gifted writer.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John

  13. 5 out of 5

    Benny Iguana

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Robino

  15. 5 out of 5

    Merlin

  16. 5 out of 5

    Deb

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brent

  18. 4 out of 5

    Terry

  19. 5 out of 5

    Micielle

  20. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Bradley

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Reader

  23. 5 out of 5

    Audrey Terry

  24. 5 out of 5

    Susan Sherman

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tammy Hornbeck

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Hillyer

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gordon Bingham

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

  30. 5 out of 5

    Debee Sue

  31. 5 out of 5

    Ted

  32. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Taylor-Cruz

  33. 4 out of 5

    Pam Mooney

  34. 5 out of 5

    Donna Smith

  35. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Heare Watts

  36. 4 out of 5

    Katharine Adams

  37. 4 out of 5

    Deeon

  38. 4 out of 5

    Tom Beck

  39. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  40. 5 out of 5

    Diana

  41. 5 out of 5

    Stacia Chappell

  42. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

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