Books: Victorian Eccentrics

SIR RICHARD BURTON'S WIFE — Jean Burton—Knopf ($3).

This is the story no less of Isabel Burton than of her spectacular husband, translator of the Arabian Nights. But she was at least a match for him. They were as daft, disarming a pair of eccentrics as boredom with Victorian England produced.

Burton was a cross between Byron and Major Hoople—a proud, fierce, foolish, gifted man with one streak of true genius —a genius for failure. Isabel, like her husband, was a rebel, but of a far more conventional sort. Her rebelliousness began like the romantic dreams of any English Backfisch; it was her...