Richard Freadman reviews 'Portraits from Life: Modernist novelists and autobiography' by Jerome Boyd Maunsell

Richard Freadman reviews 'Portraits from Life: Modernist novelists and autobiography' by Jerome Boyd Maunsell

Portraits from Life: Modernist novelists and autobiography

by Jerome Boyd Maunsell

Oxford University Press, $40.95 hb, 282 pp, 9780198789369

H.G. Wells, in his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), describes Henry James as ‘a strange unnatural human being’ who ‘regarded his fellow creatures with a face of distress and a remote effort at intercourse, like some victim of enchantment placed in the centre of an immense bladder’. Literary friendship and acquaintanceship, including the ways in which writer-colleagues portray one another in their autobiographies, is a key theme in Jerome Boyd Maunsell’s study of modernist novelists and autobiography. The author of an absorbing and incisive short biography of Susan Sontag (2014), Maunsell is himself an accomplished life writer.

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Richard Freadman

Richard Freadman

Richard Freadman is Emeritus Professor of English and retired Director of the Unit for Biographical and Autobiographical Studies at La Trobe University. His books in the area of life-writing are the memoir, Shadow of Doubt: My father and myself (2003); Threads of Life: Autobiography and the will (2001); and This Crazy Thing a Life: Australian Jewish autobiography (2007). His second memoir, Stepladder to Hindsight, was published by Hybrid in 2016.