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Ian Donaldson

Once neglected within the academy and relegated to the dustier recesses of public bookstores, biography has made a notable return over recent years, emerging, somewhat surprisingly, as a new cultural phenomenon, and a new academic adventure. In a move that’s perhaps indicative of this revival, the British bookseller Waterstones recently placed their biography section at the very front of their stores, renaming it boldly, LIFE. Biography has similarly taken prime position in our nightly television, with programmes such as Dynasties, Australian Story, Talking Heads and Enough Rope. It has bagged the front stalls in our cinemas, where the lives of Casanova and Kinsey, of Truman Capote and Elizabeth I, of Johnny Cash and Alexander the Great are played out on the big screen. In our public libraries, readers huddle over computer terminals, busily researching their family genealogies. The National Library of Australia is now constructing its new coordinated online resource for biographical researchers, the People’s Portal, and has recently launched its latest publishing venture, a series of titles devoted to (what else?) Australian Biography.

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‘Civilization’, a seemingly tranquil notion, has always somehow managed to start quarrels and divide the room. In the classical world, where the concept was largely shaped, it managed, more startlingly, to divide the human race itself. On the one hand, so the notion appeared to imply, were people whose speech you could more or less understand ...

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Simon Leys: Navigator between worlds by Philippe Paquet, translated by Julie Rose

April 2018, no. 400

The Belgian-born scholar Pierre Ryckmans, more widely known to the world by his adopted name of Simon Leys, was widely hailed in the Australian press at his death in 2014 as ‘one of the most distinguished public intellectuals’ of his adopted country, where he had lived and taught for many years – first in Canberra, later in ...

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Originally published in German, Albrecht Dümling’s The Vanished Musicians: Jewish refugees in Australia (Peter Lang), a fascinating compendium of Jewish musicians who found refuge in Australia in the 1930s and 1940s, is now available in Australian Diana K. Weekes’s excellent translation ...

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Literary biographers and their intended subjects at times agree and at times disagree about the stories they think should be told. J.D. Salinger and Vladimir Nabokov – the one, fastidious ...

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Hoping to travel to Vienna in the summer of 1950 through a part of Austria then under Soviet control, Bernard Smith sought an interview in Prague with an officer ...

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Jennifer Maiden's The Fox Petition: New Poems (Giramondo) conjures foxes 'whose eyes were ghosts with pity' and foxes of language that transform the world's headlines

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Early success is no guarantee of a book’s continued availability or circulation. Some major and/or once-fashionable authors recede from public consciousness, and in some cases go out of print. We invited some writers and critics to identity novelists who they feel should be better known.


Bell Shakespeare
22 July 2015

Hamlet belongs to the final years of Elizabeth’s reign, when the system of espionage the old queen had created through her spymaster-general, Francis Walsingham – the network of ‘watchers’, as Stephen Alford calls them in a recent brilliant study of this phenomenon – had become an acknowledged part of everyday life in England. In the theatre, these ...

Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England edited by David McInnis and Matthew Steggle

May 2015, no. 371

‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master,’ Elizabeth Bishop once famously wrote; ‘So many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster.’ Much modern technology seems designed specifically to counter this natural human propensity towards loss. We have key rings that respond obediently to their owner’s whistle, immediately ...

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