Art of Biography

In Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Sandcastle (1957), a young artist called Rain Carter is commissioned to paint a retired schoolmaster, Demoyte, an eccentric with an offbeat sense of humour. Instead of his usual attire – a shabby red velvet jacket with tobacco stains and bow tie – Demoyte turns up ...

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Anne-Marie Priest finds much to enjoy in LRB's new anthology of life writing (Hilary Mantel, Andrew O'Hagan et al.), but wonders about the elastic definition of what constitutes a memoir. ... (read more)

On an early spring evening in 1919, in a nearly empty cinema in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis, a slight, dark-haired figure slipped into a seat at the farthest edge of a row. From here, she would have a clear view of the profile of the youthful pianist who, sheltered behind a screen, accompanied the silent film. In white tie and tails, with her fair hair sl ...

In his brief preface to Volume 1 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography 17881850 A–H (1966), Douglas Pike describes the ‘all-Australian, Commonwealth-wide … consultation and co-operation’ underpinning the volume and notes that the breadth and complexity of its intellectual network meant the Dictionary could ‘truly be ...

Distinguished Soviet historian Sheila Fitzpatrick – now back in Australia – writes about her remarkable experiences in Moscow from 1966 and about the perils of being an exchange student and researcher. ... (read more)
Helen Ennis writes at length about the great modernist photographer Olive Cotton and her second marriage to Ross McInerney, which took her far from the art world – and from her art. ... (read more)

It is a brilliant summer day in July 1935. The scene is a house called Green Ridges, near Hastings, Sussex. Two women, seated but not relaxed, face each other across a formal drawing room. This is the first time they have met. Nettie Palmer, Australian writer and journalist, has come to stay overnight with the novelist Henry Handel Richardson.

As novelist an ...

Recognising biography as ‘one of the new terrors of death’, the eighteenth-century wit John Arbuthnot made sure his life would be sparsely documented. Manning Clark, preoccupied with his inevitable extinction, took the opposite tack. He massively archived all his thoughts and doings as a strategy ...

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The business of growing up starts with distancing ourselves from our parents. It ends (as far as it ever ends) with drawing them close again. Rather than disappointing giants, we recognise them at last as fallible, unique human beings. We recognise them in ourselves, and so they become real to us.

The tumultuous early life of Raimond Gaita and his parents is ...

Sempre Susan by Sigrid Nunez & Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff

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September 2011, no. 334

In her short memoir of Susan Sontag, novelist Sigrid Nunez claims that she did not read the obituaries and commentaries after her death in 2004, and that she was never much interested in what other people said about Sontag. If it’s true, she is indeed a rara avis. Susan Sontag, in death as in life, generates enormous interest and a growing literature, one that pro ...

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