'Pushing against the dark: Writing about the hidden self' by Robert Dessaix (2011 Seymour Biography Lecture)

by
April 2012, no. 340

'Pushing against the dark: Writing about the hidden self' by Robert Dessaix (2011 Seymour Biography Lecture)

by
April 2012, no. 340

This is an edited version of the 2011 Seymour Biography Lecture, which Robert Dessaix delivered at the National Library of Australia on 24 October 2011 and repeated during Adelaide Writers’ Week, on 8 March 2012. The Seymour Lecture is supported by John and Heather Seymour, the National Library, and ABR. We have published three previous Seymour Lectures, all of which are still available in print: Lawrence Goldman, ‘Virtual Lives: History and Biography in an Electronic Age’ (June 2007), Richard Holmes, ‘Biography: The Past Has a Great Future’ (November 2008), Frances Spalding, ‘The Biographer’s Contract’ (February 2011).

If you’re a theatregoer, then somewhere along the line you’re bound to have seen The Government Inspector, Nikolai Gogol’s comedy about a rapacious nobody being mistaken for a government official by the citizens of a nameless provincial backwater. (They too are nobodies, greedy to be somebodies.) You might remember (since it’s a line that will have evoked both your contempt and your compassion) that the fussy fool Pyotr Ivanovych Bobchinsky, a local landowner, who fails to exist to the point of being almost indistinguishable from his companion Pyotr Ivanovych Dobchinsky, says to the government inspector (who isn’t one):

I beg you most humbly, sir, when you’re in St Petersburg, say to all the different bigwigs there – the senators and admirals: You know, in such-and-such a town, your Excellency, or your Eminence, lives Pyotr Ivanovych Bobchinsky. Just say that: lives Pyotr Ivanovych Bobchinsky … And if you’re speaking to the sovereign, then say to the sovereign as well: in such-and-such a town, your Imperial Highness, lives Pyotr Ivanovych Bobchinsky.

From the New Issue

You May Also Like

Leave a comment

If you are an ABR subscriber, you will need to sign in to post a comment.

If you have forgotten your sign in details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to ABR Comments. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.