The Unknown Judith Wright
University of Western Australia Publishing, $29.99 pb, 350 pp, 9781742588216
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 about his privacy, the other, insistent on his version of history – famously took their biographers to court and emerged victorious. Such tussles are settled at times more quietly, through compromise, withholding of copyright, or spoiling tactics of some other kind. Doris Lessing, on learning that no fewer than five different writers were preparing to tell the story of her life, sat down to write a two-volume auto- biography which would serve, so she thought, as a gazumping record of a life about which she knew she knew more than any of her would-be chroniclers. But once she got going she found that her views and opinions had changed disconcertingly over the years, the perspectives of youth giving way to those of old age. Biography, she reflected, was an unstable art, subject always to flux, contingency, and the restless, revisionist movement of time. Her biographers might tell one kind of story about her – or five different kinds – but she too had multiple tales to tell.