Biography

There is a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail outside a castle, brimming with French men-at-arms, who taunt King Arthur and his knights remorselessly, while the Britons are convinced that the Holy Grail lies behind the drawbridge. The Grail was, of course, membership of the Common Market ...

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The author and critic Richard Ellmann died in May 1987, a handful of months before the publication of his biography of Oscar Wilde. Twenty years in the making, the book instantly established a benchmark in literary biography. Psychologically astute and critically nuanced, Oscar Wilde invites ...

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Old friendships and close collaborations between author and subject can be either a blessing or a curse in biography – a tightrope between discretionary tact and open fire. Both call for intimate but balanced subjectivity, especially where virile egos are concerned. The Boy from Brunswick, a massive tome with sixty chapters and 540 pages, offers a bit of everything ...

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General ‘Pompey’ Elliott was a famous Australian in 1918, half forgotten seventy years later, and is now a national military hero. This Anzac Day he stood high. On French soil he was praised by France’s prime minister, Édouard Philippe, in one of the most mesmerising and sensitive speeches ever offered by a European leader to Australian ears ...

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A healthy suspicion should surround books that arrive neatly on some commemorative due date – in this case, the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is not that biographer Fiona Sampson is less than able and diligent in her efforts to celebrate a novel which has resonated like ...

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There appears to be a major problem with the story of Leonora Carrington’s life (1917–2011): it hasn’t been told enough. This may be because, as in the case of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Carrington is often overshadowed by the male Surrealist artists with whom she associated herself – especially her lover Max Ernst ...

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‘It is hard to reach the truth of these islands,’ observed Robert Louis Stevenson of Samoa in a letter written to a close friend in 1892, two years after the author had moved to an estate on Upolu. Stevenson, who died in 1894, could never have anticipated the prophetic dimension added to those words. Less than a century later ...

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Keith Waller was one of the top ambassadors in a period when Australia urgently needed them. During the Cold War, he served in Moscow and then Washington, where a skilled resident diplomat could be more important than a visiting prime minister ...

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

by
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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My earliest memory of Princess Margaret is flicking through my grandmother’s copy of 'The Australian Women’s Weekly' and seeing photographs of a middle-aged woman, in huge sunglasses and a colourful kaftan, on a tropical island. I surmised she was famous but did not know why. My grandmother explained ...

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