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Evelyn Juers

Evelyn Juers is the author of House of Exile (2008), The Recluse (2012), and The Dancer: A biography for Philippa Cullen (2021).

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What meaning can be drawn from an individual life? Most of us will disappear without much trace, forgotten by all but friends and family. Writers may hope for more, leaving their art behind for posterity. Performance artists, though, live their art in the moment.

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In ‘The Art of Biography’, Virginia Woolf insists that this ‘is the most restricted of all the arts’ and that even if many biographies are written, few survive. But somehow ...

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Dear Alex,

You invited us. We – Geordie Williamson, David Malouf and I, representing over 3000 signatories of the Petition to save the Mitchell Library Reading Room (MLRR) and calling for a public meeting t ...

Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin & Becoming Dickens by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

March 2012, no. 339

This is how Claire Tomalin closes her Dickens biography: ‘He left a trail like a meteor, and everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens’, followed by a long list of types. I consider Dickens the surrealist, or the sentimentalist, but then I pick Dickens the tireless walker. And I concede, with Tomalin, that regarding his life and work, ‘a great many questions hang in the air, unanswered and mostly unanswerable’.

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Would it be indulgent to invoke Leonard Cohen? It’s just that his song ‘Take This Waltz’, which begins ‘Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women’, brings to mind that city’s fin-de-siècle world. In a liquescent poetic mosaic of shoulders and thighs, lilies, hyacinths, moonshine, and dew, I see the women as if painted by Gustav Klimt – portraitist, libertine – someone who ‘climbs to your picture with a garland of freshly cut tears’. And Cohen’s Kafkaesque ‘lobby with nine hundred windows’ stirs up images of Vienna as a city of windows, of watching and being watched.

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Evelyn Juers’s wide-ranging and suggestive study of Heinrich Mann (older brother of Thomas) and his second wife, Nelly Kroeger-Mann, opens with a vivid extended anecdote, recounting a meeting between the couple and Bertolt Brecht at a fruit market in Los Angeles, in the summer of 1944. Members of the community of European exiles in Los Angeles had flocked to the market because a farmer ‘was selling berries … Not just strawberries, blueberries … [but] also … gooseberries’. Jokingly translating the English word into Gaensebeeren (the actual German is Stachelbeeren), Brecht is caught handing out ‘a great mound of amber fruit’, giving Heinrich and Nelly ‘a translucent gem to taste’, and wittily punning ‘that he was no gooseberry fool’.

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On 30 March 2001 Helen Garner attended a Victims of Crime Rally on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament House.

The sun shone on a loose crowd that was forming at the top of Bourke Street. Many of the demonstrators had attached pictures of their murdered loved ones to their T shirts … On their backs people wore the slogan MAKE THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE CRIME. A common poster read LET THE VICTIM HAVE THE LAST WORD IN THE SENTENCE.

Garner describes suffering faces, clumsy and sob-broken speeches, anger sharpened to ‘rough, skin-prickling eloquence’, recitations of lists of the dead, lists of crimes and sentences. At the end of the rally, Garner asked some of the speakers for their addresses. When she told a man who had impressed her with his eloquence – he wore an Akubra and his face was ‘sun-creased, sparkly-eyed and intensely like-able’ – that she was writing a book about a murder, he shook her hand and said, ‘[T]hanks for takin’ an interest’.

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J.M. Coetzee’s Stranger Shores is a collection of twenty-nine primarily literary essays dating from 1986 to 1999. It offers an impressive range of subjects, including a reappraisal of T.S. Eliot’s famous quest for the definition of a classic, a tracking down of Daniel Defoe’s game of autobiographical impersonations, and a biographical evaluation of ...

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Following True Stories, published in 1996, The Feel of Steel is Helen Garner’s second collection of non-fiction. It comprises thirty-one pieces of varying lengths. Longer narratives such as ‘Regions of Thick-Ribbed Ice’, about a hair-raising trip to Antarctica, and ‘A Spy in the House of Excrement’, about the outcome ...

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