Biography

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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Readers of this review are warned that they are in the presence of an addict. Having read Anthony Powell’s monumental twelve-volume Dance to the Music of Time three times, I had been trying not to succumb to a fourth. Then along comes Hilary Spurling’s brilliant biography and will power has suffered total defeat ...

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There has been an argument going on in the Liberal Party about the nature of the Menzies heritage – was Robert Menzies, the founder of the modern party, a liberal or a conservative? Notably absent from this discussion has been the national figure who was the first leader of a united anti-Labor party and who also happens to have been a father of Federation, Alfred ...

This fascinating volume on the fate of Clara (Claretta) Petacci, mistress to Benito Mussolini, by distinguished historian R.J.B. Bosworth, is a meticulously researched and multi-layered account tracing the fateful relationship between the fascist dictator and his younger paramour. From the genesis of the affair to its well-known aftermath, Bosworth enlivens our unde ...

Described in one of the blurbs on its back cover as ‘a cabinet of wonders for lovers of faraway countries,’ Jamie James’s The Glamour of Strangeness is unusual in terms of the wide variety of the material it covers. James focuses here on artists who left their homelands ‘to create a new self in a new place’, arguing that the ‘exotic’ aesthetic ...

Kenneth Clark had a life like no other art historian or critic, gallery director, arts administrator, patron, collector, or presenter on television. Whatever he touched, he left a sheen of brilliance. He was handsome, charming, and debonair. And he was rich, spending his last three decades as the lord of Saltwood Castle. His father, the raffish and boozy Kenneth McK ...

Is it surprising that Jeff Sparrow should write a book on Paul Robeson, the great American singer who was also a civil rights activist, a man of the left, and the most celebrated Othello of the twentieth century? Sparrow is a broadcaster and columnist, but he is also the immediate past editor of Overland, a literary journal dedicated to a mixed diet of – ...

Chester Wilmot was blessed with the professional reporter’s principal virtues, talent, self-confidence, resilience, and luck. While his skills as a broadcaster took him to the various fronts of World War II, it was luck, as much as planning, that put him in Tobruk, Greece, and on the Kokoda Track at the precise moments to witness Australia’s armed forces in thei ...

Robert Macklin is a great admirer of Hamilton Hume (1797–1873). He paints a vivid, scholarly picture of one of Australia’s lesser-known ‘currency’ explorers: a man who spent his youth hiking in the bush, with his brother and an Aboriginal guide, as often as his mother would allow. Hume was a successful farmer, able bushman ...

Brian Matthews reviews 'Dymphna' by Judith Armstrong

Brian Matthews
Friday, 24 February 2017

In the summer of 1988 I was part of an Adelaide Writers Week symposium on biography, the stars of which were two justly famous and accomplished biographers – Victoria Glendinning and Andrew Motion.  I described that occasion at the time, like this:

I greatly admired Motion’s panache. As we ascended the podium to begin the se ...