Biography and Memoirs

Literary biography is an often derided genre. Writers, in particular, tend to be suspicious, if not openly hostile, toward what they are apt to regard as a secondary or parasitic form. And there are valid reasons for this wariness. The assumption behind a biography is, reasonably enough, that the writer’s life informs the work, but establishing the precise relevan ...

Tim Bonyhady: Good Living Street

Evelyn Juers
Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Leaving Vienna, city of windows

Evelyn Juers

 

GOOD LIVING STREET: THE FORTUNES OF MY VIENNESE FAMILY
by Tim Bonyhady
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 464 pp, 9781742371467

 

Would it be indulgent to invoke Leonard Cohen? It’s just that his song ‘Take Th ...

Michael Holroyd: A Book of Secrets

Ian Britain
Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Grand follies

Ian Britain

 

A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
by Michael Holroyd
Chatto & Windus, $46.95 hb, 270 pp, 9780701185343

 

In a review on quite another subject for ABR’s recent summer issue (‘Barry by ...

The biographer’s contract

Frances Spalding
Friday, 06 May 2011

The business of authoring another person’s life is problematic and potentially dangerous. You need to be brave to write biography. It is not just the labour involved, or the obsessive research involving more travel and hours of work than can be deemed cost-effective; it also requires a self-exposing judiciousness. At every stage in the procedure decisions are made ...

Shirley Walker reviews 'Nine Lives'

Shirley Walker
Wednesday, 04 May 2011

Susan Sheridan’s Nine Lives, a ‘group biography’, analyses the life stories and literary achievements of nine Australian women writers. The purpose, according to Sheridan, is not only to rediscover the life story of each, but also, by exploring their publishing and aesthetic context, to create a ‘fresh configuration’ of our literary history.

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Morag Fraser reviews 'A Widow's Story'

Morag Fraser
Tuesday, 26 April 2011

On 18 February 2008, Joyce Carol Oates’s husband, Raymond J. Smith, died unexpectedly of cardiopulmonary arrest. Smith was eminent in his own field as editor of the Ontario Review, but quietly eminent. Now he has become famous, a household name in international literary circles – as his widow’s spouse. It is an odd state of being, or non-being. But th ...

David Walker: Not Dark Yet

John Rickard
Thursday, 24 March 2011

An historian’s journey into the past

John Rickard

 

Not Dark Yet: A Personal History
by David Walker
Giramondo, $32.95 pb, 336 pp, 9781920882655

 

It is perhaps not surprising that historians, as they edge towards retirement, should consider the poss ...

'Hazel Rowley: Biographer of big subjects' by Lucy Sussex

Lucy Sussex
Thursday, 24 March 2011

To write about a biographer is to be aware of a presence, psychologically if not spectrally, sitting on your shoulder. This presence is not an angel, more like an imp, the minor demon that arouses bad deeds, or thoughts. In writing about a biographer we can feel not angelic inspiration, but the imp of doubt, saying: This is not good enough, I could do better.

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Grace Moore reviews 'Charles Dickens' by Michael Slater

Grace Moore
Thursday, 01 April 2010

Writing a matter of hours after Charles Dickens’s death on 9 June 1870, an obituarist for The Times of London remarked, ‘The story of his life is soon told’. The publication of Dickens’s friend John Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens between 1871 and 1874 soon gave the lie to these words, revealing a far more complex and damaged Dickens than the reading public had ever suspected this novelist, journalist, actor, social reformer and bon viveur to be. Since the 1870s thousands of pages have been devoted to scrutinising the life of the self-styled ‘sparkler of Albion’, including G.K. Chesterton’s Charles Dickens: A critical study (1906), Edgar Johnson’s magisterial Charles Dickens: His tragedy and triumph (1952) and Claire Tomalin’s superbly readable account of Dickens’s infatuation with his mistress, Ellen Ternan, The Invisible Woman (1991).

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These are parallel careers, and Antonio Buti’s biography of Ronald Wilson (1922–2005) is much concerned with the connections and contradictions between them. The book blazes into life whenever it touches on Aborigines: its framing device is the 1997 Reconciliation Conference in Melbourne, when delegates turned their backs on John Howard and what the Herald Sun called his ‘hectoring rant’. Wilson regretted their incivility, yet wondered whether Howard’s behaviour gave it justification. In 1969 a speech by ‘Nugget’ Coombs inspired Wilson to join the New Era Aboriginal Fellowship, and later to help establish the WA Aboriginal Legal Service. In 1985 he worked for three weeks as a builder’s labourer on an Aboriginal community centre. Four years later, he visited communities in Arnhem Land. Then there are the apology stories: Wilson’s ‘pilgrimage to Mapoon’ in 1990, to apologise for church acquiescence when the settlement was dispersed in 1963 to make way for bauxite mining, and his joinder with Dorothy McMahon in apologising for her momentary brusqueness towards Aborigines at a World Council of Churches assembly in 1991.

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