Art of Biography

Sheila Fitzpatrick on history vs memoir

Sheila Fitzpatrick
27 May 2014

In Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Sandcastle (1957), a young artist called Rain Carter is commissioned to paint a retired schoolmaster, Demoyte, an eccentric with an offbeat sense of humour. Instead of his usual attire – a shabby red velvet jacket with tobacco stains and bow tie – Demoyte turns up wearing a nondescript grey suit, explaining to a friend: ‘A ... More

The LRB of life writing

Ann-Marie Priest
26 May 2014
Anne-Marie Priest finds much to enjoy in LRB's new anthology of life writing (Hilary Mantel, Andrew O'Hagan et al.), but wonders about the elastic definition of what constitutes a memoir. More

The love song of Henry and Olga

Ann-Marie Priest
28 April 2014

On an early spring evening in 1919, in a nearly empty cinema in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis, a slight, dark-haired figure slipped into a seat at the farthest edge of a row. From here, she would have a clear view of the profile of the youthful pianist who, sheltered behind a screen, accompanied the silent film. In white tie and tails, with her fair hair sl ... More

Brian Matthews on the 'Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18'

Brian Matthews
17 January 2014

In his brief preface to Volume 1 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography 17881850 A–H (1966), Douglas Pike describes the ‘all-Australian, Commonwealth-wide … consultation and co-operation’ underpinning the volume and notes that the breadth and complexity of its intellectual network meant the Dictionary could ‘truly be ... More

In the Moscow archives

Sheila Fitzpatrick
22 August 2013
Distinguished Soviet historian Sheila Fitzpatrick – now back in Australia – writes about her remarkable experiences in Moscow from 1966 and about the perils of being an exchange student and researcher. More

Olive Cotton at Spring Forest

Helen Ennis
24 June 2013
Helen Ennis writes at length about the great modernist photographer Olive Cotton and her second marriage to Ross McInerney, which took her far from the art world – and from her art. More

Brenda Niall: 'Ettie and Nettie'

Brenda Niall
29 January 2013

It is a brilliant summer day in July 1935. The scene is a house called Green Ridges, near Hastings, Sussex. Two women, seated but not relaxed, face each other across a formal drawing room. This is the first time they have met. Nettie Palmer, Australian writer and journalist, has come to stay overnight with the novelist Henry Handel Richardson.

As novelist an ... More

Robert Dessaix's Seymour Lecture: Pushing against the dark

Robert Dessaix
20 March 2012

If you’re a theatregoer, then somewhere along the line you’re bound to have seen The Government Inspector, Nikolai Gogol’s comedy about a rapacious nobody being mistaken for a government official by the citizens of a nameless provincial backwater. (They too are nobodies, greedy to be somebodies.) You might remember (since it’s a line that will ... More

Norman Etherington on the spectre of Manning Clark

Norman Etherington
25 November 2011

Recognising biography as ‘one of the new terrors of death’, the eighteenth-century wit John Arbuthnot made sure his life would be sparsely documented. Manning Clark, preoccupied with his inevitable extinction, took the opposite tack. He massively archived all his thoughts and doings as a strategy for ensuring some spectral posthumous existence. A telling photogr ... More

Paul Morgan on Raimond Gaita's 'After Romulus'

Paul Morgan
27 September 2011

The business of growing up starts with distancing ourselves from our parents. It ends (as far as it ever ends) with drawing them close again. Rather than disappointing giants, we recognise them at last as fallible, unique human beings. We recognise them in ourselves, and so they become real to us.

The tumultuous early life of Raimond Gaita and his parents is ... More

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