Art of Biography
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
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
In his brief preface to Volume 1 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography 1788–1850 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
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
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
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
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