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Literary Biography

The ABR Podcast 

Released every Thursday, the ABR podcast features our finest reviews, poetry, fiction, interviews, and commentary.

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Tracey Slaughter

Episode #187

‘why your hair is long & your stories short’

By Tracey Slaughter

With the publication of the May issue, ABR was delighted to announce the winner of the 2024 Calibre Essay Prize. Tracey Slaughter – from Aotearoa New Zealand – has become the first overseas writer to claim the Calibre Prize with her essay ‘why your hair is long & your stories short’. We are thrilled Tracey Slaughter could join the ABR Podcast to read her winning essay. Listen to Tracey Slaughter with ‘why your hair is long & your stories short’, published in the May issue of ABR.

Recent episodes:


Shirley Hazzard is widely regarded as one of Australia’s finest novelists, even though she published only four novels during her long lifetime. Now, Professor Brigitta Olubas from the University of New South Wales has written the first major literary biography of the writer in Shirley Hazzard: A writing life (Virago/Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In this week’s ABR podcast, ABR Editor Peter Rose interviews Professor Olubas about her study of the ‘complex, alluring, peripatetic artist’.

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Ann-Marie Priest’s My Tongue Is My Own, published by La Trobe University Press and reviewed in our June issue, is the first authorised biography of the Australian poet Gwen Harwood (1920–1995). Unsurprisingly, this was not the first attempt to record the life of one of Australia’s most loved and admired poets. In an exclusive feature for ABR, John Harwood reflects on the conflicting motives behind his literary executorship of his mother’s estate – an estate holding the secrets to an at-times fractious marriage between two opposing temperaments.

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The basic facts of William Shakespeare’s life – his baptism, early marriage, three children, shareholder status in his playing company, acquisition of a coat of arms, purchase of New Place in Stratford, and his death in 1616 – are well known. Is there anything new to say?

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This is a remarkable book – not so much for its subject matter as for the intensity of the passionate involvement of one writer with another. From the beginning, it is clear that this is not a conventional biography or book of criticism. A.N. Wilson approaches Charles Dickens through seven different mysteries about his life. The principal one, which underlies the whole book, is the mystery of what makes Dickens such an utterly compelling writer.

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

by
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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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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Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) occupies a pivotal position in the development of modern writing, not just as the poet of Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1857) but as the proponent, in his critical writings, of a modern aesthetic based on the experience of city life. More than any other French poet of his time, he marks the transition from the Romantic to a proto-modernist poetic style and stance. T.S. Eliot recognised the nature of this achievement when he said that for him the significance of Les Fleurs du mal was summed up in the first lines of ‘Les sept vieillards’ (‘The Seven Old Men’), in Baudelaire’s vision of the ‘teeming city, city full of dreams, / where ghosts in broad daylight accost the passer-by’. ‘I knew what that meant,’ Eliot said, ‘because I had lived it before I knew that I wanted to turn it into verse on my own account.’

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