Saturday, January 27, 2007
A Banner Season for Biographies
I’ve yet to experience a shortage of good biographies to feed my interest in the lives and work of the writers and other artists that I admire. Even against the backdrop of what I perceive as the perennially healthy state of this genre, however, it seems to me that we’re in the midst of a banner season for biographies. I’m thinking in particular of the recent and imminent publication of substantial new biographies by three titans of the genre: Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy, Victoria Glendinning’s Leonard Woolf, and Hermione Lee’s Edith Wharton. Picture me gleefully rubbing my hands together at the prospect of immersing myself in these biographical riches.
I have not yet acquired a copy of Glendinning’s Leonard Woolf which was released in Canada a scant two months ago, and Lee’s Edith Wharton biography won’t be available here until the end of February. But my copy of Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy arrived in yesterday’s mail and I’m very happy to begin the odyssey with this one. I’ve only made it as far as the acknowledgments section and I’m already hooked. What, you may ask, is so compelling about a few preliminary pages of acknowledgements? Obviously my interest in Thomas Hardy and his work is what prompted me to pick up this book. But I’m also interested more broadly in the process of writing biography, of constructing life stories. And as I read through Tomalin’s acknowledgments section, it struck me as a marvellous glimpse into that process—from initial motivation, through laborious research, and into the writing and polishing of the final manuscript. It’s no more than a snapshot, of course, but revealing nonetheless. It has whetted my appetite nicely for the main event. I’m very much looking forward to spending some happy hours with this biography, and also to the binge of Hardy rereads which I fully expect it to provoke.
And, of course, I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on copies of Glendinning’s Leonard Woolf and Lee’s Edith Wharton.