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.

8 comments:

litlove said...

I don't read many biographies, but I LOVE ones about authors. I shall be queueing up for the Hermione Lee one on Edith Wharton, and I shall watch with interest your progress through the Hardy.

danielle said...

I love biographies, but I don't read many of them for some reason (slow going for me most likely). I am also very interested in the Edith Wharton bio.

Melissa said...

I always read acknowledgments first--and I've found that they're a good indication of how the rest of the book will be. It's also fun to see the networks of researchers emerge in certain genres.
Just finished Unrue's bio of Katherine Anne Porter, and it was fabulous!

Pauline said...

There was a preview of Hermione Lee's Wharton biography in the Guardian:
http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,,1994282,00.html
I look forward to reading your take on Hardy!

Quillhill said...

I am all for Hardy!

Ex Libris said...

I am planning to buy the Wharton biography and the more I see about the Hardy biography, the more I want it, too. Will look forward to your thoughts on all these books.

patricia said...

I find that the only biographies that really appeal to me are ones of artists and writers, especially writers. I plan on reading more in the future.

Are you interested in the author Patricia Highsmith? I recently finished a biography of her ('Beautiful Shadow') that was amazing. So often in biographies the author is focused on providing a wealth of information, and sadly pays little attention to their own writing style. I found this book to be not only a fascinating look at Ms. Highsmith's life, but it was also very well written. I was captivated from beginning to end.

I'd love to read some bios of Hardy. He seemed like a very complicated and tortured soul, and well, those kind of writers have the most interesting lives, don't they?

Sarah said...

All three of these bios are high on my to-be-read list. The only problem is that reading about Hardy and Wharton makes you want to read all of their novels!