Prufrock's Page

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Biographer Or Cannibal?

One is a sucker for literary biographies -- though admittedly, many of them could be considered no more than an advanced version of literary gossip. Authors themselves, however, have been dismissive of biographers: James Joyce called them biografiends, and Rudyard Kipling deemed the genre a "higher form of cannibalism." In a review of Biography: A Brief History by Nigel Hamilton, Carl Rollyson asks and answers an apt question: "When did biography — a rather distinguished genre in the days of Plutarch and Suetonius — lose literary rank? As soon as the first biographers tried to deal frankly with the private as well as the public lives of their subjects." He ends on a note of appreciation: "Mr. Hamilton has begun to rectify an enormous injustice by showing that biography, in itself, is a form of knowledge, a way of apprehending the world that deserves its own departments and centers of scholarly study. Someday, perhaps, with more studies like Mr. Hamilton's, biography will finally get the respect it deserves."


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