The dovegreybooks group I chat about a lot has been discussing something, which I thought I’d allow to tumble over onto my blog. Sometimes my brain just won’t think of new topics every night… plagiarism is just a word for people who don’t copy enough different people…
Biographies. Particularly literary biographies (which, I’ll be honest, are more or less the only ones I read). I have of Fanny Wollstonecraft (yes, Fanny) which I’m going to start very soon, expect reports back in a week or several. A literary biography well done is a wonderful thing, offering new lights on a writer’s work, and allowing one to engage with their life, surroundings and acquaintances. So far, so good.
But readers are not rational creatures. I know it shouldn’t matter whether or not an author is ‘nice’ (whatever we choose that to mean) – if a novel or play or poem is great, then that should be it, but of course this isn’t the case. If someone discovered a beautifully written ode by Hitler, I doubt I could consider it a favourite. So, today’s point to muse and respond to – has a writer’s biography or autobiography ever spoiled the way you read their work? Or maybe improved it?
For me, a couple have been compromised. I adore Katherine Mansfield’s short stories, but Claire Tomalin’s biography left me not fond of the woman. Virginia Woolf, as you may know, is a firm favourite – but Hermione Lee depicts her as quite selfish and arrogant (though other biographies have made her seem much more gentle, self-deprecating and witty). On the other hand, biographies of Jane Austen, Richmal Crompton and AA Milne have only made me like them more. I’m determined to avoid Margaret Forster’s biography of Daphne du Maurier, after Our Vicar’s Wife said it spoilt the novels for her somewhat. So, it unquestionably does make a difference to me, what an author was like as a person – but should it? And does it for you?