03 July 2008

Biographies, part V: Some of my favs

Following on from my previous biography posts from a few weeks ago, I thought I’d share some of the biographies that have been important to me, or which I’ve especially enjoyed. And I hope you will tell me some of your favs too.

These are in no particular order of importance or chronology.

The Martyrdom of an Empress. I found this book in a second-hand shop in Otaki, many many years ago. I was attracted to it simply because it’s a gorgeous old, green cloth-bound, hard-back book, rather than by the subject matter, because at that stage I’d never heard of Empress Elisabeth (Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary). It was written by an anonymous but devoted former lady in waiting – so it has a very biased angle, but I found it fascinating. Elisabeth was beautiful, wilful, Romantic, probably a bit mad, and doomed: the perfect monarch, and the perfect subject for a biography. I’ve since read several, and better, biographies of her, but none that had the same impact as the first. The longest poem I’ve ever written is the nine-page ‘Empress Elisabeth’ (which will be in My Iron Spine).

Vita, by Gloria Glendinning. It’s easier to remember the recent ones! I talked in recent post about how this biography affected me – motivated me to live and write more. Let’s see if that lasts…

Anaïs: the Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin, by Noël Riley Fitch. Way less sleazy than the title would lead you to expect – in fact it wasn’t sleazy at all. It was a really interesting insight into a complex person and writer, who was trying to do something new and different – and managed to have two husbands for many years – one on each coast of the US.

Helen Keller’s Teacher. I got interested in Helen Keller as a child, because we had the same name, and she was a writer and I wanted to be a writer. From somewhere or other I ended up with this book about her teacher, Annie Sullivan, who taught Helen Keller to communicate with a physical form of sign language. I read this heartbreaking and heartwarming story over and over and over.

Katherine Mansfield: a Secret Life, by Claire Tomalin. Despite my previous bitching about Katherine Mansfield biographies, I did really enjoy this when I first read it. I remember finding it really inspiring, especially given that she is from the same city as me – even though she did abandon it!

That’s all I can think of right now. What are some of your favs?


the daily screenwriter said...

I'm a big fan of artists' and writers' biographies. Was introduced to Frida Kahlo through the bio by Hayden Ferrarra(?), which blew my mind as I'd never seen her paintings before (and of course she had a fascinating life), have bios of Federico Garcia Lorca and Dali by I forget who, but enjoyed them, liked Shelley: The Pursuit, by Richard Holmes, like just about any biography of Oscar Wilde. I've heard of Empress Elisabeth but don't know much about her - just remember I was intrigued. Have too many biographies to list. Really liked Douglas Wright's first autobiography but not his second so much. Guess I like imagining myself into other lives.

Helen Rickerby said...

Ooh, I'd be very interested in a Frida Kahlo biography. I've studied her art, and seen a couple of movies about her, but I've not read that bio. Think I ought. I think I might publish my (rather long) poem (or series of poems I suppose) about Empress Elisabeth here on my blog - it was too long to get published anywhere else really, but it will be in my book.

I guess reading biographies is kind of imagining yourself into other lives. Trying them on for size. Mostly I find they don't quite fit, but they have aspects that I like.

I think the storm's hit - my desk and the bay window is shaking!