Sunday 21 April 2013

Life Writing

Last month I went to beautiful Oxford to hear Paula Byrne talk about her book Jane Austen - A Life in Small Things at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival.  The event was held at the Blue Boar lecture theatre at Christ Church.  Paula Byrne spoke very well about Austen, her links with Oxford and also about the nature of biographical writing. 

With many books about Austen already in print and no new cache of letters emerging Byrne spoke about the necessity of finding a new approach to her subject.  Instead of a traditional 'womb to tomb'  biography she chose to focus on meaningful objects in Austen's life including the topaz crosses, a card of lace, an East Indian shawl, vellum notebooks and a bathing machine.

While Byrne's book worked very well I'm not so sure about Jane Dunn's Daphne Du Maurier and her Sisters which I've just finished.  It examines the lives of the three Du Maurier sisters, Angela, Daphne and Jeanne.  Angela wrote novels and Jeanne was an artist and although their lives were interesting I really wanted to read about Daphne.  This book has its moments though and the presentation and photographs are excellent.

I think my favourite literary biographies are Valerie Grove's Dear Dodie (life of Dodie Smith) and Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte.  What are yours?