Category: Biography

“there are things that you never get over…”: Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin interviewed by Rachel Cooke:

She married Frayn in 1993 (though they’d got together years before, following a bit of uncertainty on his part; he was married to someone else) and, eight years ago, shortly after they were both shortlisted for the Whitbread (now Costa) book of the year (she won), they moved from north London to this fabulously comfortable house – it has the biggest garden I have ever seen – where their studies, his neat and hers rather messier, are separated only by a small room full of box files. They are each other’s first reader, though he is the strict one. “No, he’s not kind. And he’s been absolutely savage about my public speaking! I used to read my talks and he said, ‘Don’t do it, it’s so boring, it’s absolutely ghastly.’ And he was right.”

She has, she says, long since come to terms with the isolation of writing; these days, she likes nothing more than “to sink down into the mud”, undisturbed. “But my default mode is melancholy. It’s partly because of losing my daughter [Susanna committed suicide when she was an undergraduate]; there are things that you never get over. But it’s also that writing induces melancholy. It is lonely. You’re alone, alone, alone, a hermit, an absolutely intolerable person, and then you finish, and what’s coming towards you is talking, talking, talking. I’m in a misery thinking about it.”

Except she doesn’t look miserable. Her cheekbones glow. My hunch is that she is as close to being contented as any writer can be. Then again, as she knows better than anyone, this might not be saying very much. Dickens – “the meteor… the brilliance in the room, the inimitable” – loved his creations, Smike and Sam Weller, Ebenezer Scrooge and Sissy Jupe. But he could no more have rested on his laurels than he could have become a clergyman or a Cistercian monk.

March 2018: Interlitq to publish Neil Langdon Inglis's review ("Revolutionary or traitor?") of his father&#...

Hanged for treason in the depths of WWI, Roger Casement (1864-1916) remains a heroic figure for many in his home country of Ireland. When Irish author Brian Inglis turned his attention to the enigmatic revolutionary executed in the year of Inglis’s birth, a sympathetic treatment of the subject seemed likely. And yet, it bears witness to Inglis’s judicious objectivity that his resulting biography of Casement yielded no whitewash, but a measured assessment of a man of ideals and fatal flaws. With the release of a new Kindle edition by Endeavour Media, a new generation of readers can now savor Inglis’s account of Casement’s life, a true classic of the genre (first published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1973). In March 2018, Brian’s son Neil Langdon Inglis (Interlitq‘s U.S. General Editor) will review his father’s biography in his article “Revolutionary or traitor?”.
Read more about Roger Casement
Read more about Neil Langdon Inglis

Fiona Sampson would "love to have met" Mary Shelley

Fiona Sampson: credit Ekaterina Voskresenskaya

Fiona Sampson interviewed by Interlitq: read the entire interview:
Interlitq: Could you tell us more about your forthcoming biography In Search of Mary Shelley : the girl who wrote Frankenstein to be published by Profile in 2018. How did this artistic endeavour come about?
Fiona Sampson: My psychological biography of Mary Shelley was also a commission, and arose from having done that poetry edition. I was absolutely delighted to stretch myself and find these new ways to write and close read the evidence of a life… and I admire Mary hugely as a result. I think she’s a very sympathetic character but also that she’s a real person, someone nuanced and inconsistent as we all are. I’d love to have met her… Profile are publishing the book on January 18th 2018; Frankenstein was published 200 years ago on January 1st 1818.
Fiona Sampson‘s Wikipedia entry.
Fiona Sampson‘s website.
Fiona Sampson‘s contribution to Interlitq‘s Poetic Voices.
Fiona Sampson‘s contribution to Interlitq‘s English Writers 1.
Fiona Sampson‘s contribution to Issue 8 of Interlitq.
Fiona Sampson‘s In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein.
Rachell Hewitt reviews in The Guardian Fiona Sampson‘s In Search of Mary Shelley.
Mary Shelley‘s Wikipedia entry.

Iris Murdoch "is becoming harder to understand, now that the process of sanctification is under way": Peter Conrad

Iris Murdoch

Reviewing Iris Murdoch: A Life by Peter J. Conradi, Peter Conrad writes:
Conradi traces the protean facility of her metamorphoses back to Canetti’s theory of Verwandlungen, which celebrated the individual’s fission into a quarrelsome company of personae. At first, this seemed like a deviously magical power: Canetti, as Conradi demonstrates, is the prototype for the devilish enchanters in her novels. Yet it also entailed a Shakespearean self-negation which made it a sacred grace rather than a devious profane talent. Canetti, Iris said, had enough selves to stock a ‘Hindu pantheon’ (and, like those randy polymorphous gods, a goodly supply of willing houris).
Covering the transition between sex and spirit, she called Canetti an ‘angel-demon’. All of Iris herself is in that shaky, splicing hyphen. She is becoming harder to understand, now that the process of sanctification is under way: in a forthcoming film, she is impersonated by Judi Dench, the English epitome of sweet, fubsy domestic cosiness. All her life, people deified her. At Oxford, Denis Healey called the communistic Iris a ‘latter-day Joan of Arc’. But, as she told her lover Frank Thompson when reporting that she had lost her virginity while he was away at the war (in which he was killed), ‘I’m not a Blessed Damozel you know.’
No, indeed: in the reminiscences of others, she often resembles Lilith, Lucifera, Salome and their fatal mythic sisters. Olivier Todd, who knew her at Cambridge after the war, could not decide whether her aura was redolent of roses or sulphur. She cast her Oxford tutor Donald Mackinnon – a famously disincarnated brain, on whom Tom Stoppard partly modelled the philosopher in Jumpers – as Christ, and called herself the penitent harlot Mary Magdalene. Mackinnon, whose marriage frayed as a result of their intense but cerebral liaison, denounced her in 1992, declaring ‘there was real evil there’.
About Iris Murdoch
About Peter J. Conradi
About Peter Conrad