Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Monday, January 9, 2017
Potter was born in 1866 and died in 1943
Her first of 24 children's books, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1902
Over the Hills and Far Away The Life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Dennison brings vividly and lovingly back to life a writer who created out of her childhood experiences growing up in the Lake District of England characters like Peter Rabbit that have brightened the world of children all over the world. In reading the biographies of English authors you will often find Beatrix Potter as their earliest reading life memory.
Dennison does a wonderful job showing us how Potter's imagination was shaped by her early years living in rural England, especially by her contacts with rabbits, hedgehogs, ducks, mice, cats and other animals. Dennison for me painted a portrait of a girl growing up with kind, decent, loving but emotionally remote parents whose reserve created with Beatrice and her brother a need to make a fantasy world from the animals she grew up with. Even into her twenties Beatrix would take her rabbits or her hedgehog with her own trips. Beatrix possessed a powerful intellect, deeply curious about the natural world. She became a world class authority on the fungus of the lake region. It was here she first developed her amazing gifts for drawing.
Her parents were quite affluent. There was never a time of hardship but Beatrix wanted her own money. Her first income came from her now world over loved drawings of humanized animals in family settings. In 1902 she published her first children's story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Beatrix was, as was the custom, educated at home by governesses. She had access to lots of very good books and was an avid reader not just of the European fairy tradition that so influenced her but all of the best of Literature including the classics. Beatrix became engaged at 30 but her fiancé died well before they married. At age 47 she married, and remained happily married for 30 years, to a county solicitor that had helped her with the purchase of a farm. Her parents even then looked down on her husband as little more than a "tradesmen".
Beatrix was very into land conservation and took her farm very seriously. As time when on she became seriously wealthy, much of it was through spin off merchandise from her stories and licensing rights to her drawings, she expanded her Lake District Farm. She was considered an expert breeder of sheep. Beatrix was childless but was very close to her husband's large family, as wise, warm and generous and aunt as one could wish for.
Dennison goes into a lot of very interesting details about her relationships with her publishers as well as her farm occupation. She had managers but she was very hands on.
I really liked this book. To me Dennison subtlety conveys the streams of consciousness that arose in Beatrix through her childhood. Beatrice seems to have remained under the psychological dominance of her parents long into adulthood. If you read her stories you will see they are not all treacly sweet, in one mother goose story the young are told that father ended up in a pie.
There is a lot more in this top flight literary biography than I have mentioned. If you have find childhood memories of her stories you will love this book, if you have kids, maybe you will be motivated to share the stories with them.
Beatrix Potter is an important figure in 20th century English literature and helped create an imaginary world through her drawings.
I hope to read his biography of Vita Sackville-West soon
Matthew Dennison is the author of six works of non-fiction. He read English at Christ Church, Oxford, as Douglas Jerrold Scholar, and afterwards the History of Decorative Arts at the University of Glasgow. His thesis – on Sevres porcelain hyacinth pots – was subsequently published in abridged form by Country Life.
His first biography, THE LAST PRINCESS: THE DEVOTED LIFE OF QUEEN VICTORIA’S YOUNGEST DAUGHTER was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2007 and became a Hatchards number one bestseller; it has been published in nine UK editions to date. EMPRESS OF
ROME: THE LIFE OF LIVIA was published by Quercus in 2010 and was followed in 2012 by THE TWELVE CAESARS, published by Atlantic, a Daily Mail Book of the Week, acclaimed by The Spectator as “magnificent”. In the summer of 2013, William Collins published his biography of Queen Victoria, QUEEN VICTORIA: A LIFE OF CONTRADICTIONS, described by Hugo Vickers in The Times as “a tremendous coup”. All four titles have been published in the States by St Martin’s Press.
Matthew’s biography of Vita Sackville-West, BEHIND THE MASK, was published by William Collins in October 2014 and became a ‘Book of the Year’ in The Times, The Independent, The Observer, and The Spectator. The US edition has just been released. His latest book OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY: THE LIFE OF BEATRIX POTTER was published by Head of Zeus in October 2016. He is currently working on a biography of Queen Caroline of Ansbach for HarperCollins.
Matthew is a journalist and regular contributor to a range of publications, including Country Life, The Spectator and Telegraph Magazine; he contributed to ‘Queen Victoria’s Children’ and ‘Royal Cousins at War’ for BBC 2 and ‘The Queen’s Longest Reign’ for BBC1.
He is married and divides his time between North Wales and Shropshire. - from the publisher's webpage.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
"All good biographies struggle with a particular tension between the scholarly drive to assemble facts as dispassionately as possible and the novelistic urge to find shape and meaning within the apparently random circumstances of a life. Both instincts are vital, and a biography is dead without either of them. We make sense of life by establishing ‘significant’ facts, and by telling ‘revealing’ stories with them. But the two processes are rarely in perfect balance or harmony. Indeed, with some post-modern biography the two primal identities of the biographer –the scholar and the storyteller –may seem to split completely apart, and fragment into two or more voices." From The Lonely Pursuit, Reflections of a Romantic Biographer by Richard Holmes
Before I began my blog in July 2009 I read two biographies by Richard Holmes, one a two volume work on Coleridge and as well as his Doctor Johnson and Mr. Savage, his attempt to explain a slightly baffling friendship between two seemingly quite unlike 18th century Englishmen. I was very honored to be given a review copy of his forthcoming book, The Lonely Pursuit, Reflections of a Romantic Biographer. Last year I read and posted on 21 biographies, 18 on authors. I hope to read a number of literary biographies this year. I have already completed one on Beatrice Potter and am well into a work about Edna Saint Vincent Millay.
Richard Holmes taught for five year a class in post graduate studies in the writing of biographies. This book sort of arose from that experience.
He begins by talking about the development of the biography as a form combined with the story of his creation of his first work, his 1974 biography of Shelley. He talks about how each generation has their own expectations about the nature of biography. He talks about how new historical discoveries can make once definitive works just historical documents. He talks about the tension between purely academic works and those written as a story with a plot with novelistic techniques of deploying the thoughts of the subject.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book,for me, was his listing of what he would require his students to read as a canon of biographies from 1670 to 1970. Here are his 20th century classics of biography
Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (1918) Geoffrey Scott, Portrait of Zélide (1925) A. J. A. Symons, The Quest for Corvo (1934) Cecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale (1950) Leon Edel, Henry James (1953–72) Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959, revised 1982) George D. Painter, Marcel Proust: A Biography (1959, 1965) Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey (1967–68, revised 1994).
Among contemporary biographers of merit he speaks of the impact post 1970 feminist thinking has had on the development of the biography
"It was only with the late recognition of the mid-Victorian heroine –Caroline Herschel, Charlotte Brontë, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Martineau, Mary Somerville –that the biography of women began to emerge, and only with modern feminism that it began to have serious impact on the form after 1970, with work by Claire Tomalin, Hilary Spurling, Nancy Milford, Judith Thurman, Stacy Schiff and others."
This listed has already motivated me to acquire works by Nancy Milford and Stacy Schiff.
Holmes cover the lives and life story telling of eight figures from diverse areas, science, the arts and literature.
This is a very interesting deeply developed work. Anyone interested in biographies needs to read this wonderful book.
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Blog Stats for 2016
Since inception The Reading Life has had 4,404, 826 page views
There 2986 posts. The most posted upon area is Irish Literature
In the last month of the year for the first time ever Indian short stories posts had more readers than those on the Philippines.
During December I had over 30,000 hits from Russian bots. They would show up 100 plus visits from all over the country in one minute, then gone after being online just a few seconds. Given Russian hackers being in the news I feared at first a malicious intent. Now I just see it as part of giant periodic sweep of all the webpages they can find, looking for who knows what. Please let me know if you have experienced anything like this.
Leaving out the Russians, the top place of origin was the USA, the Philippines, India, the Ukraine and Germany.
Metro Manila is the most common originating city. California the top USA state.
Plans and Hopes for 2017
I hope to complete my read through of Honore de Balzac's La Comedie Humaine. I expect to complete by readings of the work of Beryl Bainbridge soon. I plan to read more literary biographies
in 2017. My first post in 2017 in this genre will be on Beatrice Potter.
In March I will focus once again on Irish short stories, in July on Paris related works and in November German Literature.
I thank all those who leave comments, all are welcome on my blog, even Russian bots and trump voters! I thank Max u for his kind provision of Amazon gift cards.
Ambrosia will be taking a six months leave of absence to temporarily manage the Bousweau Foundation.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Ravensbruck Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helms. A valuable edition to Holocaust literature.
New England Bound Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren. Must American History read
Groucho Marx, The Comedy of Existence by Lee Siegel
Our Crowd The Great Jewish Families of New York City by Stephen Birmingham
The Tears of the Raja, Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805 to 1905 by Ferdinand Mount. Great for those into British India
Mrs Guinness The Rise and Fall of Nancy Mitford by Lyndsy Spence. Explores in detail the connection between Hitler and the Mitford Family
The Swan in the Evening by Rosamund Lehmann. Her memoirs and spiritualistic reflections.
The Soul of Place A Creative Writing Workbook by Linda Lappin
The Lion in the Living Room. How Cats Tame Us by Abigail Tucker
Emma Jung, Her Marriage to Carl and the Early Years of Psychoanalysis by Catrina Clay.
Louis Bamberger Department Store Innovator and Philanthropist by Linda Forgosh
The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne Booth. A classic work of literary analysis
The Rest of Us America's Eastern European Jews by Stephen Birmingham
Madame Blavatsky The Woman Behind the Myth by Marion Meade
Wine and War, The French, The Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure by Don and Petie Ladstrup
A House Full of Daughters A Memoir of Seven Generations by Juliet Nicholson
Bolshoi Confidential Secrets of the Russian Ballet by Simon Morrison
Curzon Imperial Statesman by David Gilmour.
European Literature and the Late Medieval Ages by Ernest Curtis
Four Nights in Paris After Dark in the City of Lights by John Baxter
Thomas Nash Political Cartoonist by Lynda Pflueger
Anti-Judaism and the Western Tradition by David Nirenbury. Essential reading
Nine Ways to Kill Your Mother Writers and their Families by Colin Toibin
George Eastman Bringing Photography to the People by Lynda Pflueger
How to Read A Poem and Learn to Love Poetry by Edward Hirsch. Read twice. Wonderful, deeply wise book
The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahari
Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Yours by Yiyun Li.essays on reading and writing
The Romanovs by Simon Montefiore
The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport
Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport
The Pen and the Brush How a Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein
Favorite Fiction, Monthly Listing
I decided this year to look for my favorite works of fiction through a monthly breakdown.
All My Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky
Memoirs of An Anti-Semite by Gregor von Rezzori. My second reading. I hope to reread it in November. His best book.
Purple Hibiscus by Ngozi Adiche. On my read all she publishes list
Bark Skins by Anne Prouix. Masterwork.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang International Booker Prize Winner
The Lover by Marguerite Dumas. A classic work of S E Asian post colonial literature
Love in A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. Funny, wise, and beautiful,
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum. One of the Best works of Weimar Germany
Dogs and Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky. Very valuable work
The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop
On Carbon and Light by Noel Duffy
The Bottle Factory by Beryl Bainbridge. One of her best
The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. Probably his master work
Nothing worth mentioning
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
I became very interested in reading biographies of writers in 2016. Here is a list of the books I read in the order in which I encountered them, with some brief comments.
1. Woman of Rome, A Life of Elsa Moravia by Lilly Tuck. Wife of Alberto Moravia, this is also an interesting account of Italy during World War Two.
2. Montaigne by Stefan Zweig. A delightful work
3. The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings. A very good work by a master biographer.
4. Rosamund Lehmann A Life by Selina Hastings. Loved it and read all of her books.
5. Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters by Jean Dunn. Very informative
6. Nancy Mitford A Biography by Selina Hastings. Felt I really knew Nancy
7, The Mirador Dream Memoirs of Irene Nemirovsky
by her Daughter Elizabeth Gill
8. Proust The Search by Benjamin Taylor. Minor biography
9. More Lives than One A Biography of Hans Fallada by Jenny Williams
10. The Sisters The Saga of the Mitford Family by Nancy Lovell. Very comprehensive
11, Roland Dahl A Biography by Jeremy Treglown
12 Shirley Jackson a Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. Getting lots of media attention
13Feared Strangers Gertrude Stein and her Family by Linda Wagner-Martin. Very interesting
14, Ernest Hemingway A Biography by Mary Dearborn. For those very into Hemingway
15. Thackeray The Life of a Literary Man by D. C. Taylor. Covers his story well
16. Beryl Bainbridge Love by All Sorts of Means by Brendan King. Helped me a lot in understanding her work.
17. The Nemirosky Question The Life, Death and Legacy of a Jewish Woman in 20th Century France by Susan Sulieman. Interesting book, academic,
18. Barney, Grove Press and an American Maverick Publisher and the Battle Against Censorship by Michael Rossenthal
19 Mandalay Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay. A novelistic biography of Daphne du Maurier
I did not realize I read 18 literary biographies. I am so glad I did. Please share with us your favorite biographies
I will do a later post on my plans for this genre in 2017
Labels: Literary Biographies