Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Curiouser And Curiouser

Thinking back to yesterday's post it's clear that, for a moment at least, I quite forgot the overwhelming nature of our sense of curiosity. No way are we going to stick within the bounds of civilized behaviour when we feel we need to know something about somebody else, and we always feel we need to know more about those we admire inordinately, or despise, ditto.

Case in point, in the same issue of the NYRB in which Janet Malcolm savages Jonathan Bate for telling us too much about the life of Ted Hughes, there are reviews of books on the lives of Frank Sinatra, T.S. Eliot and Steve Jobs, all of which I read with fascination. It's true that I have no immediate plans to buy the actual books (though I might change my mind regarding Robert Crawford's biography of the young Possum) but if they came my way I suspect I'd devour them.

Similarly if someone were to publish a tell-all biography of RVW I'm sure I'd be one of the first in line for it, despite feeling more than satisfied by UVW's chatty biography and Michael Kennedy's The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams, which I'm thoroughly enjoying at the moment. (Although Kennedy's work focuses on the music it follows a broadly biographical thrust and is clearly a companion volume to the work of Mrs Vaughan Williams.) As soon as there's something new to learn, the need to learn it becomes irresistible.

Where I still fall in line with Ms Malcolm's strictures is in my sincere hope that academic biographers resist impertinent exploration of their subjects' all-too-human lives and my certainty that there's no academic imperative dictating full disclosure of those lives. I'm rather glad that Ted did away with some of Sylvia's private materials and think it rather a good thing when private papers remain exactly that.

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