Life Writing Done to Death (And All Because of Amanda Foreman!)

In this month’s installment of The Biographer’s Craft, editor Jamie McGrath points readers toward an ongoing debate in the British press on the health of and general outlook for biographies. And it’s well worth a look.

Leading the pack is Kathryn Hughes — biographer of George Eliot — who argues in The Guardian that biographies are teetering on the edge of irrelevance, thanks largely to . . . well, any number of factors, ranging from an obsession with celebrity bios (and, among British readers, royal mistress bios in particular) to shoddy research and unreasonable deadlines and advances. Oh, and she also unloads on Amanda Foreman (of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire fame) for being a lightweight who singlehandedly brought biography down into the gutter. I’m not certain I agree with everything Hughes has to say — she seems a little too downbeat and testy — but Hughes is always a good read. Click here to go get it.

Firing back in the pages of The Independent, columnist John Walsh defends Amanda Foreman and accuses Kathryn Hughes of sour grapes. But all in a very polite British manner, of course. You can read Walsh’s column here.

Finally, in London’s Times — under a headline only the British could get away with (“Bitchiness Breaks Out In World of Biography”) — Maurice Chittenden argues that more ladies need to borrow a page from Amanda Foreman and pose in the raw as part of their promotional tours. Or at least something like that. You can read it here.

Why aren’t we having debates like this on this side of the pond?

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4 responses to “Life Writing Done to Death (And All Because of Amanda Foreman!)

  1. Josephine Damian

    Because there’s no intelligent life here on this side of the pond? lol There sure is no intelligent life here in FL, that’s for sure.

    Anyway, seen this?

    http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/08/01/nyregion/0801-MURAL_index.html

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  2. I think I have to point out that Kathryn Hughes’s comments about me were wildly inaccurate. In 1999, eight months after ‘Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’ was published, and after I won the Whitbread Prize, I was invited by Tatler Magazine to participate in article called ’50 notable people under 40′. The novelty factor had us all pose naked for our photographs in ways which were meant to reveal our ‘essence’. I posed behind a pile of Georgiana books.
    Contrary to the urban myth about the Tatler photograph – it had nothing to do with publicity for the book. I did it because is sounded fun. And I have always loved the photograph. I don’t think the article had any affect on biography as a genre or as a trade. Nor does it impugn the intellectual integrity of my book.

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  3. “It had nothing to to with publicity for the book.” Really? Then why were you “posed behind a pile of Georgina books.” Do books stop selling, and marketing stop, just a few months after the publication of a book. Just be honest – it was a bit of fun for you (and for anyone who liked you in that pose!) and a good bit of eye-catching marketing. Why deny it?

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