Biography—life-writing—is a popular form these days. Ian Britain editorialised in Meanjin that in many cases it sells rather better than the average novel does. Why is this? Why do you read a biography? Why do I? For general insight into human nature, perhaps. To understand more about an individual's desires and fears, delights and revulsions; what makes their bells ring, what pushes their buttons, what makes them laugh, flush, flinch or gag. Or for the social, political and cultural context evoked in the best biographies, like that wonderfully rich work, Disraeli, by that dreadful old conservative, Lord Blake, or Yvorme Kapp's brilliant depiction of Eleanor Marx and her world, or, a quite different kind of endeavour, Brian Matthews's engagement with Louisa Lawson and her—or is it his?—imaginative world? Do I read a biography to enlarge my circle of friends? Maybe, though it's not necessary to like a person to want to know them better. If the biography's subject is a writer, then we might read it to learn about the relationship between the writer's life and her writings. Always, of course, we read a biography to become closer to its subject than we usually are to most people, to understand them, possibly better than we understand ourselves.
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