Giving a sense of everyday life

I think biography should attempt to give a sense of how the subject has lived their everyday life. Not in exhaustive detail, but well chosen sketches. Most of the attention of the biography, of course, needs to be taken up by the more dramatic moments, but a sense of the everyday gives some context for the dramatic.

As in a novel, a key way to convey such a picture is in long sentences summing up a long period of time by observing the patterns. In his biography of his mother, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Ric Throssell does it well at this point:

…and somehow contrived to write among the distractions of the city and the realities of the present: the war, the pot-boiling chores still necessary to earn her living; the political commitments she had accepted; friends who called unendingly to talk of art and literature, of world affairs and industry, and the personal problems of love, marriage, children and the state of their health — friends among the men of power in industry and radical politics; those whose names were to fade into obscurity; young writers who later achieved recognition; the known and once-famous, who drifted with the years and disappeared; the unimportant, insignificant, unaccomplished men and women who earned Katharine’s affection by simply being what they were.

Ric Throssell,  (2012-05-23). Wild Weeds and Windflowers: The life and letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard (p. 120). Allen and Unwin. Kindle Edition.

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About Nathan Hobby

At work on a biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard for a PhD at the University of Western Australia. Also a novelist and librarian. View all posts by Nathan Hobby

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