Fellow biographer Laura Sewell Matter has been reading one of my favourite biographies, A. J. A. Symon’s Quest for Corvo. Her post intertwines a review of the book with reflections on writing biography. I identify with her thoughts on the personal relationship between the biographer and subject, and particularly like this:
Others have admired Rolfe’s work, but only Symons knows it comprehensively. There is, almost, possessiveness in this. Consider two meanings of “subject”: 1. the person or thing being described, 2. one placed under the authority or control of another, as a vassal. If Rolfe was Symons’ subject in the latter sense as well as the former–and arguably a writer is always in control of their subject–at least Symons was a benevolent ruler, who cast his subject in the most favorable light possible, given the life in question.
I hadn’t thought of the second meaning of “subject” in connection to biography, but it does shed light on one of the impulses in the relationship.
I, for one, am really looking forward to reading Laura’s biography of Charles Fisk one day.