Category Archives: prologues and introductions

The opening of Dare Me!

Just released this month is a biography of the neglected Western Australian writer, Gerald Glaskin; it’s called Dare Me!, written by John Burbidge and published by Monash. Glaskin wrote one of Australia’s first openly gay novels; he died in 2000 in his seventies.

I’ve just read the opening chapter ahead of hearing Burbidge speak at the Perth Writers Festival. It’s very good. Instead of more typical openings, Burbidge calls the chapter “My Beautiful Beach” and relates several incidents from Glaskin’s life relating to his beloved Perth beaches. He would see the pine trees of Cottesloe coming home from abroad; he would body surf there, only to suffer an accident which would mar the rest of his years; he was to be charged with exposing himself on a Scarborough Beach, an incident which revealed much about his forceful character and the Perth of the 1960s; his grandmother was to let him live in her Safety Bay cottage for six months, where he wrote his first novel, which went on to considerable success. It’s a bold move; in the opening chapter, we already have the contours of his entire life laid out; we know that he will not be able to match his early successes, we know of his bitterness and his charms, we know something of his death in March 2000. It works, and it is all the more remarkable that it’s the biographer’s first biography.

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Stella #1: The prologue

stella

[First in a series of reading reports, tracing my progress through Jill Roe’s Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography (Pan McMillan, 2008)]

Jill Roe opens her massive biography of Stella Miles Franklin with a simple two page prologue which manages to carry much information lightly. She tells the story of Stella’s mother riding by horse to her own mother’s house to give birth in 1879. In doing so, she maps out the territory of southern NSW which one senses will be essential as the backdrop of Stella’s life. She gives a brief account of Stella’s ancestry by unpacking her name, covering details which could go on for boring pages in a less well crafted biography.

Surely acknowledging the limits of the archives well is a key part of a good biography, and in the prologue the gaps are noted: she took a different route ‘for reasons unknown, possibly to do with the weather’ and ‘it is not recorded whether she was accompanied’. Perhaps these signals can provoke the reader to imagining the scene better and to assuming some responsibility as co-re-creators of the life of the subject as they read.