Tag Archives: Drusilla Modjeska

Second Half First by Drusilla Modjeska

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Before I started reading Drusilla Modjeska’s Second Half First, my father-in-law asked me what it was about, and I couldn’t give a good answer about what I expected. Modjeska herself has some trouble with this when she meets her old lover late in the book and explains it isn’t just about him, even though he’d triggered it, “It’s about a whole lot of other things, my mother, psychoanalysis, reading, writing, New Guinea, living away from where I was born.” (332) It’s a digressive book, rhizomatic, I suppose; tellingly, at one point Modjeska objects to another biographer who has “everything hammered into place.” Continue reading

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Biographical contradictions: Drusilla Modjeska Vs Victoria Glendinning

A key moment in the history of Australian literary biography was a panel on biography at the 1988 Adelaide Writers’ Week. On the panel were Australians Brian Matthews and Drusilla Modjeska and Britons Victoria Glendinning and Andrew Motion. Glendinning was already an established traditional literary biographer; Matthews had just published the postmodern Louisa and Modjeska was about to publish the hybrid fiction/biography of her mother, Poppy. In 1996 Graeme Turner used the panel as a starting point for exploring the state of Australian literary biography in his essay “Reviving the Author”. The Southern Review collected the papers in one of the more substantial statements on biography in Australia. Now Drusilla Modjeska has returned to that panel and her dislike of Glendinning’s approach to biography in her memoir (out last month), Second Half First. At the time, Modjeska made the comment the Australian biographers (well, particularly her and Matthews) were interested in exploring the lives of those not usually considered worthy subjects for a biography. “How extraordinary,” Glendinning said, apparently condescendingly. Continue reading