Womens' lives flying through the door daily at the moment, well books about them, and suddenly I wondered whether as many books are being written about men's lives and are they just passing me by, or is this the trend? Is there still so much about women's lives to be told?
So as I face down this big pile of big books and wonder when their moment will come, it's good to pause and sit and think about them before I dive in, share thoughts and pre-conceptions before I even turn the first page because the reading when it happens will often transform my attitudes, enlighten and inform my thinking, send me off on new reading trails. I'll often have changed my mind completely about something I thought I felt sure about and it's good to take you along on those travels, explore it with you all and hear your ideas and suggestions too. The Other Elizabeth Taylor just seemed to open a yawning chasm of unanswered questions for me, ideas about biography that I hadn't really settled down to consider before and thank you so much for all your considered responses.
Perhaps there will be some answers in this batch.
The stampede started with two lovely finds at the Book Fair a few weeks ago, The Wheel of Things a biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery by Mollie Gillen. I have most books by and about Lucy Maud but not this one. Lucy Maud possibly a biographer's dream subject because she appreciated in her lifetime that her personal history would become a public one and though she rewrote her journals in anticipation of publication they nevertheless always strike me as being riven with that searing warts-and-all honesty. However someone else's perspective on her life will be interesting too.
As if that wasn't enough there was a pristinely beautiful Virago super-sized edition, Ever Yours, Florence Nightingale Selected Letters, published in 1989, something endlessly fascinating and wonderfully contradictory about our Flo and I never pass up a book about her. Sorted out the Crimea and then returned home to a bed-ridden life but with no noted evidence of organic disease yet proceeding to live to the age of ninety.Doubtless Flo discovered that she had more clout and time to herself as an invalid and reading again Miriam Bailin's brilliant book The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction (in relation to my ongoing bout of Brontemania) confirms this.
Arriving in the post, The Blue Hour A Portrait of Jean Rhys by Lilian Pizzichini and so the life of a writer I know little about sits waiting. I do know vaguely that Jean was discovered in her later years living in straitened circumstances in the Devon village of Cheriton Fitzpaine, but I'm now that 'greedy reader' waiting to discover more. I've been picking up Jean Rhys's fiction whenever I see it, but my reading limited to Wide Sargasso Sea so I have much to explore here.
Anne Chisholm's Frances Partridge The Biography looks equally tempting, all those years of reading the diaries lead me to think I know Frances Partridge as if she lived next door, but of course there will be much more. Anne Chisholm sets out a clear remit, she is not what Frances would term a 'Bloomsbury hound' sniffing around for any whiff of the old guard, this is about Frances's life and how she came to be recognised in her own right and not just as a minor player on the Bloomsbury stage. I'll own up, I can be a fiend for a bout of Bloomsburyitis, I'll succumb along with the next person to the allure of it all but I feel sure this book is going to give me a new view through a different window and there are some fantastic pictures too. Frances was a real beauty right up to the end of her life at the age of 103 in 2004.
Right, next up Eleanor of Aquitaine by Ralph V. Turner.
There are many shamefully large and gaping black holes in the firmament of my history knowledge and there's a whopper called Eleanor of Aquitaine which this book should fill nicely. I could probably put Henry II in the same sentence and throw in something to do with France for good measure but beyond that nada. You see, I was right, it's pitiful, I don't know how I've got the nerve to admit it but it can't go on, who knows when I may need to know all this and for some strange reason it bothers me that I don't, I must repair and shore up forthwith.
Finally for today an unknown life which comes as something of a relief, The Magnificent Mrs Tennant by David Waller.
I don't feel quite so ignorant now, I couldn't have been expected to know anything about Gertrude Tennant surely?
An unsurpassed London hostess who established a celebrity salon enticing in the likes of Gladstone, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Henry James, Robert Browning, fitting in a flirtation with Gustave Flaubert and becoming mother-in-law to Henry Morton Stanley of 'Dr Livingstone I presume' fame. The promise is of 'colourful detail' which will place Gertrude right slap-bang in the middle of a century's worth of European social, literary and intellectual life and she probably knew all about Eleanor of Aquitaine too.