Literary biography is an endlessly fascinating form, not least because of the fierce controversies that attend the question of how much of a writer's real life ought to be related to readers. Ian Hamilton, a first-rate biographer who encountering his share of adversity in writing the life of J.D. Salinger, is the perfect chronicler of such controversies in this brilliant study, first published in 1992, which charts the course of literary biography from Donne and Shakespeare to Plath and Larkin.
'Such a compelling read.' Antonia Fraser, Times
'Lively and informative, powerfully and humorously written.' Anthony Burgess, Observer
'Surely the funniest book ever written on the doom-laden issue of posthumous literary fame.' Jonathan Keates, Independent
Hamilton here selects the lives of 12 literary giants through which to explore the question of what happens to an author's work and reputation after death. Although many writers leave instructions regarding posthumous publication and designate official biographers, conflicting interests between heirs and the public often overturn the expressed wishes of the deceased, shows Hamilton. His subjects span a historical gamut from the 16th century to the 20th and include John Donne, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, Henry James and Sylvia Plath--and the keepers of their flames. Although Hamilton ( In Search of J. D. Salinger ) provides interesting information on emerging copyright laws and changing styles of biographical writing, his study is overwhelmed by an excess of gossipy detail about his subjects' sex lives and negative character traits and marred by poor organization of his material.