By Stephen B. Oates
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Extra info for Biography As High Adventure: Life-Writers Speak on Their Art
Biography from time to time seems to have a frightening effect on creative artists. " Unlike Yeats, unlike Henry James who called biography "one of the great observed adventures of mankind,'' these artists seem to be discussing certain kinds of biography that deal in the small coin of life, not the larger treasuresand they are worried about invasion of privacy. T. S. Eliot certainly was when he ordered that no biography be sanctioned by his heirs. Thackeray had done the same earlier, as did Matthew Arnold.
Page 13 In this discarding of the useless, the biographer must not lose sight of the fact that the smallest details are often the most interesting. Everything that can give us an idea of what the man actually looked like, the tone of his voice, the style of his conversation, is essential. The part played by the body in helping to form our ideas of the character of our acquaintances should always be borne in mind. For us a man primarily consists of a certain physical aspect, a certain look, familiar gestures, a voice, a smile, a series of habitual expressions; all these must be made to live again for us in the man who is presented through the medium of a book.
Strictly speaking, I think we are. " The author of a tragedy does not suggest to us, in his first few lines, what the denouement[dénouement] is to be. The author of a biography realizes, of course, that the reader knows the denouement[dénouement]; but it is not for him to advertise it on the first page. He must begin simply, with no desire to shine, but with the one object of placing his reader in an atmosphere which will facilitate his understanding of the first feelings of the hero in his youth.