Undesirables and worthies, John O’Leary

The Girl Who Stole Stockings: The True Story of Susannah Noon and the Women of the Convict Ship Friends
Elsbeth Hardie
Australian Teachers of Media, $40.00,
ISBN 9781876467241

May Your Shadow Never Grow Less: The Life and Times of Henry and Jane Holland, Canterbury, New Zealand, 1863-1945
Helen Thomas
Fraser Books, $49.50, ISBN 9780992247683

What makes a good biography? For Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote the life of Charlotte Brontë, it was all about anecdotes: “Get as many anecdotes as possible. If you love your reader and want to be read, get anecdotes!” For Hermione Lee, the British literary critic and biographer of Virginia Woolf, anecdotes are good, but what’s most important is that the writer give their reader a real sense of what their subject was like. As Lee wrote in her 2005 study Body Parts:

whether we think of biography as more like history or more like fiction, what we want is a vivid sense of the person. The reader’s first question of the biographer is always going to be … what was she, or he, like? Other questions may follow … but likeness must be there.


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