Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
cripple creek

When do biographers include too much detail?

Recommended Posts

I was talking with my Dad about this the other day who reads virtually nothing but autobiography and biography. He must be the only person on the planet who found it within himself to read Norman Fowler's autobiography to which one can only ask 'Why?'. To which he, a man of few words, said: 'It was pretty interesting.' Sorry Pops don't believe you.

 

Anyway, I broach this subject because I've just read Richard Ellman's biography of Oscar Wilde. I would say although it is probably as perfect a biog as will ever exist of the great man it honestly put me off reading anymore auto/biography. It is probably a sacrilige thing to say as Ellman is considered the finest practitioner of the art of literary biography ever, really, but, frankly, I couldn't care less who played Lady Windermere in 1897 in the Old Vic.

 

Is this my problem? Is this detail necessary? Does anyone care?

 

PS. Sorry for any confusion over the author/title of this thread - I wasn't really sure how else to do it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I quite like the odd biog, details and all. The only bad experience I have ever had was from reading Anthony Kiedis' Scar Tissue. I used to be such a huge fan of the RHCP, and was ecstatic when this came out. One read later and I couldn't believe I had idolised such an idiot for so long. Even now, a couple of years later, I find it difficult to listen to the band without much contempt. It wasn't so much the unnecessary detail in the book, as too much of Kiedis' brain - which is severely lacking in cells. The man is a moron.

 

It's a difficult question you raise. If you are a fan then even the most insignificant details can be endlessly fascinating. Or it can be tiresomely boring. It's a fine line. Personally, I could read anything about Raymond Chandler and being wildly amused. Yet, even interesting events in Kiedis' life left me cold, and bored.

 

I can see that who played such-and-such in Lady Windermere's Fan isn't wholly relevant to the life of Oscar Wilde but it is contextual information that makes up a life, and if the writer had left such detail out, you'd probably ask why.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nick Hornby makes a very similar point in The Complete Pollysyllabic Spree. (Yes, the one I wasn't going to read. :o )

He has a good rule, which I've forgotten.

Thanks for sharing that Minxminnie!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nick Hornby makes a very similar point in The Complete Pollysyllabic Spree. (Yes, the one I wasn't going to read. :o )

He has a good rule, which I've forgotten.

 

On my copy it's on page 25:

 

"I propose that those intending to write a biography should first go to the National Biography Office to get a permit that tells you the number of pages you get. (There will be no right of appeal.) It's quite a simple calculation. Nobody wants to read a book longer than - what? - nine hundred pages? OK, a thousand, maybe. And you can't really get the job done in less than 250. So you're given maximum length if you're doing Dickens, say -someone who had an enormous cultural impact, wrote enormous books and had a life outside them. and everyone else is calculated using Dickens as a yardstick. By this reckoning Yates is a three-hundred-page man - maybe 315 tops......."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tony Fletcher's biography of Keith Moon, "Dear Boy," is the yardstick as far as I am concerned (http://www.bookgrouponline.com/forum/showthread.html?t=1604). Loads of detail, but utterly fascinating throughout. At no point did I feel I was being given unnecessary information. Mind you, Keith Moon was always going to be a more interesting sugject than Norman Fowler!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is an interesting point. Having read Richard Branson's "Losing my Virginity" and Bill Cullens "A long way from Penny apples" I found that these authors got the amount of detail just right for me.

 

While the example you cite may seem like too much detail it could be that the very first person to play Lady Windemere later went on to have a huge impact in the world of theatre, this would make interesting reading and would be nice to know. Alternatively if that actress later faded into obscurity I think it is somehow fitting that she gets a mention since she is then not altogether forgotton.

 

It sounds as though the tome you mention may be more suitable as an academic work than a simple entertaining biography. We should not forget that Wilde is a huge literary giant and merits many many pages of text. There are probably some Wilde historians out there who salivated at the level of detail presented while the majority of readers may have been nored witless by said seeming overkill. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...