Biography as High Adventure: Life-Writers Speak on Their Art

By Stephen B. Oates | Go to book overview

One
Biography as a Work of Art

André Maurois

If we could place ourselves in the position of the artist for the contemplation of our own lives, those lives would certainly give us intense aesthetic pleasure. No novelist or biographer can ever show us such fine shades of feeling as those which we could distinguish if we could contemplate our own loves, our own ambition, our own jealousy, our own happiness. But at the moment at which we ourselves display emotion, we are incapable of observation. Our emotions are too strong and leave no faculty of aesthetic criticism at our disposal. It might be easier, perhaps, to feel some aesthetic emotion from the contemplation of the lives of those around us; but nearly always we have a feeling either of affection or of antipathy toward them, and here again the strength of such feelings robs us of an attitude of detachment.

Miss Jane Harrison in her Ancient Art and Ritual explains this admirably:

TO see a thing, to feel a thing, as a work of art, we must, then, become for the time unpractical, must be loosed from the fear and flurry of actual living, must become spectators. Why is this? Why can we not live and look at once? The fact that we cannot is clear. If we watch a friend drowning we do not note the exquisite curve made by his body as he falls into the water, nor the play of the sunlight on the ripples as he disappears below the surface; we should be unhuman fiends if we did. And again, why? It would do our friend no harm that we should enjoy the curves and the sunlight, provided we also threw him a rope. But the simple fact is that we cannot look at the curves and the sunlight because our whole being is centered on acting, on saving him; we cannot even, at the moment, fully feel our own terror and impending loss.

How, then, is a human life to give us aesthetic pleasure? First, it must be so lightly linked to our own, that, as we contemplate it, we

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Biography as High Adventure: Life-Writers Speak on Their Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Prologue ix
  • One - Biography as a Work of Art 3
  • Two - The Figure Under the Carpet 18
  • Three - Walking the Boundaries 32
  • Four - Biography as an Agent of Humanism 50
  • Five - The Biographer's Relationship With His Hero 65
  • Six - The "Real Life" 70
  • Seven - The Burdens of Biography 77
  • Eight - Biography as a Prism of History 93
  • Nine - Reaassembling the Dust 104
  • Ten - Biography as High Adventure 124
  • About the Biographers 139
  • Index 143
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