Body Parts: Essays on Life-Writing

As readers, we seem to be increasingly fascinated by studies of individual lives. In this timely, unusual and exhilarating collection Hermione Lee is concerned in different ways with approaches to 'life-writing': the relation of biography to fiction and history; the exploration of writers' lives in connection with their works; the new and changing ways in which biographies, memoirs, diaries and autobiographies can be discussed. As the title suggests, she also unravels the complex links between physical, sensual details and the 'body' of a work. 'Shelley's Heart and Pepys' Lobsters', for example, deals with myths, contested objects and things that go missing, while 'Jane Austen Faints' takes five varied accounts of the same dramatic moment to ask how biography deals with the private lives of famous women, a theme taken up in 'Virginia Woolf's Nose', on the way that the author's life-stories have been transformed into fiction and film. Other essays tease out different approaches, like that on Philip and Edmund Gosse, which enquires into the opposition between literary and scientific lives, or the fascinating 'Reading in Bed', which explores women's formative childhood reading, and how it enters into their adult writing. The subjects range from T. S. Eliot to J. M. Coetzee, from May Sinclair and Rosamond Lehmann to Eudora Welty and Brian Moore. Rich, diverting and entertaining, these brilliant studies by a leading critic and internationally acclaimed biographer raise profound and intriguing issues about every aspect of writing, and reading, a life.