LIVES AND LETTERS by Richard Altick
Kirkus Star


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Professor Altick's study of the uses and misuses of literary biography is a work of exceptional scholarly interest, with a great deal of surprisingly lively detail. Even the footnotes have a certain charm, probably because there, as elsewhere, the professor's scrupulous care and obvious fascination with his subject are evident. The study presents an exhaustive coverage of English-language biography from its unheralded beginnings with Johnson and Boswell on through the Stracheyan Revolution to the modern age. It is impossible to summarize the many points, anecdotes, appraisals and portraiture that fill these pages; indeed one wonders if Professor Altick ever woke in the middle of the night as it is said Tolstoy did while composing War and Peace , in terror that he might have left out something. Throughout the professor ably defends the art of literary biography and pays tribute to its great practitioners. He also engagingly describes how poets and novelists, especially during the 19th century, were objects of public concern, whether like Whitman and Twain they answered all questions and met all worshippers or like Tennyson kept almost completely aloof. He also traces the popularity and pitfalls of the biographical medium from era to era , as well as the changes in methodology, e.g., Victorian reticence as against the Freudian rage of the '20's and '30's. An indispensable item.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1965
Publisher: Knopf