Despite all the ironies that seem to collect around the life of Samuel Johnson, Peter Martin’s new biography still gives us — ironically — an enigma, a man who “we know barely enough to know what we don’t know.”
As Christopher Ricks describes it, Stanley Plumly’s Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography manages to do justice to both of its titular adjectives: while “the journey deathward” has to take center stage in the life of a poet who was already living posthumously even before his untimely death at 25, Plumly also has a “scrupulously pertinacious determination to set the record straight,” careful not to lose sight of the person behind the myth.
In a reprint from 1891, The Atlantic gives us a pre-presidential Woodrow Wilson reflecting on the vagaries of literary reputation and immortality: “Be a book never so scholarly, it may die; be it never so witty, or never so full of good feeling or of an honest statement of truth, it may not live.”
As new biographies are written for previously un-surveyed members of the James family, Colm Tóibín writes, we are getting not just a wider and broader context for the families most illustrious members, but also “the history of many human types as they circle each other, nourish each other, and damage each other is being written.” Tóibín reviews Alice in Jamesland: The Story of Alice Howe Gibbens James by Susan E. Gunter and House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family by Paul Fisher
Alice Munroe wins the Man-Booker Prize. As Lisa Allardise puts it, the Canadian master of the short story can use the spotlight: “while critics and fellow authors have fallen over themselves to crown her “the greatest living short story writer”, they have also formed a chorus lamenting her obscurity and lack of recognition. She is the secret everyone likes to shout about – and yet she somehow retains her secret status.”