Tag Archives: Janet Malcolm

The appreciative memoir/biography

Her [Frances Spalding’s] appreciative biography of Vanessa Bell won her critical and popular acclaim; it is a long and well-narrated work. It convinces the reader that Vanessa was splendid— a game, kind woman and gifted artist, who led a rich, beautiful life . . . Angelica Garnett’s memoir, in contrast, like Dido Merwin’s memoir of Plath, is full of aggrievement and complaint and one doesn’t like her for it— as one ultimately doesn’t like it. We don’t want to be told what vengeful memoirs like Angelica’s and Dido’s oblige us to consider: that our children and friends do not love us, that we are neurotic, blind, pathetic, that under the eye of God our life will be seen as a mistake, something botched and wasted. The outcry against the Dido Merwin memoir was a cry from the reader’s heart about his own posthumous prospects, an expression of his wish to be remembered benevolently and not all that vividly.

Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

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Reading Chekhov 2

chekhov transparent

Clara Brack, photo of Chekhov, in Reading Chekhov, held up to the light

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Reading Chekhov

chekhov jane malcolm 2

Janet Malcolm, Reading Chekhov                                                                                                         

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Wonderful similes

‘Among the specimens of tastelessness lodged in the book like the threepenny coins in a Christmas pudding, none may surpass . . . .’

Janet Malcolm, ‘A Very Sadistic Man’, review of Ted Hughes:The Unauthorised Life by Jonathon Bate, 11/2/2016 The NY Review of Books (from here) 

‘Similes dangle like baubles from me.’

William Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

“We were not afraid of outside though this was the time of year when snowdrifts curled around our house like sleeping whales and the wind harassed us all night… We were afraid of inside, the room where we slept.”

Alice Munro, Boys and Girls 

‘The lane looks empty of all life like a road in a painting of a dream.’

William Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

People often ask me when I came out, generalizing from the experience of many young people who announce themselves to the world on a particular afternoon. But I did not divorce my reticence in a single sharp break. Rather, I seeped out like a spreading wine stain.

People still ask my husband and me which of us is the mom—which, as one lesbian friend pointed out to me, is like asking which chopstick is the fork.

Andrew Solomon On Gay Parenting , The Threepenny Review (from here) 

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Authorlessness

Good stories have a quality of authorlessness. The better they are the more authorless they seem. They give the sense of being out there, like facts.

Janet Malcolm, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

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letters

Letters are the great fixative of experience. Time erodes feeing. Time creates indifference. Letters prove to us that we once cared. They are the fossils of feeling. This is why biographers prize them too: they are biography’s only conduit to unmediated experience. Everything else the biographer touches is stale, hashed over, told and retold, dubious, unauthentic, suspect. Only when he reads a subject’s letters does the biographer feel he has come fully into his presence, and only when he quotes from the letters does he share with his readers his sense of life retrieved. And he shares something else: the feeling of transgression that comes from reading letters not meant for one’s eyes. He allows the reader to be a voyeur with him, to eavesdrop with him, to rifle desk drawers, to take what doesn’t belong to him. The feeling is not entirely pleasurable. The act of snooping carries with it a certain discomfort and unease; one would not like to have this happen to oneself. When we are dead we want to be remembered on our own terms, not on those of someone who has our most intimate, unconsidered, embarrassing letters in hand and proposes to read out loud from them to the world. Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

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