Daily Archives: May 5, 2010

Uplifting Quotes for the Uninspired Historian #2

From my pin-up biographer, Richard Holmes in his book Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. He speaks about the biographer’s feeling of being haunted by their subject as being part of  the essential process of writing biography:

As far as I can tell, this process has two main elements, or closely entwined strands. The first is the gathering of factual materials, the assembling in chronological order of a man’s “journey” through the world- the actions, the words, the recorded thoughts, the places and faces through which he moved: the “life and letters”.  The second is the creation of a fictional or imaginary relationship between the biographer and his subject; not merely a “point of view” or an “interpretation”, but a continuous living dialogue between the two as they move over the same historical ground, the same trail of events.  There is between them a ceaseless discussion, a reviewing and questioning of motives and actions and consequences, a steady if subliminal exchange of attitudes, judgments and conclusions.  It is fictional, imaginary, because of course the subject cannot really, literally, talk back; but the biographer must come to act and think of his subject as if he can. (p.66)