I was saddened to read that Hazel Rowley died in March this year. It’s timely that I should write this post aware that the French department of the University of Adelaide is hosting a day-long tribute to her this coming Saturday 19th November. One of the conundrums of the internet is the status of a website of a person who has died. Should it be left as it was? Does updating it somehow detract from its integrity, or does it honour the person’s ongoing relevance? Hazel Rowley’s website has been taken down this route by her sister.
I enjoyed reading Rowley’s 2007 LaTrobe University/Australian Book Review lecture “The Ups The Downs: My Life as a Biographer”, which is available on the ABR archives page (you’ll need to scroll down almost to the bottom of the page). Once again, I haven’t actually read any of the biographies she has written, but this comment about the art of writing biography struck a chord with me:
Biographers carry a big responsibility. They have someone’s life in their hands. What’s unjust is that, if you read a dull biography, you come away thinking that person’s life was dull. In reality it’s almost never the life that’s the problem; it’s the narration. No wonder people are wary of biographers. It’s hard enough to die; we don’t want some dullard turning our lives into insipid gruel.