The Possibilities of Life-Writing

Lyndall Gordon at The Hudson Review:

It was these writers in other genres who opened up possibilities for biography with a shift of focus from public to private. Chekhov invites this with his sense that “every individual existence is a mystery.” The title of Eliot’s verse drama, Murder in the Cathedral, teases us with the popular genre of the murder mystery, yet there is no mystery of the usual sort: Archbishop Thomas à Becket’s murder in 1170 takes place onstage, and the murderers are visible: four identifiable knights who are hit men for the king, Henry II. The real mystery lies in the inner life: Becket’s capacity for self-transformation. This is a biographical play about a twelfth-century saint in the making, as he readies himself for martyrdom by sloughing off his public life together with the outlived temptations of his former worldliness and ambition.

more here.