Pity Literary Biographers

Morten Høi Jensen at Liberties:

The genre is as old, almost, as the modern novel, and shares its subversive nature. If Don Quixote, among many other things, brought fiction down from the chivalric heights to the pedestrian grounds, so literary biography served as a tonic to the genre of biography as a whole, which has always tended toward the exemplary. James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, considered by many to be the first modern literary biography, details its subject’s appetite for drink, his shabby clothes, his disgusting eating habits. Johnson himself thought it the “business of the biographer to…lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the minute details of daily life.”

But what can the daily life of a person whose main occupation consists of sitting at home tell us? A writer’s life, truthfully told, would be unremittingly, unbelievably boring. (At least those writers who have the historical privilege of a secure and peaceful life.) It would be a catalog of all the possible ways of describing everyday banalities: scratching one’s head, gazing out the window, tapping an impatient finger against a desk.

more here.