Interesting account of Germaine Necker de Stael Rocca (1766-1821), aka Madame de Stael. It was said of the times she lives through that there were thr...moreInteresting account of Germaine Necker de Stael Rocca (1766-1821), aka Madame de Stael. It was said of the times she lives through that there were three great powers in Europe: the French Army, the British Navy, and Madame de Stael - and J. Christopher Herold certainly does a good job of bringing life to both this passionate woman and her confusing, hopeful, despairing, enlightened and romantic times. Yes, there may be a few passages in this book where Herold may go into a little bit too much detail summarizing Germaine's forgotten political and fictional books, but he always goes back to her life, which was filled with enough drama love and tragedy to fill an entire HBO miniseries.
Hey - that's a good idea!
She was the daughter of the great Finance Minister of Louis XVI, Jacques Necker, who did his best to save France from the abyss of economic collapse - and failed. Thus she enjoyed a front row seat for the French Revolution - in all its glory and horror. Her first husband was a Swedish diplomat who was a friend of Marie Antoinette; among her lovers were the incomparable diplomat Talleyrand, the influential economist Sisimondi, and the inflamed romantic novelist Benjamin Constant. And her second husband was a dashing French cavalryman half her age.(less)
Fascinating life, but poorly executed biography. Baroness Budberg was a survivor of the Russian Revolution and an enchanting woman who was successivel...moreFascinating life, but poorly executed biography. Baroness Budberg was a survivor of the Russian Revolution and an enchanting woman who was successively the mistress/companion of Robert Bruce Lockhart, Maxim Gorky and H.G. Wells. Nina Berberova knew Moura personally, as well as most of the main personages of Russian emigre life, but this book presumes such a wide knowledge of 20th century literature and politics that most readers will be left rather in the dark about several key events and individuals.
There's a great book to be written about this interesting muse and lover, but this isn't it.(less)
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is best known for her disturbing books about sensitive and sympathetic psychopathic murderers (i.e. "Strangers on a Tra...morePatricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is best known for her disturbing books about sensitive and sympathetic psychopathic murderers (i.e. "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley") - and for the movies they've inspired. Andrew Wilson's biography is fascinating, well researched and convincing; I don't know if I'd want to have dinner with Miss Highsmith, but at least I think I can understand a little "where she's coming from." The author Wilson would probably make a good novelist himself; he understands psychology, without being reductive or a follower of the Phil Donahue School of analysis. In many ways Highsmith was not a happy person, and she held many reprehensible beliefs about human nature and society, but she was a survivor, no doubt.
And she liked to read. I understand that, too. Here's Wilson describing Highsmith's fondness for solitary reading in her apartment - when she was in her early 20s:
"She had always been a voracious reader, but now she turned down invitations to dinner in favor of staying at home and immersing herself in the dark imaginative landscape of Thomas Mann, Strindberg, Goethe, Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Baudelaire. The mere thought that she was alone and surrounded by books gave her a near sensuous thrill. As she looked around her room, dark except for the slash of light near her lamp, and saw the vague outlines of her books, she asked herself, 'Have I not the whole world?'"
"Beautiful Shadow" is perhaps somewhat over-detailed, or maybe it just is that Highsmith's life lacks the kind of neat and tidy essence that makes for an elegant biography. On the other hand, Wilson is to be commended for his exhaustive research, AND for his ability to empathize with his subject, even at her most difficult.(less)
"Shakespeare's Wife" by Australian feminist Germaine Greer is a valuable addition to the groaning corpus of Shakespearian. It's assertive, well-resear...more"Shakespeare's Wife" by Australian feminist Germaine Greer is a valuable addition to the groaning corpus of Shakespearian. It's assertive, well-researched, and bracing. Greer argues that Ann Hathaway Shakespeare badly needs to be rescued from the neglect and condescension of the Shakespearians, who have refused to give her her due. They've subscribed too easily to the myth that Mrs. Shakespeare was a kind of harpy whom Will was only too glad to escape by making a career for himself on and through the London stage. Ann is generally portrayed as a cypher - a nothing - or worse, as a Shrew who badly needed to be Tamed. Greer alters that perception by painting her as competent, devoted, and assured. I recommend the book to those seeking a better understanding of Shakespeare and his time.
"Ann Shakespeare cannot sensibly be written out of her husband's life if only because he himself was so aware of marriage as a challenging way of life, a 'world-without-end bargain.' The Shakespeare wallahs have succeeded in creating a Bard in their own likeness, that is to say, incapable of relating to women, and have then vilified the one woman who remained true to him all his life, in order to exonerate him. There can be no doubt that Shakespeare neglected his wife, embarrassed her and even humiliated her, but attempting to justify his behavior by vilifying her is puerile. The defenders of Ann Hathaway are usually derided as sentimental when they are simply trying to be fair. It is a more insiduous variety of sentimentality that wants to believe that women who are ill-treated must have brought it upon themselves."