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Charging Downhill

Frank Kermode: Michael Holroyd

28 October 1999
Basil Street Blues: A Family Story 
by Michael Holroyd.
Little, Brown, 306 pp., £17.50, September 1999, 0 316 64815 9
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... When he came to write his autobiography, the biographer MichaelHolroyd decided to restrict himself to what he calls ‘a good walk-on part’, assigning the leading roles to his family. Avowedly happier with the lives of others than with his own, he remains as close as ...

Is it a crime?

P.N. Furbank

6 June 1985
Peterley Harvest: The Private Diary of David Peterley 
edited by Michael Holroyd.
Secker, 286 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 0 436 36715 7
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... and copies were destroyed. Now it has been reissued by Secker and Warburg, as part of the Arts Council Reprint Library, with (as readers of the London Review of Books will know) an Introduction by MichaelHolroyd, which identifies ‘David Peterley’ as an artistic fiction and argues a persuasive case for the book’s worth and raison d’être. Let me dwell a moment or two on the ‘crime’ aspect ...

Exit Humbug

David Edgar: Theatrical Families

1 January 2009
A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 620 pp., £25, September 2008, 978 0 7011 7987 8
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... design. No shortage, then, of performers and performances. But there is another performer involved in this, and indeed any biography – its author. As Gordon Craig transformed theatre design, so MichaelHolroyd in 1967 revolutionised the writing of biography with Lytton Strachey, which extended the biographer’s reach from the public to the private, from the work to the man, from the study to the ...

Sidney and Beatrice

Michael Holroyd

25 October 1979
A Victorian Courtship: The Story of Beatrice Potter and Sidney Webb 
by Jeanne Mackenzie.
Weidenfeld, 148 pp., £5.50
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... I can’t help it​ being “Beauty and the Beast,” ’ wrote Sidney Webb to Beatrice Potter shortly before their marriage in 1892, ‘ – if only it is not a case of Titania and Bottom!’ The courtship of this super-extraordinary pair – ‘two active self-centred people, excessively devoted to the public cause,’ as H.G. Wells characterised them in The New Machiavelli – was the oddest ...
22 May 1980
The Shorter Strachey 
selected and introduced by Michael Holroyd and Paul Levy.
Oxford, 288 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 19 212211 8
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Lytton Strachey 
by Michael Holroyd.
Penguin, 1143 pp., £4.95, December 1979, 0 14 003198 7
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... criticism – if, in fact, he had not swallowed Garibaldi whole’. His private verdict on the trilogy, 15 years earlier, had been more pithy: ‘There is much interest in it, but tiresomely told.’ MichaelHolroyd’s admirable biography allows us to peep behind the bland phrases of public seemliness here. It suggests, conversely, that Trevelyan’s fulsome congratulations to Strachey upon his books ...

After-Lives

John Sutherland

5 November 1992
Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 09 174263 3
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Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy 
by Michael​ Millgate.
Oxford, 273 pp., £27.50, June 1992, 0 19 811276 9
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The Last Laugh 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 131 pp., £10.99, December 1991, 0 7011 4583 8
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Trollope 
by Victoria Glendinning.
Hutchinson, 551 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 09 173896 2
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... about ‘the very private man’ for 80p and stimulating an appetite in the general public which the keepers of the flame, while pocketing the revenue for the estate, have no intention of satisfying. Michael Millgate has – quite fortuitously – written a book on exactly the same subject as Ian Hamilton, using the same case-study method. Whereas Hamilton burned his fingers trying to steal Salinger’s ...

Posterity

Frank Kermode

2 April 1981
God’s Fifth Column: A Biography of the Age, 1890-1940 
by William Gerhardie, Michael Holroyd and Robert Skidelsky.
Hodder, 360 pp., £11.95, March 1981, 0 340 26340 7
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Futility 
by William Gerhardie.
Penguin, 184 pp., £1.75, February 1981, 0 14 000391 6
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... a temporary revival of interest was brought about by the publication of a ‘Uniform Edition’ of his novels, and there was another in 1970, when the same edition was republished with prefaces by MichaelHolroyd. Gerhardie himself prefixed to the reissue of his first book, Futility, an important essay called ‘My Literary Credo’, which is unfortunately omitted from the new Penguin Modern Classics ...
1 August 1985
Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer 
by Richard Holmes.
Hodder, 288 pp., £12.95, July 1985, 0 340 28337 8
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... Earlier this summer, during two and a half days of sun, I was persuaded to join a Wordsworth and Coleridge pilgrimage in Somerset. One of the chief attractions was a rumour that Richard Holmes, currently working on a Life of Coleridge, would appear. For a day and a half there was much talk of Mr Holmes. How would he appear? Over what hill? Across what pond? From time to time messages would arrive which ...

A Tale of Three Novels

Michael Holroyd: Violet Trefusis

11 February 2010
... Violet Trefusis was born on 6 June 1894, the elder daughter of Alice Keppel, a famously discreet mistress of the future Edward VII. ‘I wonder if I shall ever squeeze as much romance into my life as she has had in hers,’ Violet wrote in the summer of 1918 to Vita Sackville-West. She had begun to squeeze a very indiscreet romance with Vita into her own life. The girls’ passion for each other was ...

Ticket to Milford Haven

David Edgar: Shaw’s Surprises

21 September 2006
Bernard Shaw: A Life 
by A.M. Gibbs.
Florida, 554 pp., £30.50, December 2005, 0 8130 2859 0
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... a very well-ploughed furrow. But by citing no less than four previous biographies by the end of page two, he is being consciously naive. He knows perfectly well he will be judged principally against MichaelHolroyd, whose multi-volume Shaw is one of the longest, most detailed, comprehensive and highly praised biographies of the 20th century. Gibbs’s major charge against Holroyd is that he allowed ...

Short Cuts

Paul Laity: Alternative Weeping

7 September 2000
... perhaps he does. What a literary festival has over a run-of-the-mill bookshop reading is, of course, the chance to see and hear David Starkey cheek by jowl with Zadie Smith, Roy Strong, Terry Jones, MichaelHolroyd and all the other writers showcasing their various talents this year. Such events certainly seem to be increasing rapidly in number and variety. Cheltenham and Hay-on-Wye (Tony Benn: ‘In my ...

Fabian Figaro

Michael Holroyd

3 December 1981
Shaw’s Music. Vol. I: 1876-1890 
edited by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 957 pp., £15, June 1981, 0 370 30247 8
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Shaw’s Music. Vol. II: 1890-1893 
by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 985 pp., £15, June 1981, 0 370 30249 4
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Shaw’s Music. Vol. III: 1893-1950 
by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 910 pp., £15, June 1981, 0 370 30248 6
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Conducted Tour 
by Bernard Levin.
Cape, 240 pp., £7.50, November 1981, 0 224 01896 5
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... drum and cymbals, never very welcome, are particularly objectionable at Her Majesty’s, the instruments used being utterly destitute of tone. It would be cheaper, and equally effectual, for Sir Michael to employ a stage carpenter to bang the orchestra door at a prearranged signal.’ ‘Why is it that the Master of Ravenswood, whenever he appears on the stage in the opera, proceeds to fling his ...

Inexhaustible Engines

Michael Holroyd

1 March 1984
Bernard Shaw: A Bibliography, Vols I and II 
by Dan Laurence.
Oxford, 1058 pp., £80, December 1983, 0 19 818179 5
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Bernard Shaw. Vol. I: 1856-1907 
by Margery Morgan.
Profile, 45 pp., £1.50, July 1982, 0 85383 518 7
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The Art and Mind of Shaw: Essays in Criticism 
by A.M. Gibbs.
Macmillan, 224 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 28679 0
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... What is a bibliography? For Bernard Shaw it was a directory whose natural subscribers were to be found among librarians, biographers, critics and occasionally the authors themselves. He regarded its aim as the production of opus lists that would be useful to specialists. Such an attitude, his own bibliographer informs us, was appallingly inadequate, revealing ‘a man who had no understanding or respect ...

Bogey’s Clean Sweep

Michael Holroyd

22 May 1980
The Life of Katherine Mansfield 
by Antony Alpers.
Cape, 466 pp., £9.50, May 1980, 0 224 01625 3
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... On 7 August 1922, in a letter for her husband John Middleton Murry to be opened after her death, Katherine Mansfield wrote: All my manuscripts I leave entirely to you to do what you like with. Go through them one day, dear love, and destroy all you do not use. Please destroy all letters you do not wish to keep and all papers. You know my love of tidiness. Have a clean sweep, Bogey, and leave all fair ...

Diary

Michael Holroyd: Travails with My Aunt

7 March 1996
... When people ask me who I am writing about, I tell them it’s my aunt. My aunt was born in 1902 and is now in her 94th year. Over the last ten years, even before the death of her brother – my father – I have held power of attorney in respect of her affairs. From a bureaucratic point of view her life could hardly have been more simple. She never married, looked after her parents and, when they died ...

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