Thursday, May 11, 2006

From the Times Literary Supplement:

Isabelle de Tuyll, the prolific eighteenth-century writer who adopted the nom de guerre of Zélide and whose suitors included James Boswell and Benjamin Constant, was also rescued from oblivion by a biography with “a strong visual sense”. In 1925, following the lead of Lytton Strachey, a young architectural historian called Geoffrey Scott produced a compact, sceptical and elegantly written Portrait of Zélide. Scott underwent what Holmes calls “the classic ‘transfer experience’ of the modern biographer, starting as the detached scholar but gradually being drawn hypnotically into all the domestic details and dramas of Zélide’s world”. Part of the reason Scott was drawn in was that the story reflected his own emotional entanglements with numerous older women, including Mary Berenson, Edith Wharton and Vita Sackville-West, all of whom he shamelessly told were the real and secret dedicatees of his book. Holmes also believes that Scott’s book, although not exactly feminist, “changed forever the way English biographers wrote (or simply failed to write about) women. It recognized that women’s lives had different shapes from men’s, different emotional patterns of achievement and failure”.

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