Books that are, in my view, edifying and enlightening, but rarely depressing… Part One: Biography and Memoir

September 26, 2018 at 9:41 am (Art, books)

[The selection criteria referenced in the title are by way of a continuation of a topic that arose in a previous post.]

In biography and memoir, I was looking for lives that would be of great interest and books that were well written. And, in accordance with the criteria specified in the title of this post, stories that were, in the main, upbeat. Here’s what I came up with:

Statue of Frederick Law Olmsted, by Zenos Frudakis, placed in the North Carolina Arboretum in 2016

 

Henry David Thoreau: A Life, by Laura Dassow Walls
A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century, by Witold Rybczynski

Somehow, as John Muir grew older, he became more photogenic. (Would that his indomitable spirit were with us today – his and Thoreau’s, as well.)

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir, by Donald Worster
A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century and Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon, by Andrea di Robilant

  

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, by Selina Hastings
A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

 

On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda
Opium Eater: A Life of Thomas de Quincey, by Grevel Lindop
A Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, by James Rebanks
Gainsborough: A Portrait, by James Hamilton
Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum, by Kathryn Hughes

 

I loved these books! I was particularly captivated by the Maugham biography, I ended up reading two novels: The Painted Veil and Mrs. Craddock – and quite a few short stories by this brilliant ‘teller of tales.’ The novels were very enjoyable, but the short stories were just plain terrific. Basically I went on a Somerset Maugham bender. It was wonderful.

PBS made a film, also called A Midwife’s Tale, based on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s fascinating narrative of the life of Martha Ballard. The library owns it. I highly recommend both book and film.

There are  several lovely video segments on YouTube about the “Herdy Shepherd” and his splendid sheepdogs. Here’s one of them:

I didn’t know if I would stick with the Gainsborough biography to the end, but I did, with no trouble but rather with great pleasure. It was a thoroughgoing immersion in the English art scene of the eighteenth century.

And oh, those paintings!

Ann Ford, later Mrs. Philip Thicknesse, 1760

The Morning Walk, Portrait of Mr and Mrs William Hallett (1785)

Girl with Pigs, 1781-82

Landscape in Suffolk, 1748

The Painter’s Daughters, chasing a Butterfly, 1756

 

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