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Excerpt from A Private Life of Michael Foot

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Carl Rollyson

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A PRIVATE LIFE OF MICHAEL FOOT

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PREFACE

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This is not a conventional biography. I rely not on documents but almost exclusively on recorded interviews and memories of Michael Foot constituting a raw record of conversations not smoothed over by a biographical narrative. This is a book about process. I show how I went about obtaining my story, which ostensibly concerned Jill Craigie, the subject of To Be a Woman: The Life of Jill Craigie. But Michael, who entered Jill’s life in 1945, was such an important source that inevitably I learned as much about him as about her.

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Feb 13
Arif Bacchus (Feb 13 2015 8:27PM) : Tough more

This seems to be a hard process. Does this process take skill to do? With modern technology and mass media, this makes me ask, can the average person (say someone in our class for instance) write a non conventional biography?

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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 9:55AM) : Secrets more

I think it is difficult to acquire so much knowledge of a person by either interviewing them or having first hand experience by sitting with them through breakfast, lunch or dinner and still keep out the kitty gritty details which they might not want to disclose in a biography. How is it possible to write a biography and still maintain a decent if not respected relationship with the main subject? Questionable!

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(Feb 24 2015 3:11PM) : I think you mean nitty gritty. What you a overlooking is that this is a professional biographe at work.
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(Jan 20 2015 3:57PM) : How would a biography smooth over the raw record?
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Feb 5
Alicea Ulmer (Feb 05 2015 5:57PM) : The biography is the full detail. more

The biography will be in full detail. Instead of just telling the process, the facts learned will paint an image of the person. In doing so, it will also show you the process based on how you place the info in the biography

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(Feb 07 2015 9:02PM) : process is not usually a part of the narrative. Readers don't often learn about process. They see the results assembled into a narrative.
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Feb 6
Junior Martinez (JRN 3900) (Feb 06 2015 1:51AM) : An example of an raw record and biography. more

A example of a raw record is when you are trying to find a source or a statement for a news story and it could be changed, while as biography is whole depth of research, interviews and images.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 9:02PM) : The biography is an amalgamation. You don't see the bits, the raw data, since biography is a narrative.
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Student Michelle Gontar (Feb 06 2015 5:02PM) : A biography is set in a certain tone and contains a certain set of facts whereas a raw record can show more about the person themselves through the writers or persons lense
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 9:03PM) : Not quite sure what you mean. The record might show less, not more. It is what the biographer (narrator) makes of the record that turns into a biography.
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Feb 6
Joirnalism 3900 Alex Lopez (Feb 06 2015 9:04PM) : A biography is someone 's life story. more

I agree with Junior Martinez’s opinion about a raw record. There is something we have to keep in mind when the word “biography” comes up. A biography is someone’s life story with the most important details of that person’s life written by another person. This includes her/his social life status, what did or didn’t do this person, every single detail that for society should be important to know about someone life, a biography will include it, if the person who wrote the biography did his/her homework about that person.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 9:04PM) : Not every single detail or the biography would be thousands of pages long.
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Feb 8
Joirnalism 3900 Alex Lopez (Feb 08 2015 2:40PM) : It depends who the person is. more

Of course not because the most important details can be 2 or 3. Or maybe just one. You can tell someone’s story in a really short piece of writing, it all depends who the person is.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 09 2015 2:31PM) : Not just on who the person is, but what kind of story you want to tell about that person. Some biographies are driven by a theme, which means details that don't fit the theme are excluded.
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Feb 7
Jona Jaupi (Feb 07 2015 10:21AM) : In a sense, raw records can be viewed as bits and pieces of a bigger picture. The biography is the bigger picture, it is meant to show the full story, whereas records can just show one set of facts.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 9:04PM) : Right
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Feb 12
Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 12 2015 12:26AM) : Biography vs. Raw Record more

A biography connects the raw findings together through narrative. At its completion, the biography becomes a source for someone else as an overall depiction of a person. A raw record will show the process or the investigation that the author took in order to discover the subject. In a sense, the author becomes a character: the first person narrator. The raw record will evoke a different feeling than a traditional biography would. The reader is discovering the subject with the narrator.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 5:29PM) : Right
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Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 5:19PM) : Because a biography is a narrative more

Narratives usually have a voice. If a biography has a certain voice, then it can possibly skew the perceptions from raw records of his life. Things that have been said by him or memories of him portrayed in a narrative biography will not have the same raw affect as something that he says himself in an interview.
By relying soley on recorded interviews and memories, he is making way for a new narrative to be interpreted.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 22 2015 12:06AM) : It may depend on how much of the raw record the biograher includes in the narrative
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Feb 20
Vony Andriamanantena (Feb 20 2015 7:31PM) : Primary Sources more

Another way of looking at the term “raw record” is that it’s unaltered nor manipulated. Staying as close to the truth, it’ll consist of primary sources and as discoveries are made the biography will simultaneously take form.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 22 2015 12:05AM) : right
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Feb 21
Sophia Williams (Feb 21 2015 4:24AM) : Biography smoothing over. more

I think the biography will smooth out and make more understandable the raw record of conversations. It can also smooth over the raw record by providing the whole biographical story.

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Feb 21
Sophia Williams (Feb 21 2015 4:44AM) : Biography smoothing over. more

A biography can smooth over a raw record by providing the full story that illuminates the raw record of conversations

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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 10:03AM) : Raw record and biography! more

Raw records are bits and parts of the biography!

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 3:12PM) : Not of the biography, if you mean written work. You need to be more specific.
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Readers come to biographies to learn about the subject, not the biographer. And yet the biographer is, in a sense, half the story. Or as Paul Murray Kendall put it in The Art of Biography, every biography is an autobiography. So this book is an effort to show how a biographer struggles to tell his own story even as family and friends cherish differing narratives about that same subject. My wish is to highlight these clashes of perception rather than reconcile their discrepancies.

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(Jan 20 2015 9:58AM) : How is the biographer half the story? What are the implications of such a statement?
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Chanelle Perrin (Feb 05 2015 11:10AM) : the biographer is half the story because he is the story teller, Although he may not be the subject, he was chosen to depict the narrative. Therefore, one should be mindful of the biographer's biases for or against certain things.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 3:05PM) : Biographers are not necessarily chosen. No one ever chose me to do a biography.
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Alicea Ulmer (Feb 05 2015 11:58AM) : The biographer is half the story because he is the narrator. He also can interpret whatever information he receives into what he wants based on any biases he may have. The biography also takes on the attitude of the biographer based on how they write.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 3:06PM) : Yes, in some sense, the biography is also an autobiography.
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Anthony Califano (Feb 05 2015 10:04PM) : The biographer is crafting how the subject's life should be told. He/she is making those small choices whether it's grammatical, a narrative choice, or a vocabulary choice, the biographer is putting their voice into the story whether intentionally or not.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 3:06PM) : Quite right.
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Student Michelle Gontar (Feb 06 2015 11:05AM) : The biographer is half the story in the way that the view held by the biographer is generally what transposes to his/her writings which can also create favorable or not favorable bias toward the subject for the reader
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(Feb 07 2015 3:07PM) : Or the biographer may believe he or she is simply following the evidence and explaining what the evidence means. [Edited]
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Jona Jaupi (Feb 07 2015 4:19AM) : The biographer is most certainly half of the story. While biographers are writing about a subject as truthfully as they can, at the end of the day the way the story is told relies heavily on the biographer's interpretation of the subject.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 3:07PM) : Correct.
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Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 6:30PM) : Biographer is a character more

I just explained this in my comment to the first question. I’ll try to elaborate more. The biographer becomes a character, the first person narrator. It’s his journey that the reader is really reading about. So it’s his story, which centers around the subject. The reader will form a certain opinion of the biographer (Professor Rollyson in this case) and of how he went about his research and reporting.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 11:37AM) : IN this case, yes, you have quite a bit of information about the biographer because he is, in a sense, a character in the text. With most biographies the biographer is not a character, exactly, but a narrator.
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Feb 16
Jordan Curmi (Feb 16 2015 11:08AM) : The biographer is half the story very much like how some filmmakers are half the documentary. The biographer is the voice telling the story in their own voice, their own style, from their own perspective and so on.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 9:33AM) : yes, shaping the story about someone else.
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Feb 16
Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 11:24AM) : The subject is at mercy of the writer. The pen holds the power more

Every writer has a voice.
Readers have the power to identify pieces of a writers personality by dissecting their writing. This is also true of biographers. With all of the information that they would have to learn about the subject, the subject becomes sort of at mercy to the voice and style of the writer.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 9:35AM) : At the mercy might be putting a little strongly, since the biographer has to work from evidence, which, in part, restricts what the biographer can say.
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Feb 26
Yasmin Noor (Feb 26 2015 12:54PM) : Manipulation is in the pen of the author. more

I agree. I think that the author always has the power to manipulate their words in any direction they’d like, this is heavily seen in news writing as well.

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Feb 19
Jailain Hollon (Feb 19 2015 9:38PM) : The Biographer more

The biographer is half of the story because the biographer narrates and decides what aspect of the subject’s life is important. The biographer would mold the subject’s life with their objective interpretation of them, and they would choose what narrative elements to tell about the subject’s life. Whether they use dialogue as a perspective from other people, or they use a specific vocabulary, the biographer uses their voice to tell the story of their subject’s life.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 20 2015 7:14AM) : Not they but he or she.
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Feb 20
Stephen Herman (Feb 20 2015 11:29AM) : The biographer controls where the story goes. He/she can choose to focus on the littlest thing and magnify it beyond proportions or give bits and pieces of it. What we read is really at the writer's discretion and we'll know what "they" want us to know.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 5:24PM) : It is not that simple, The biographer has to present evidence, and reviewers and critics may challenge it.
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Feb 20
Vony Andriamanantena (Feb 20 2015 1:52PM) : Biographies/biographers more

The biographer drives the biography in the direction he or she sees fit. Biographers are consistently digging for refreshing and relevant information then putting the pieces together. As readers are reading the biography, they’re looking in on the biographer’s thought process. So they’re very much a part of the story rather it’s being done consciously or unconsciously.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 5:25PM) : Look for ways the biographer is doing what you say.
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Sophia Williams (Feb 20 2015 11:41PM) : Biographer more

I feel that the biographer is half the story as he/she has to tell the story and by telling the story he/she has to put themselves in the body of the person they are writing about, in order to strongly and accurately execute someone’s lifestory

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(Feb 21 2015 5:26PM) : Some biographers disagree and say the evidence they present is what drives the story and not what they think.
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Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 4:06AM) : Half the story more

A biographer is half the story because he tells the story of another person through his/her perspectives. Therefore, the story is half facts and half his/her views on the life of the person he is writing about.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 9:13AM) : Not half facts. That would imply that the rest of the biography is fiction.
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Yasmin Noor (Feb 26 2015 12:52PM) : Biographer is half the story.. more

The biographer has half of the power of the story because he is in complete control of how he perceives the life of his subject, and can tell the story in whichever way he/she would like to tell it.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 27 2015 10:55AM) : I wouldn't say complete control, since the biographer cannot invent as a novelist might. The biography has to stand in relation to evidence.
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(Jan 20 2015 10:00AM) : What expectations are being set up with the phrase "clashes of perception"?
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Jona Jaupi (Feb 07 2015 4:26AM) : The phrase "Clashes of perception" is meant to exemplify just how difficult it is for biographers to truly take themselves out of the story, but even more so, how difficult it is for them to tell a story when there are contrasting narratives.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 3:08PM) : Yes.
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Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 6:37PM) : clashes of perception more

Like Jona said above, a biographer would traditionally take his journey out of the narrative and write “objectively” about the subject. Since this will be about the biographer, his interactions with others about the subject is crucial to the story. In a sense, those that clash in perception become characters in this story. Exposing different points of view of the subject will only expand the reader’s view of the subject. Adding the discrepancies juxtaposes the biographer’s point of view (though they are his recordings of others’ perceptions).

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 11:37AM) : So you get to see the biographers and those he interviews from several angles.
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Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 11:28AM) : In addition to seeing things in different angles, more

Being able to be as clearly objective about certain matters gives more credibility to the biographer. I agree with Hayley, the biographers interactions with the subjects’ acquaintances are crucial, because that can be the deciding factor when a reader is trying to figure out if they like a character or not.
If there is an unbias towards sources of information, then the reader is at a greater liberty to perceive what they want.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 9:36AM) : Often the biographers interactions with interviewees is not shown or discussed. Why?
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Annie Paul (Feb 19 2015 2:14PM) : It is not relevant, therefore could start unnecessary opinions more

Perhaps because creating the scene of the interview would make a bias in the readers mind, and it could pave a path for negative view on the biographer in some way?
It is also not part of the story being told. The story is about the subject of the biography, not about what happened during the biographers’ researching process.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 20 2015 7:06AM) : Most readers want to read about the subject of the biography, not the biographer.
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Stephen Herman (Feb 20 2015 11:35AM) : It feels like we are being set up for the whole three sides of a story" ploy; Yours, mine, and the truth. It's a good tactic to pull the reader in because it creates a bit of mystery. It's also genuine because all perspectives can combine into one truth.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 5:26PM) : It is a book about process, not just the results.
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Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 4:08AM) : Clashes of Perception more

The phrase “clashes of perception” means the obstacle biographers face when writing the story of another person without their subjective thoughts being depicted.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 9:14AM) : Who does their refer to? Your answer is not clear.
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Yasmin Noor (Feb 26 2015 1:14PM) : A combination of opinions. more

The clash is actually a cross way where the biographer’s view is taking the spotlight away from the subject. The narratives between the subject and the storyteller are merging when they are not supposed to be. The biographer needs to separate himself from the work.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 27 2015 10:56AM) : Except when the point of the book is to show that the biographer is part of the evidence, not someone apart from it.

There is value, too, in showing the rough edges of biography, the stops and starts, in an unapologetic fashion. I have to wonder, as well, if there has ever been a biography that has treated a British political and literary figure in quite so revealing a fashion.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 7:01AM) : What impact do the words "I wonder" have on this sentence?
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Mr Richard Tam (Feb 06 2015 7:26AM) : "I wonder" reinforced the notion that the biographer has a great impact on the person's story. It is often times the opinion of the biographer that dictates the story, which is why he "wonders" if that was the harshest portrayal.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 12:08PM) : I wonder is there for other reasons as well.
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Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 3:43PM) : Wonder more

The wondering can imply that this type of biography of this type of person may be the first of its kind. The reader would assume that the biographer did some research by reading other biographies about British political and literary figures. That the “revealing” that will take place is something daring and honest. To say “I wonder” sets the standard for the biography.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 8:38AM) : Using the word wonder is also a protective tactic. Do you see what I mean?
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Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 12 2015 9:15AM) : Do you mean protective as a sort of disclaimer? Or using it to protect yourself and/or the people interviewed?
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 13 2015 5:02AM) : The former which is a CYA move.
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Arif Bacchus (Feb 13 2015 11:32AM) : Wonder more

As a reader it makes me believe that there is more to the biography, a piece that the biographer can’t find or is still pondering on.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 15 2015 4:05AM) : Or is asking the reader to think about the book's uniqueness. How unique is it?
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Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 8:34AM) : If what you wonder is there is, it is valuable more

Being a biographer, you are automatically expected to be knowledgable about many pieces of work from different avenues of time and place.
Stating “I wonder” gives the wonderment a sort of rarity and valuable factor. If the writer has to wonder about a form of publication existing, that would mean whatever does exist gets more value because it was not as well known as another.
This is my opinion, what I usually think when I see writers using that phrase.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 6:36AM) : Wonder means the biographer is not sure but still is making a claim to originality.
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Stephen Herman (Feb 20 2015 8:38AM) : It immediately opens a door to intrigue and gives a sense that the interviewer or interviewee (depending on who's saying it) doesn't quite believe what they heard or that there is more to the story; a subtle way to ask more questions through a statement.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:27PM) : right
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Feb 20
Vony Andriamanantena (Feb 20 2015 11:20AM) : "I wonder.." more

Biographers most likely have streams of questions pertaining to their subjects. Even the best of biographers have moments of “I’m not sure..” or “I wonder.” That’s part of the process, wondering, discovering and searching. In this context saying, “I wonder,” questions if anyone has every thought of showing the behind the scenes of making a biography.

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Feb 21
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:27PM) : Correct
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Feb 21
Sophia Williams (Feb 21 2015 7:30AM) : I wonder. more

“I wonder” feels like the biographer is still not 100% sure on all the parts of the story he/she intends to reveal to known and unknown audiences. I also feel like it means, the biographer will be somewhat opinionated on the person whose life is being written about.

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Feb 21
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:28PM) : Also how sure can the biographer be that what he is attempting has not been tried before?
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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 1:10AM) : I wonder more

I think the words “I wonder” implies the biographer is thinking beyond it’s subject.

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Feb 24
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 6:15AM) : You seem to have a lot of problems with pronouns. It is no clear it's refers to
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Feb 26
Yasmin Noor (Feb 26 2015 10:45AM) : The author's genuine view. more

Personally, I think “I wonder” is used as a tactic to remind the reader that the author is in control of the story and which direction it will take. I understand that it can be a protective tactic as well, but I see it as a subtle comment that tells the reader that they can only believe in as much as the author decides to share.

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Feb 27
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 27 2015 7:56AM) : You could be right.

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Here’s my library, which, I’m sorry to say, is a bit of a mess. Jill used to [huh!] reprimand me.” The huh! does not do justice to Michael’s high-pitched wheeze, or capture the wry pleasure he took in recalling her scolding. The Hampstead home on Pilgrim’s Lane she had so beautifully refurbished had a shabby and dishelved appearance now—rather like its surviving rumpled owner. The room was lined with bookshelves, top to bottom, and even had a wall of bookshelves that could be moved like a door, opening to a smaller room congested with more books and papers. The library seemed to serve as a huge storage vault: A long table was piled high with books, books blocked up an unused fireplace, and the floor supported still more heaps of books and papers.

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Jan 20
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 7:03AM) : What do the details in this paragraph tell you?
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Feb 6
Student Michelle Gontar (Feb 06 2015 8:10AM) : The details tell you of the personal nature's of being, which were alot more disorganized without Jill, almost clastraphobic nature of papers and books taking all the vital space in the room.
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Feb 7
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 12:09PM) : Right
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Feb 6
gabriela ramirez (Feb 06 2015 9:48AM) : Comment more

It show his real self. He was surounding by papers and books, maybe a more comfortable place for him.

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Feb 6
M. Hiraiwa (Feb 06 2015 8:12PM) : This tells you his personality. He is disorganized, and he doesn't care about it since he lives alone now. All books and papers are indispensable for his life.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 12:10PM) : Yes, the books are what matter, not neatness or organization.
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Feb 11
Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 3:51PM) : A mess more

The place is a mess. Though I infer that Michael and Jill … or at least Michael, knows where everything is, maybe. The description of the cluttered room reveals the relationship between Michael and Jill. He’s a bit messy and she’s not, but she’s tolerant of him. He teases her by mimicking her reprimands. I could only imagine her reprimands were constant, but not so serious.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 8:39AM) : You are on target.
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Feb 13
Arif Bacchus (Feb 13 2015 11:37AM) : Setting? more

Hayley already said this, but I get a sense of the setting. I see the library the shelves, the room. I find this strange though because it is not what I expect from a Biography. I would expect to get details about the person instead. But it works though, as it shows the personality of the person because of how they treat the room.

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Feb 15
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 15 2015 4:07AM) : It is not unusual for a biographer to focus on setting and to create scenes.
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Feb 20
Arif Bacchus (Feb 20 2015 11:39AM) : Hmm more

Setting seems to be a good tool of the writer. Should be added to Steven King’s toolbox.

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Feb 21
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:29PM) : King seems to be character/plot driven and he cares less about setting and description.
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Feb 16
Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 8:38AM) : Paints a picture and allows metaphoric interpretation more

It paints a picture for the reader.
A biographer tends to focus on scenes and imagery, letting the reader take from it what they may.
The mess described were only that of books and papers, and it could have correlated with the persons relationship with not only other people, but also with their life work.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 6:37AM) : Exactly.
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Feb 19
Jailain Hollon (Feb 19 2015 6:58PM) : Jill and Michael's relationship. more

The details tell you how important Jill was to Michael’s being. With Jill, Michael was constantly organized and tidy, and without his wife Michael was the complete opposite. The paragraph says a lot more about Jill and her relationship with Michael than about being messy or not.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 20 2015 4:07AM) : Right
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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 1:11AM) : Dependency more

I details of this paragraph reveals the dependency of Michael on Jill.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 6:15AM) : Right, or perhaps on his particular view of Jill.
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Feb 20
Vony Andriamanantena (Feb 20 2015 11:38AM) : Life without Jill more

Everything is disorderly. He’s let go and see’s no need to tidy up anymore. He has a liking towards reading, but even more so now that Jill isn’t there. He, maybe purposely, gets lost in his mess in attempt to not miss Jill as much as he does.

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Feb 21
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:30PM) : no apostrophe s
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It had been nearly five years since I had last seen Michael. Then we had talked in a cozy sitting room surrounded by books but also lovely furnishings. I had come to discuss Rebecca West, the subject of my biography, and Jill was not only telling me about the writer and woman she befriended and grew to love, she was producing Rebecca’s first scrapbook of articles, the ones West wrote just after she had abandoned her family name, Cicily Fairfield. “Look,” Jill said, pointing to Rebecca’s own handwriting announcing, “Rebecca West born on 11 December 1912.”

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 7:04AM) : Why the switch to another room? What does the switch accomplish?
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Feb 5
Aaron Ferrer (Feb 05 2015 2:06PM) : It was done to possibly remove him from an emotional space where he recalls his wife. It accomplishes allowing Michael to clearly discuss his late wife without the clutter of books, papers, and memories to a setting more comfortable and relaxed.
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Feb 7
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 12:12PM) : The scene is a flashback. It not about Michael--at least not directly.
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Feb 11
Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 3:56PM) : Introduces the biographer! more

This switch to another room contrasts to the first room and to an old time. The subject of the paragraph is the writer. By using “I” and placing himself in the scene directly, he is introduced. It establishes what connects the writer to Michael. In this case it’s from researching for an old biography.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 8:39AM) : So place is used to mark time.
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Feb 16
Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 8:42AM) : It is a different emotion. more

Being in the messy room, it would be hard to focus on anything but the extreme mess. In the new room with books as well as lovely furnishings, it gives this scene a more positive feel, and it switches the reader to focus on something else besides the messy room.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 6:37AM) : Yes, that's part of it.
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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 1:13AM) : Transition more

I think this switch means a transition to one period over another. To reminisce of the old times.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 6:16AM) : A switch in place or time or both.
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Feb 20
Vony Andriamanantena (Feb 20 2015 11:51AM) : Lots of reasons more

It could be used to reflect back on life with Jill, everything is cozy and lively. Also the previous paragraph reflects on Michael’s character as this paragraph shows Jill’s character, how loving and trusting she is with her beloved friend Rebecca.

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Feb 21
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:30PM) : yes
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Now Jill was dead. I had missed her memorial service because I had recently moved and Michael had sent the notice to my old address. I first met Jill just after Michael retired from Parliament in 1992. They couple were selling their cottage in Wales. Over dinner Jill asked me if I knew anyone who might like to buy it. “A good place for a writer,” she added, smiling at me. Her “big eyes,” which both her daughter and an ex-lover, William MacQuitty, extolled, seemed to swallow me up. I wanted to buy the place on the spot, such was her charm—and Michael’s. They displayed not just the good humor biographers experience during interviews that go well, but also extended an affection that amounted to a blessing.

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Jan 20
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 7:05AM) : What is revealed her about the biographer's attitude?
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Feb 11
Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 4:00PM) : Attitude more

The biographer had a good relationship with Jill. To write about Michael is personal, which is probably why the biographer chose to write in this fashion.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 8:40AM) : What about the word blessing?
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Feb 12
Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 12 2015 9:17AM) : The word blessing leaves me thinking what exactly the blessing is and will it be revealed later on? The story turns into how these people affected the biographer. Maybe writing this is almost in thanks to them for the experience and affection they gave.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 13 2015 5:03AM) : Right
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Feb 16
Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 8:46AM) : He takes his calling seriously more

I think that, like most people who interview a lot of people, biographers always have a hope beforehand that the person or people will not only be nice, but also helpful and courteous.
The fact that Jill and Michael were so much more than that were the blessing that he felt.
It also made her death more sad, because this revelation about the authors attitude shows that he cherished her as more than just another interviewee.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 6:38AM) : Quite right.
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Feb 20
Stephen Herman (Feb 20 2015 8:46AM) : Feels like the writer is compromised by his subjects because he seems attached to them since he's already had a good experience with them. I don't know if this is good because he seems close enough to get the real story and close enough to form bias.
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Feb 21
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:31PM) : The answer to one biography is another biography. Biography is a limited kind of knowledge
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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 1:15AM) : good relationship more

The biographer had a good relationship with Jill. They cared for one another and I have a sense there was affection involved.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 6:16AM) : Yes
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Feb 20
Vony Andriamanantena (Feb 20 2015 12:06PM) : Biographer + Michael + Jill more

Just with the first sentence, “Now Jill is dead,” I could feel the biographer’s pain. From the personal way this paragraph is being written, it’s clear that the biographer respects and cares about them very much. This paragraph also shows how easily likeable Michael and Jill were.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:32PM) : Yes, and often biographers do not like to show their own emotions. Why?

When Michael greeted me at the entrance to their home just three months after Jill’s death, his pallid complexion shocked me. I thought that I had arrived at death’s door. He had aged more than a decade. I remembered that he sometimes stumbled, even with a cane, but now he was all wobble. Yet his voice was as strong as ever and just as engaging as always.

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Feb 20
Vony Andriamanantena (Feb 20 2015 3:12PM) : Enjoyable Transitions [Edited] more

Very clever transitioning choices. First we’re taken into Michael’s personal space after the death of Jill, it’s messy and disorganized, then to when Jill was alive and then back to Michael, describing his appearance three months after Jill’s passing. I would think it would’ve been confusing, but it flows.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 5:33PM) : Transitions can be tricky and even in biography they do not have to be strictly chronological.
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I had come to discuss doing Jill’s biography. In order to ascertain if Michael would be receptive to my overture I had consulted my agent Gloria Ferris, who had represented Michael’s biographer, Mervyn Jones. Gloria and Mervyn thought Michael would be. So I had then written Michael, simply saying that I felt a terrible loss myself when I read Jill’s obituary in The New York Times. Perhaps it was too soon to think about a biography, but if he should decide he wanted one, I asked him to keep me in mind. Two weeks later he called me at my home in Cape May County, New Jersey: “You are the one to do it! Jill would have approved!”

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Jan 20
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:09AM) : When you come to this statement, do you see the point about describing the condition of the house and its occupant?
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Feb 11
Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 9:36PM) : Jill would approve more

The details of the house reflected Jill’s personality. It was messy, which she probably was not, but it was messy at her approval.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 11:41AM) : Actually, it wasn't messy while she was alive.
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Feb 19
ry gotterbarn (Feb 19 2015 7:43PM) : Both comments tell the reader how much he cared about Jill. more

I see the value in setting it up as he lived for and about Jill. While the mess can be attributed to laziness, or Jill being the glue to keep his life in order, it can also be seen as a memorial to Jill. Almost as if he let the house go into a quasi-state of disrepair because he tried to leave it as it was. The house wasn’t a mess when she died, but gradually grew into one because Michael didn’t want to change anything.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 20 2015 7:08AM) : Very good point. He does not want to change what he wants to remember.
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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 4:19AM) : Messy more

I get an image of my room of a man who is completely broken. His house is dusty and his bed undone. I get a sense of a wrecking ball in turmoil as Miley Cyrus would have said it. Meh :/

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 9:17AM) : And yet his spirit is unbroken.

I knew that both Jill and Michael had liked my biography of Rebecca West, but just how much quite astounded me. I had kept them apprized of my progress on the book, sending them chapters for their comments. Jill could be exceptionally critical, especially on the subject of feminism, and I worried that she would find my chapters on Rebecca’s early years as a radical feminist wanting. But her praise was more than gratifying. Michael later touted my book in his biography of H. G. Wells. They had discussed my work often, Michael said.

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Michael had published articles in praise of Rebecca West’s patriotism. Unlike many others on the Left, he did not find her fierce anti-Communism troubling. Indeed, it was in accord with his own mission to develop a Socialism that would provide the world with an antidote to Soviet tyranny. Mervyn Jones told me that while researching his biography of Michael, he had been impressed with the vehemence of Michael’s own anti-Communism as expressed in the hard Leftist Tribune, which Michael edited for several years.

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Biographers are often made to feel like supplicants. But Michael’s first phone call was a wooing, making me feel that as the biographer of Rebecca West I was conferring an honor on Jill. He provided me not just with unfettered access to Jill’s study. I was to live with him whenever I was in London. I was to go about the house as if it were my own. I could rifle through every drawer, cupboard, room and receptacle. I slept on a sofa bed in Michael’s library. Each night before retiring, I would go through a shelf or pile of books (his only filing system) filled with letters and reviews and notes. Every night brought a new revelation. A few letters from Mary Welsh, Hemingway’s fourth wife, whom Michael had known in the war, were tucked into Hemingway books. In a debunking biography of Michael’s hero, Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Heath Service, I read Michael’s comment on the flyleaf, which began “read with rising anger . . .”

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Jan 20
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 7:10AM) : Why do you suppose biographers are made to feel like supplicants?
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Feb 5
Aaron Ferrer (Feb 05 2015 2:29PM) : Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you have to constantly ask for content? You are not necessarily in control. You are merely telling the story with information provided. You can verify but maybe things can be excluded. They have the power.
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Feb 7
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 12:13PM) : Yes
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Annie Paul (Feb 16 2015 8:51AM) : Pressure, and memories more

It also puts a pressure on the biographer, because if they are contacting family and friends of the subject, and they learn all sorts of information, they feel like they must be careful in the way they portray the subject.
They are supplying the readers, and family, with memories of the subject that will now live forever.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 17 2015 6:38AM) : Not they but he or she.
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Feb 24
Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 1:25AM) : Drawing a Fine-line more

The mere idea of a person becoming friends with you or forming a relationship with you through the sole purpose of writing about your life, can be distressful. I mean where is the fine line between having dinner with your biographer and chit-chatting and worrying if something slips out which you do not want to reveal to the rest of the world?

Now from a biographers perspective there is equal pressure. Where do they draw a fine line between revealing everything and then keeping a cordial relationship with their subjects?

I simply do not find it easy to write without being offensive.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 6:18AM) : Good points. The only thing you leave out is the responsibility of the person being interviewed.
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I often thought of Boswell and Johnson during my stays with Michael Foot. In Michael’s company, I was very much a Boswell, keen to get the great man to talk. I recorded everything, compiling a hundred hours of Michael reminiscing and nearly another hundred of others commenting on him. Scholars estimate that Boswell spent something like 400 days in Samuel Johnson’s company. Over a period of three years and ten trips to England, I lived for something like 100 days with Michael. Boswell knew Johnson much longer (more than 20 years), but he did not live with his subject and see him throughout the entire course of a day and night. I was with Michael from breakfast to lunch to drinks and dinner and usually more talk right up until bedtime. I watched the cycle of Michael’s days and became a part of them, sometimes locking up the house at night or taking messages when he was away for part of a day—and once having to rush down the stairs of his Hampstead house and into the street to pick up him where he tripped and fell.

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Michael was a gallant man who rarely let down his guard. But with me, perhaps because I was American and because we spent so many continuous hours together, he would sometimes reveal himself. He was profoundly angry the night I had to pick him up in the street. Sitting at the kitchen table he nearly sobbed and said, “You don’t know what it is like to grow old. You don’t know.” His humiliation was palpable.

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Our conversations—like most conversations—were circular. Michael would keep coming back to the same topics, digress, then lose his place—“I was just . . . [un-huh] . . . I was just . . .” A soundtrack accompanied his conversations. He could not walk without making noise, groaning in different octaves and punctuating many expressions with a “whee!”

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Jan 20
Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 7:17AM) : What problems for the biography may result from such conversations?
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Chanelle Perrin (Feb 05 2015 8:01AM) : I think it makes harder for the biographer to try to tell a story with a sequence. It becomes difficult to determine what is significant versus what is just being mentioned. Furthermore, it leaves certain key stories half finished.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 12:14PM) : Exactly.
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M. Hiraiwa (Feb 06 2015 7:45PM) : The biographer might lose patient and try to change the circular conversations to ones with another meaning if he has a clear agenda what the biography should be. [Edited]
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 12:14PM) : Good point.
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Stephen Herman (Feb 20 2015 8:51AM) : The biography may become repetitive and have no real direction if the conversations are going the same way. Like any narrative the story must move forward and discussions such as these may stagnate the process.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 2:34PM) : Introducing new characters and new narrative can help
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Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 1:27AM) : Distraction more

I think the biographer cannot chronologically put stories together from such conversations. I think it rather distracts the biographer from their intention of getting more details from their subject.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 6:20AM) : What you don't undertand or can't see yet is that the biographer does not rely on the conversations. Records, letter, and other kinds of evidence are also part of the biographer's work.
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Michael wanted my biography of Jill to do what she could not do for herself: write the whole story of what it means to be a woman. Like the subjects of Daughters of Dissent, her never completed epic about the struggle for female suffrage, Jill saw herself as a dissident fighting for recognition.

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Our March meeting lasted for nearly two hours. Toward the end of the interview, I brought up Michael’s relationship with Julie, Jill’s daughter by her first marriage:

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[CR] Mervyn mentions that when you first married Jill, Julie wasn’t happy about that.

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[MF] We’ve had our problems over the years, but . . . anyhow you talk to her . . . anyhow I don’t think we had much trouble. We had some other . . . you talk to Julie. You’re going to see her tomorrow?

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I did. Michael was never one to discuss relationships in depth. I would have to press him again and again—usually in response to what others said—to get him to open up. His pauses were blanks I had to fill in by talking to others.

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Michael was not openly recalcitrant, but he would often cut off discussion by reverting to the sort of encouragement that became a refrain in our relationship: “Anyhow, Carl, I’m very glad that you’re doing it. And I’m going to have a sleep now.”

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:20AM) : This is encouragement, but what else is it?
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Feb 5
Chanelle Perrin (Feb 05 2015 11:04AM) : it is encouragment but also a way for Michael to escape from discussing harder topics that might be sensitive for him. Especially dealing with relationships with his late wife Jill
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 07 2015 3:15PM) : Right
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Feb 19
ry gotterbarn (Feb 19 2015 7:46PM) : An escape from reality more

To echo Channelle’s thoughts, Michael’s encouragement can be seen as an escape from reality. When you approach the difficult realities of what is happening, it’s human nature to try and back away from the confrontation of something harsh. I feel that’s what Michael is doing here.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 20 2015 7:08AM) : Yes
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Sylvia Plath (Feb 24 2015 4:31AM) : Vague more

It is encouragment but also ambiguity in the part of Michael. I think this vagueness comes from his disinterest in disclosing certain parts of his life.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 24 2015 9:21AM) : Disinterest is not the right word.
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Even as Michael was heading off for his nap, and I was backing out of Jill’s study, where our first conversation about my biography of her took place. I stopped and said, “I’ve just got to take a quick peek in here [a drawer]. I want to see if it contains more manuscript.” As I fingered photocopies and note cards, Michael said, “There’s nothing to be hidden.” I took him at his word.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:21AM) : Certain tensions are set up in this paragraph. What are they?
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Feb 20
Stephen Herman (Feb 20 2015 11:57AM) : It's the tension of the writer wanting to move forward but having to slow down to Micheal's pace. Also him looking for more info in the drawers may show how Micheal's not giving him enough."Backing out of Jill's Study" is great literally metaphorically.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 5:35PM) : Yes the mental and the physical coincide.
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Michael’s life is one long love affair. It is a love affair with the Labour Party, a love affair with Hazlitt, Swift, H. G. Wells, and my mother,” Julie told me over drinks in a pub the next day.

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Julie first caught sight of Michael right at the end of the war, shortly after her mother had made her film The Way We Live, shot in bombed-out Plymouth and featuring a cameo performance by Michael Foot who was campaigning for a parliamentary seat during what became the Labour landslide of 1945. Jill, a beauty, had her pick of men and was then involved with a handsome suitor, her producer William MacQuitty, while at the same time conducting an affair with a good looking painter, Dennis Matthews. She was also still married to her second husband, Jeffrey Dell.

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Yet to Julie’s amazement, Jill set out to captivate Michael early on. “He was the most revolting specimen of a man I’d ever seen,” Julie recalled. “He had asthma and eczema. How could my mother touch him, let alone get in bed with him?” This shy, myopic man appealed to Jill because unlike so many of her other lovers, he talked of building a better world and took her entirely on her own terms, barely inquiring about her past. What he did know only made him prouder of his conquest. He would later brag to me about how Jill had led on so many men. He spoke of winning her. During the early days of their courtship, she had shown up at a miner’s gala event in Durham with another man, “But,” he chortled, She came home with me.”

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:23AM) : What kind of source is Julie going to be? Contrast her with Michael.
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Feb 11
Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 9:53PM) : Honest more

It seems that Julie is very direct and honest about her mother and Michael, from the way she sees it. Michael, when it comes to tougher topics, answers brief, offers another source to ask, or sends his encouraging dismissal. Her blunt honesty may have some tension behind it based on whatever type of relationship she had with Jill and Michael.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 11:41AM) : Yes, a very complicated psychological dynamic.
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Stephen Herman (Feb 20 2015 12:00PM) : Julie seems like a great source because she is truthful and an already interesting voice because she begins breaking Micheal down physically and painting an "uglier" picture of him. It's a new refreshing POV and makes you want to her side of the tale.
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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 21 2015 6:03PM) : Julie is great because she is indiscreet--a real gift to a biographer.
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Michael’s brothers, by his own account, were astounded when he won Jill. Brought up as a strict Methodist, Michael never had the easygoing attitude toward sex that seemed second nature to Jill. With Jill, Julie could talk about sex freely, sharing the most intimate details of her relationships. Sex, in Michael’s Plymouth home, had been unmentionable: “Don’t put your hands under the covers, young man!” his mother admonished him.

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Slowly, slowly, slowly,” Julie began to appreciate Michael. Although she found him reticent and difficult to have fun with, he was always there for her when she was in distress. “He took me to movies like Ivanhoe and Scaramouche I loved to see and that mother was not interested in at all.” Later, as Julie developed a love of opera, she would share record albums with Michael. “He thinks he shared everything with Jill,” Julie noted, adding that Jill would say, “I’m not the one who loves opera.”

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:25AM) : What is Julie beginning to do with Michael's point of view?
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Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 10:05PM) : Julie and Michael's Point of View more

Julie is adding a dimension to Michael’s point of view. She’s not opposing it, but her perception is different. She’s part of the “clashes of perceptions.” She saw Michael as irritating, but kind and thoughtful. Her point of view of her mother is different than how Michael talks about Jill. This is obvious. Jill is her mom, she would see her in a different light. Also, Julie talks about Michael and Jill in a way that is clearly different from the biographer’s perception of them. Perceptions are different because of the relationships they all had with one another and the factors of life that impacted those relationships.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 11:42AM) : Right, it depends on the relationship with the subject--where you sit, so to speak.
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Michael’s trusting nature, his absolute faith in Jill, irritated Julie. The director Ronnie Neame, who employed Jill in the 1950s to write screenplays for The Million Pound Note and Windom’s Way, was, Julie recalled, “always round the house.” The teenaged Julie became suspicious. As soon as Michael came home, she would say, “Ronnie’s just left.” Michael, never one to become jealous, would laugh and call Julie Iago. There was something wrong with a man, in Michael’s view, if he wasn’t in love with Jill. He scoffed at the idea of Ronnie as Jill’s lover when I raised the subject with him later, and Julie did the same, even though she admitted, “Michael was a loving man but no sexual athlete, and my mother was a sexy woman.” Jill once confessed to Julie that Michael had “many wonderful attributes, but after five years their sex life was virtually over.” Michael would make the most of his romantic revivals with Jill during their many trips abroad, especially to Venice, but Jill’s own journal reveals how terribly disappointed she was by his flagging sexual appetite.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:29AM) : What sources is the biography beginning to draw on that have to be matched against what Michael says?
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Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 10:09PM) : Julie's point of view more

So far it seems that Julie keeps going back to how Michael was not sexually competent for Jill and how Julie is open with talking about that. Whereas Michael seems to talk about his relationship with Jill on a different level. Julie’s voice, the quotes and details the biographer chooses to use from her, admits details about Michael that Micael would probably never talk about.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 11:43AM) : With Julie, a vital part of the story is missing.
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Was Jill jealous of Michael?” I asked Julie. “You can’t publish this if Michael is still alive,” she replied, her voice dropping. “She had cause to.” I mentioned Jill’s comment in a published interview that if Michael had an affair she did not want to know about it. “She knew about it,” Julie said, “and it devastated her.” Julie then began to tell me in capsule form the story of Michael’s affair with Lamia (not her real name). “It isn’t publishable,” she repeated. I agreed, although in the end, I published part of the story in To Be a Woman after a struggle with Michael and those close to him about what was really central to the story of the Foot-Craigie marriage.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:31AM) : "You can't publish . . ."--For the biographer, what are the consequences of not publishing? What are the consequences of publishing?
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Hayley Bifulco Hayley Bifulco (Feb 11 2015 10:14PM) : The story more

The decision to publish something and not publish something can affect the story that is trying to be told.

Publishing something against someone’s permission can damage a relationship. But not adding certain details can taint the story in a way that could reflect poorly on the subject.

In this case, I was surprised to read that Michael had an affair because the quotes from Julie kind of made him sound like he wouldn’t do that. But adding this paragraph revealed Jill’s nature. Julie had kept saying how her mom was sexy and confident, but then for Julie to admit how upset and vulnerable she was from this affair. It makes her more human and is valuable to the story of the biographer trying to write Jill’s biography.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 12 2015 11:44AM) : So the story keeps changing. The biographer is surprised; you are surprised.
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Jill stuck by Michael, “out of love,” Julie believed, “but also out of a sense that he was making a contribution to society. She was the most subservient feminist ever. Intellectually, she was a feminist, but in her behavior she was not.” Recalling the marriage’s dynamics in the 1970s and thereafter, Julie noted that if Michael wanted a cup of coffee and Jill was writing her book, he got his cup of coffee. She was always complaining about these interruptions. “Why not go away for six weeks and finish your book?” Julie would ask her. “But who would take care of Michael?” Jill’s replied. No one—not Julie, not anyone—could take care of Michael as Jill did. To Jill, Michael was “special.” And then Julie added, “Excuse my language, but fuck that! He was just a man. I took issue there, strongly.”

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Jan 20 2015 10:32AM) : What issues need to be sorted out here?
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Feb 19
ry gotterbarn (Feb 19 2015 7:52PM) : Michael's laziness and "special"-ness. more

A specific issue I feel need to be sorted out here is Michael’s general laziness. He is portrayed by Julie as oafish and selfish, often impeding Jill’s work. According to Jill he is also “special,” while Julie can’t even find a shred of this apparent trait in Michael.

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Professor Carl Rollyson

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(Feb 20 2015 7:10AM) : So Julie may be unduly harsh or perhaps she reflects certain feelings about her mother in relation to Michael.
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