Charlotte Bronte: Style in the novelCharlotte Brontë: Style in the Novel. Madison: University of Wisconsin Pres: 1973.

My dissertation director at the University of Wisconsin, Karl Kroeber, encouraged me to publish my thesis. Between 1969 and 1972, I received seventeen rejections from university presses. Finally I sent the ms. to UW Press. They accepted it immediately and the book got excellent academic reviews.

Unquiet Soul: A Biography of Charlotte Brontë: New York: Doubleday, 1975. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1975. Paris: Editions Stock, 1979. Reprint New York & London, 1986, 1987. Paris: Editions Stock, 1979.

I was too fascinated by Charlotte Brontë to drop her, so I wrote her life, viewing it from a feminist perspective. Lisa Drew, my editor then at Doubleday, told me Unquiet Soul was Doubleday’s best-reviewed book of 1975. I loved working with Drew, a fellow Wisconsinite: my best experience in all my years of publishing. The bio was published in Paris; a French Brontë movie appeared shortly after, no coincidence.

Bernard Shaw and the Actresses. New York: Doubleday, 1980.
After the success of Unquiet Soul I had a terrible time coming up with a second subject for a biography. I had always admired the 20th-century playwright George Bernard Shaw for his wit and for the unconventional women he created, so I decided to investigate his feminism and the actresses for whom he created roles. Terrible title! (Should have been Bernard Shaw and the New Woman.) Terrible book cover! But the Irish Times called it the best book ever written on Shaw, and it established me as a Shaw “expert.” It also inspired me to write numerous articles about Shaw and gave me the topic of my next biography.

Mrs. Pat: The Biography of Mrs. Patrick Campbell. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984; London: The Bodley Head, 1984; Hamish Hamilton, 1985.

Of all the actresses, Stella (Mrs. Patrick) Campbell, for whom Shaw wrote the part of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, interested me most, so when the doyen of Shaw studies, the late Dan H. Laurence, urged me to write her life, I lept at it. By this time I had married Peter Jordan; we did research all over England and drove to Pau in southern France to find Stella’s grave. I made two wonderful friendships from this biography: Patrick Beech, Mrs. Pat’s grandson, and Sir John Gielgud, who had acted with her. I adored Stella, as did my husband. Happy years. I was now better known as a writer in England than in America.

The House of Barrymore.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

My first American subject! I intended to write a biography of Ethel Barrymore, but Robert Gottlieb, Knopf’s famous editor, said, “You must do all three Barrymores–John, Ethel and Lionel. They’re an important family.” Unbelievably, I still didn’t have an agent, and accepted a $30,000 advance for the whole Drew-Barrymore family, though I’d been planning to ask $30 for Ethel. My naivité was incredible. But I did ask Gottlieb to recommend an agent and began to work with Lynn Nesbit, of Janklow & Nesbit–though too late for the Barrymores.

Wild Justice.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Published in paperback as Most Wanted, 1996.

After I had written this thriller about a mother who revenges her daughter’s murder, I realized the novel had deep roots in my father’s abandonment of my mother and me when I was three. I set the book in Washington D.C. because I’d worked there on a magazine and knew the city quite well. Lynn Nesbit, my agent, thought Wild Justice would ruin my reputation, so I published it under the pseudonym Margret Pierce.

May Sarton: A Biography.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997; Ballentine, 1998.

I became interested in May Sarton when I taught her Journal of a Solitude and showed the film World of Light in a Women’s Studies class. I wrote her, asking whether I might write her life. She was the first living subject I undertook–you can read about the almost-disastrous results in my preface to the bio. What an experience. May Sarton is now an ebook.

Design for Living: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. New York: Knopf, 2003.

What exciting people to write about! Great actors with great friendships, an unusual marriage, and a great house, Ten Chimneys, now on the National Historical Register and open for public tours May-October. I dedicated this book to the late Joe Garton, who saved Ten Chimneys from destruction; knowing him and working at Lunt and Fontanne’s house was a joy, the opposite of working on Sarton. Warning to biographers: choose the dead.

Published on January 20, 2011 at 9:32 am  Leave a Comment  

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