The first one I read was Rudyard Kipling by Kingsley Amis. His is truly the best simply because Amis is such a fluid and witty writer. He does not pull any punches as to his opinions about Kipling's writing abilities, which stories were well-written and those that failed to live up to the great writer's reputation.
We learn that Kipling was an enormously spoiled child being raised by servants in India with parents who let him rule everyone with an iron fist. After about six years, Kipling's mother apparently woke up to the fact that they were going to have an incorrigible child on their hands, sent him back to England and hired a middle-aged married couple to rear and educate him and his younger sister.
It's a mystery as to why his mother hired strangers to be guardians of her children when willing relatives were available. Of course, it's a mystery to me why someone would leave their young children and return to India, rarely seeing them again. According to Kipling he was the victim of gross child abuse and neglect and records his nightmarish experience in one of his short stories, Baa, Baa Black Sheep.
How honest an account was this story? According to Kipling's sister, not very. Perhaps it was the shock of going from acting as a tiny Anglo-Indian despot to being expected to behave according to British standards, which was harsh enough by our present indulgent attitude towards children. No sparing of the rod for sure. But neglect? We have only Kipling's vindictive story as evidence and I must confess at the time I read it I found it to be rather one-sided.
After leaving the horrible "Uncle Harry and Aunt Rosa", Kipling went on to attend a Navy University where he began writing. The rest of this short book traces Kipling's development as a writer and travels back and forth from America (he married an American) to England. It's interesting to note that many of his "exotic" stories (The Jungle Book, Kim, Riki Tiki Tavi) were written down during the cool autumns and cold winters of a New England estate.
Amis is really funny and such a good writer that whether you like Kipling's writing or not, you will enjoy Amis' biography.
|Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936|
Conrad by Norman Sherry
I was surprised to learn that Joseph Conrad was born and raised in Poland and worked on boats and ships for eighteen years before writing.
Apparently he spoke English with such a thick accent people could barely understand him. This makes it all the more remarkable that the author of such British classics and required school reading as Lord Jim and the Heart of Darkness was writing in a language other than his mother tongue.
Sherry traces the years of Conrad's shipping career and also connects the many captains, sailors and shipmates he worked with to the characters in his novels.
Like Kipling he was almost anti-social and, also like Kipling, guilty of neglecting his family for long swathes of time.
|Joseph Conrad 1857-1924|
But neither of these men can hold a candle to the American author in this Literary Library
For sheer narcissism, child neglect and marital infidelity (of which neither Kipling nor Conrad were ever guilty of as far as is known) the award goes to Ezra Pound.
Let's just say the man was crazy. I mean literally. He spent almost eighteen years in an insane asylum, which I'm sure he found preferable to being charged with treason since he was a follower of Mussollini.
Pound was a part of the American ex-patriot group that traveled through out Europe, meeting in Parisian Cafes with the likes of T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was great friends with many contemporary artists and writers such as W.B. Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska but his anti-social and increasingly pro-fascist ideologies successfully alienated him to most of his friends.
He was a tormented soul and one wonders why his wife, the British painter Dorothy Shakespear (it's spelled without an "e") tolerated it, even when, while living in Italy, he sent their son off to England to be raised by relatives. He never associated with his son and only child from his marriage for the rest of his life but became quite close to the daughter of his mistress, the violinist Olga Rudge who followed everywhere he and Dorothy lived.
At one time, Ezra's health was so bad that Dorothy and Olga lived together to nurse him. Towards the end of his life, however, he and Dorothy became strangers and he died with only Olga in attendance.
|Ezra Pound 1885-1972|
All three of these books are loaded with photos of the writers and their lives and that is partly of what makes them gems to add to the biography section of any home library (I, of course, speak for myself, insert big self-satisfied smile here).