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Robert Lowell: A Biography

Book: (London and Boston: Faber, 1982; New York: Random House, 1982)

Robert Lowell: A Biography, by Ian HamiltonFrom 'A Biographer's Misgivings' in The Trouble with Money (1998):

'A couple of years before he died, Lowell told me that he was thinking of writing a prose autobiography. He was having difficulty in getting started, he said, and we agreed that maybe if he spoke his recollections into a tape-recorder and then worked on the transcripts, this might get him going. I was editing a magazine at the time, The New Review, and we agreed that in exchange for my asking the questions and then getting his responses typed, and so on, he would give me first opportunity to print instalments from the work, as it proceeded. [...] Anyway, it didn't work out, and we abandoned it. [...]

'For a year or two after Lowell died, there was talk of appointing a biographer. When the time came, it happened that my magazine had folded and I was vaguely looking for some kind of job, or occupation. Caroline Blackwood, together with some other London friends of Lowell's, might well have remembered those tape-recording sessions. If Lowell had entrusted me with the role of his recorder, or sound-man, then maybe he would not have objected to the idea of me as his biographer. I really don't know the background, but when the job was offered I said yes.

'This makes it all sound splendidly straitforward, but of course it wasn't. With biographies nothing ever is.'

In Search of J.D. Salinger

Book: (London: Heinemann, 1988; New York: Random House, 1988; London: Faber and Faber, 2010)

In Search of J. D. Salinger, by Ian HamiltonFrom the First Chapter:

'Salinger seemed to be the perfect subject. He was, in any real-life sense, invisible, as good as dead, and yet for many he still held an active mythic force. He was famous for not wanting to be famous. He claimed to loathe any sort of public scrutiny and yet he had made it his practice to scatter just a few misleading clues.'

Writers in Hollywood, 1915-1951

Book: (London: Heinemann, 1990; New York: Harper, 1990)

From the Preface:

'For someone who is, or would preger to be "just a writer" there is more to be learned -- about compromise, self-delusion, money distractions, and the like -- from contemplating the writer-in-chains saga that emerges from any study of Hollywood during its so-called golden years -- the period I have marked as running from 1915-1951. Nineteen fifteen was the year of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. In 1951, the studio system at last knew itself to be defeated by antitrust legislation, the threat from television was accelerating, and the blacklist had, from the writers' point of view, added a final insult to the various injuries they believed themselves to have suffered since the first day they decided to "go Hollywood."

'It is not a saga to be bathed in tears. Too much has been made fo what Hollywood did to X and Y. Those writers, as we will discover, were in the movies by choice: they earned far more money than their colleagues who did not write for films, and in several cases they applied themselves conscientiously to the not-unimportant task at hand. And they had a log of laughs.'

Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography

Book: (London: Hutchinson, 1992; New York: Faber and Faber, 1993)

From the Foreword:

'A book about literary estates has to be about many other things as well: about changing notions of posterity, about copyright law, publishing, the rise of English Studies, the onset of literary celebritism. Principally, or so I discovered as I wrote, it has to be about biography, the history and ethics of. How much should a biographer tell? How much should an executor suppress? And what would the biographee have wanted -- do we know?'


John Donne the Younger
Surviving Shakespeare
Be Kind to My Remains: Marvell, Milton, Dryden
Pope's Bullies
Boswell's Colossal Hoard
The Frailties of Robert Burns
Byron and the Best of Friends
At the Shelley Shrine
John Forster, of Dickens Fame
Froude's Carlyle, Carlyle's Froude
Keeping House: Tennyson and Swinburne
Legends and Mysteries: Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James
Remembering Rupert Brooke
Authorised Lives: Hardy and Kipling
James Joyce's Parton Saint
Provisional Posterities: Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin

Gazza Agonistes

Book: (London: Bloomsbury, 1998)

Gazza Agonistes, by Ian Hamilton Prefatory Note:

'The bulk of this book first appeared in 1994, under the title Gazza Italia. Its first appearance, though, was as an article in Granta magazine, where it was called Gazza Agonistes, a much better title, in my view. I have added to the original a lengthy postscript, bringing the action up to date and I have made a few small changes to the Gazza Italia text. I have been sparing, though, with hindsight. After all, this is a fan's eye-view of Paul Gascoigne -- and fans, as we know, are expert at reassembling dashed hopes.'

A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold

Book: (London: Bloomsbury, 1998; New York: Basic Books, 1999)

A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold, by Ian HamiltonFrom the Preface:

'The present book is an attempt to animate certain key moments, or turning points, in Arnold's passage from the poetic life to the prose life of his later years. Arnold, in those later years, spoke urgently of poetry's civilising capabilities, but he spoke thus at the expense of his own talent. "He thrust his gift in prison till it died" was Auden's diagnosis. In the ensuing pages I attempt to tell, in detail, the story of that slow imprisonment. As Arnold came to see things, an all-out commitment to his art would have involved an "actual tearing of oneself to pieces". It might also have involved some other kinds of damage -- to people, to principles, to his ingrained sense of social purpose. And would it have been worth it after all? We'll never know; as Arnold never knew.'

Against Oblivion: Some Lives of the Twentieth-Century Poets

Book: (London: Viking, 2002)

Against Oblivion, by Ian Hamilton From the Introduction:

'Many factors are involved in the making of a reputation which will, for a period, outlive its owner. Fashion, I need hardly say, has much to answer for. In itself, fashion is transient, of course, and one of oblivion's most reliable lieutenants. At the same time, though, it can assist in the survival of a reputation -- or, at any rate, in the survival of a name.'


Rudyard Kipling, Charlotte Mew, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle (HD), Marianne Moore, Robinson Jeffers, Rupert Brooke, Conrad Aiken, Edna St Vincent Millay, Hugh MacDiarmid, Wilfred Owen, E.E. Cummings, Robert Graves, Hart Crane, Allen Tate, Stevie Smith, Norman Cameron, William Empson, John Betjeman, Louis MacNeice, Theodore Roethke, Stephen Spender, Elizabeth Bishop, Roy Fuller, R.S. Thomas, Randall Jarrell, Weldon Kees, Henry Reed, John Berryman, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis, Robert Lowell, Keith Douglas, Philip Larkin, Allen Ginsberg, James Merrill, James Wright, Gregory Corso, Ted Hughes, and Slyvia Plath


Ian Hamilton Talks about Biographies

Don Swaim interviewed Ian Hamilton on two occasions, the first in 1982 upon the publication of Robert Lowell and again in 1988 regarding In Search of J. D. Salinger. Both interviews are available in .ram and .mp3 formats at the Wired for Books website: http://wiredforbooks.org/ianhamilton/

Last update: 9 June 2012
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