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The first rule of biography wrote Justin Kaplan “Shoot the widow”In her new book Meryle Secrest acclaimed biographer “Knowing sympathetic and entertainingly droll”— The New York Times writes about her comic triumphs and misadventures as a biographer in search of her nine celebrated subjects about how the hunt for a “life” is like working one’s way through a maze full of fall starts dead ends and occasional clear passages leading to the next part of the puzzleShe writes about her first book a life of Romaine Brooks and how she was led to Nice and given invaluable letters by her subject’s heir that were slid across the table one at a time how she was led to the villa of Brooks’ lover Gabriele d’Annunzio poet playwright and aviator a fantastic mausoleum left untouched since the moment of his death seventy years before to a small English village where she uncovered a lost Romaine Brooks painting and finally to 20 rue Jacob Paris where Romaine’s lover Natalie Barney had fifty years before entertained Cocteau Gide Proust Colette and othersSecrest describes how her next book—a life of Berenson—prompted Francis Steegmuller fellow biographer to comment that he wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten foot poleFor her life of British art historian Kenneth Clark Secrest was given permission to write the book by her subject who surreptitiously financed it in the hopes of controlling its contents we see how Clark’s plan was foiled by a jealous mistress and a stash of love letters that helped Secrest navigate Clark’s obstacle courseAmong the other biographical misadventures Secrest reveals how she tracked Salvador Dalí to a hospital room found him recovering from serious burns sustained in a mysterious fire and learned that he was knee deep in a scandal involving fake drawings and prints and surrounded by dangerous characters out of Murder Inc and how she went in search of a subject’s grave Frank Lloyd Wright’s only to find that his body had been dug up to satisfy the whim of his last wifeA fascinating account of a life spent in sometimes arduous sometimes comical always exciting pursuit of the truth about other lives From the Hardcover edition


10 thoughts on “Shoot the Widow Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject

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    For me the essence of penetrating intelligence is exemplified by the forehead and his was as serene and sweeping as any I had seen writes biographer Meryle Secrest of one of her subjects Kenneth Clark When Clark had addressed her high school assembly just after World War II he seemed to be standing in his own spotlight The only person who ever matched him for charisma was John F Kennedyimage error