Speculative biography as dew-drop: Writing women's lives

Deborah Jordan

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The writer and biographer Nettie Palmer (1885–1964) challenges us to think about biographies as being as perfect and fragile as dew-drops, and to speculate about those aspects of emotional and spiritual life that, not addressed by the facts of history, can give a biography its aesthetic shape. This chapter uses the author’s biography Nettie Palmer: Search for an Aesthetic as a case study to contextualise some of the shifts in thinking about gender since the 1970s, when women, all women, were reclaimed as suitable subjects. Speculative biographies taking into account the biographer–subject relationship, and even age differences, can avoid some of the dangers of partiality and presentism by opening up new questions. As a younger biographer immersed in my subject’s worldview, the way I imagined the past shifted as the meanings of the subject’s words began to coalesce into patterns. When writing about literary subjects, the way documents are understood also changes. Only in the recent publication of a selection of Nettie Palmer’s love letters, Loving Words, could I address more fully my constructions of her biographical narrative to invite the reader to be part of the process.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpeculative Biography
Subtitle of host publicationExperiments, Opportunities and Provocations
EditorsDonna Lee Brien, Kiera Lindsey
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780367515843, 9781003054528
ISBN (Print)9780367515829
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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