19 June 2010

E.B. White; Scott Elledge

E.B. White: A Biography E.B. White: A Biography by Scott Elledge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this so close to having read Weir's Mistress of the Monarchy illustrates the differences between Biography Then and Biography Now; Then is far less novelistic than Now. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, jut an observation.

White's life is definitely that of a previous age, when not going to college with a Plan was acceptable. His upbringing is rooted in the 19th century (although I'm not sure that being born in 1899 qualifies one in quite that way) and it's that emotionally stiffer time that he seems most comfortable. His treatment of the women in his life, including his wife, is described as not being overwhelmingly emotional (the letters and misunderstandings between him and Alice, for example). Yet in his writing he clearly can strike an emotional chord with readers. On the other hand, it could be that in this style of biography the emotional side is far less interesting (hah!) than the factual side. His hypochondria is given a semi-tolerant gloss, without divulging terribly much about what seem to have been some very real physical and psychological issues.

As I read this book I was wondering why there was no mention of one of my favorite children's books, Mistress Mashem's Repose Silly me - it was written by the other initialed White, T.H.! This White, E.B., wrote poems, letters, essays, editorials and books that have interested readers of all ages (although Stuart Little did not win the approval of the Head Children's Librarian at NYPL). It just may be time to read some, starting with a re-read of Charlotte's Web

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