Archive for February 3rd, 2010

facts vs. truth

February 3rd, 2010


Today I spent hours creating a timeline of my life over the past ten years.

That was before I got to this passage in Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf, which I just started yesterday. Actually, I’ve been meaning to read this bio for a while but what prompted me to finally undertake it was Joan Schenkar’s biography of Patricia Highsmith, which I’m also reading. Schenkar begins her effort to describe Highsmith’s life by referencing Hermione Lee quoting Woolf on the impossibility of writing biography. Here’s Woolf:

” Facts have their importance—But that is where the biography comes to grief. The biographer cannot extract the atom. He gives us the husk. Therefore as things are, the best method would be to separate the two kinds of truth. Let the biographer print fully completely, accurately, the known facts without comment; Then let him write the life as fiction.”

I feel very dedicated to the project of writing my own biography as nonfiction. But she’s right. Trying to convey the facts AND the true story at the same time is not for the faint of heart.