“through autobiography, through creative writing, through self-presentation”

On Will Crawley meets.. Roy Foster, repeated last night, the discussion mostly centred on the topic of whether it is possible to write a neutral history of Ireland. There’s more in there and, if you missed it, it’s worth a look – still available online here. And Roy Foster had an interesting line on what he learned in his study of WB Yeats, which resulted in a two volume biography – his previous comments on that subject were noted here. From the programme [Direct link to quote 11min 13 sec in]

“The longer I live and the more I read and, I suppose, the more I write, the more contingency and accident seem to me important and decisive. And it’s a way in which, I think – I’m a biographer as well as a historian – so I think that immersing yourself in individual lives can bring you up with a jolt. Especially if you write about someone like WB Yeats, as I have written about, who determined to put a shape on his life retrospectively which would look like a marvellously, almost inevitably, unfolding pattern – which his astrological, occult and supernatural interests also helped to dictate. But when you re-assemble someone’s life as it happened day to day, and spend nearly twenty years doing it as I did with Yeats, you do become continually brought up against facts of contingency and also the extremely devious way in which a very brilliant person can, through autobiography, through creative writing, through self-presentation, put a shape on their life that, I believe, wasn’t inevitably destined from the beginning. And, as for the individual life, so, in many ways, for the national life or lives.”

That’s probably also applicable to other less brilliant subjects..