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  • Unripe Bananas and Almost Meeting Charles Dickens: The Index Biography September 2, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary , trackback


    So you want to know about a famous man or woman; you need a potted biography. You don’t have access to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (or other national equivalents). Wikipedia is often a bit long and can be inaccurate. The Encyclopedia Britannica is worse. And you threw away your reference volumes because you needed more room for books on early modern witchcraft. (I know, I know it was a terrible mistake). Anyway, Beach has come up with a solution, the perfect potted biography. It is called the index biography. You go to a relevant biography (which of course you don’t have time to read) and you plunder a good traditional index. For example, here is a perennial favourite of this blog, that Georgian serial killer, Stalin. We’ve got rid of all the irrelevant crap like ‘meets Churchill’, ‘regard for Roosevelt’, ‘kills forty million people’, ‘ruins the twentieth century’, and we have gone, instead, straight to the essence of the man.

    Marriage relations with Nadva; appeal to women and affairs; Nadva’s suicide; fathers illegitimate children; drinking habits; jealousy over Nadya; Nadya’s funeral; mistrust of doctors; wears Marshall uniform; builds dachas in palace grounds; fury over unripe bananas; documents and will destroyed.

    Now that this new form of biography is established consider the following entry. Beach would be extremely impressed if anyone can work this out before looking at the answer at the bottom of this post.

    Reaction to his sister’s death; urges his brother to enter the church; inherits books etc. from his father; identifies C. G. Bennet’s body; correspondence with Bessie Bennett; possibly a latent homosexual; libel actions; debts; almost meet Charles Dickens; writes on pawnbroking; attempts playwriting; tendency to mimic; works projected at his death.

    What a shitty life! Yet at the same time it is all strangely moving: like an e.e.cummings poem. ‘Almost meets Charles Dickens’: reader, if you haven’t tears in your eyes as you read this, then, your emotions are all in a tortoise shell (and probably better off there). Not only is this new form of biography lyrical, it is also efficient, it is brief, it could be amusing and most importantly of all it might keep index writers in business and, in the age of pdfs, they need help, believe me. Any other thoughts on the potential for index biographies? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com We need to know. And more importantly – though don’t want to play at Anthony Robbins – if you were going to write your own index biography? No, no, but that way madness lies.

    [The answer is: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, superlative nineteenth-century ghost story writer.]