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Michael Holroyd

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About This Author
Knighted for his services to literature, Michael Holroyd is the author of acclaimed biographies of George Bernard Shaw, the painter Augustus John, and Lytton Strachey, as well as two memoirs. He is the president of the Royal Society of Literature and the only nonfiction writer to have been awarded the David Cohen British Literature Prize. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.
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Knighted for his services to literature, Michael Holroyd is the author of acclaimed biographies of George Bernard Shaw, the painter Augustus John, and Lytton Strachey, as well as two memoirs. He is the president of the Royal Society of Literature and the only nonfiction writer to have been awarded the David Cohen British Literature Prize. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.
Books by thisAuthor
  • Works on Paper

    Works on Paper
    The Craft of Biography and Autobiography
    Works on Paper is a selection by one of today’s leading biographers from his lectures, essays, and reviews written over the last quarter of a century—mainly on the craft of biography and autobiography, but also covering what Michael Holroyd describes as his “enthusiasms and alibis”. Opening with a startling attack on biography, which is answered by two essays on the ethics and values of non-fiction writing, the book goes on to examine the work of several contemporary biographers, the place of biography in fiction and of fiction in biography, and the revelations of some extravagant autobiographers, from Osbert Sitwell to Quentin Crisp—to which he adds some adventures of his own, in particular an important and unpublished piece The Making of GBS, a riveting story of internecine literary warfare. The book ends with a series of satires, celebrations, apologias and polemics which throw light not only on Michael Holroyd’s progress as a biographer, but also his record as an embattled campaigner in the field of present-day literary politics.

    Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition

    Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition
    "We regard Mr. Holroyd with awe, as a prodigy among biographers."—The New York Times Book ReviewIn a single-volume format, Michael Holroyd's masterpiece of a biography offers new verve and pace; Shaw's world is more dramatically revealed as Holroyd counterpoints the private and public Shaw with inimitable insight and scholarship.

    Mosaic: A Family Memoir Revisited

    Mosaic: A Family Memoir Revisited
    A love story, a detective story, a book of secrets, a beautifully written journey into a forest of family trees.After writing the definitive biographies of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, Michael Holroyd turned his hand to a more personal subject: his own family. The result was Basil Street Blues, published in 1999. But rather than the story being over, it was in fact only beginning. As letters from readers started to pour in, the author discovered extraordinary narratives that his own memoir had only touched on. Mosaic is Holroyd's piecing together of these remarkable stories: the murder of the fearsome headmaster of his school; the discovery that his Swedish grandmother was the mistress of the French anarchist Jacques Prévert; and a letter about the beauty of his mother that provides a clue to a decade-long affair. Funny, touching, and wry, Mosaic shows how other people's lives, however eccentric or extreme, echo our own dreams and experiences.

    A Strange Eventful History

    A Strange Eventful History
    The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry...
    PLEASE NOTE: THIS EBOOK DOES NOT CONTAIN PHOTOS INCLUDED IN THE PRINT EDITION. Deemed “a prodigy among biographers” by The New York Times Book Review, Michael Holroyd transformed biography into an art. Now he turns his keen observation, humane insight, and epic scope on an ensemble cast, a remarkable dynasty that presided over the golden age of theater. Ellen Terry was an ethereal beauty, the child bride of a Pre-Raphaelite painter who made her the face of the age. George Bernard Shaw was so besotted by her gifts that he could not bear to meet her, lest the spell she cast from the stage be broken. Henry Irving was an ambitious, harsh-voiced merchant’s clerk, but once he painted his face and spoke the lines of Shakespeare, his stammer fell away to reveal a magnetic presence. He would become one of the greatest actor-managers in the history of the theater. Together, Terry and Irving created a powerhouse of the arts in London’s Lyceum Theatre, with Bram Stoker—who would go on to write Dracula—as manager. Celebrities whose scandalous private lives commanded global attention, they took America by stormin wildly popular national tours. Their all-consuming professional lives left little room for their brilliant but troubled children. Henry’s boys followed their father into the theater but could not escape the shadow of his fame. Ellen’s feminist daughter, Edy, founded an avant-garde theater and a largely lesbian community at her mother’s country home. But it was Edy’s son, the revolutionary theatrical designer Edward Gordon Craig, who possessed the most remarkable gifts and the most perplexing inability to realize them. A now forgotten modernist visionary, he collaborated with the Russian director Stanislavski on a production of Hamlet that forever changed the way theater was staged. Maddeningly self-absorbed, he inherited his mother’s potent charm and fathered thirteen children by eight women, including a daughter with the dancer Isadora Duncan. An epic story spanning a century of cultural change, A Strange Eventful History finds space for the intimate moments of daily existence as well as the bewitching fantasies played out by its subjects. Bursting with charismatic life, it is an incisive portrait of two families who defied the strictures of their time. It will be swiftly recognized as a classic. Please note: This ebook edition does not contain photos and illustrations that appeared in the print edition.

  • A Book of Secrets

    A Book of Secrets
    Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
    A Time Top Ten Nonfiction Book of 2011 A Seattle Times Best Book of 2011 On a hill above the Italian village of Ravello sits the Villa Cimbrone, a place of fantasy and make-believe. The characters who move through Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets are destined never to meet, yet the Villa Cimbrone and one man unite them all. This elegiac work is about the quest of unearthing and recounting the stories of women always on the periphery of the respectable world--from Alice Keppel, the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales; to Eve Fairfax, a muse of Auguste Rodin; to the novelist Violet Trefusis, the lover of Vita Sackville-West. Also on the margins is the elusive biographer, who on occasion turns an appraising eye upon himself as part of his investigations in the maze of biography.

    On Wheels

    On Wheels
    From the bestselling author of A Book of Secrets, a brisk, charming, illustrated account of a motoring life As a child, Michael Holroyd spent his best hours in his family’s cramped garage, which contained a wealth of magical, exciting objects. But the most intriguing by far was the one in the middle of the room—the family’s eight-horsepower black Ford, which had found in the garage a permanent home and in Holroyd a dedicated caretaker. Sitting in the backseat—his own private castle—he began his love affair with the automobile.      On Wheels is the story of the cars and drivers that inspired and affected Holroyd throughout his life. Ranging from drives around the country with his father, a car obsessive, to the baroque horrors of his austere driving instructor, to the liberating pleasures of automatic transmission, On Wheels is an automotive autobiography—the story of times and places that mattered to the author, told through the cars that bore witness.      “My biographies,” Holroyd writes, “became increasingly filled with motoring exploits—something of which I was unaware until recently,” and so On Wheels is also a reflection on the author’s many brilliant biographical subjects—Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey, and many others—and their own relationships to the open road.      Casually intimate and often riotously funny, On Wheels is a master biographer’s miniature self-portrait—and an indelible reflection on his great passion.

    Basil Street Blues: A Memoir

    Basil Street Blues: A Memoir
    "A wonderful offbeat memoir.... Holroyd has written perhaps his best book yet."—Ben Macintyre, New York Times Book ReviewRenowned biographer Michael Holroyd had always assumed that his own family was perfectly English, or at least perfectly ordinary. But an investigation into the Holroyd past—guided by old photograph albums, crumbling documents, and his parents' wildly divergent accounts of their lives—gradually yields clues to a constellation of startling events and eccentric characters: a slow decline from English nobility on one side, a dramatic Scandinavian ancestry on the other. Fires, suicides, bankruptcies, divorces, unconsummated longings, and the rumor of an Indian tea fortune permeate this wry, candid memoir, "part multiple biography, part autobiography, but principally an oblique investigation of the biographer's art" (New York Times Book Review). "[A] perfect example of a memoir that entrances me."—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Sunday Globe "[O]ne of the few [biographers] who can convey what makes ordinary as well as extraordinary mortals live in our minds."—Los Angeles Times

    Basil Street Blues and Mosaic

    Basil Street Blues and Mosaic
    This, in his fashion, is Michael Holroyd's autobiography, a biography of a biographer, and a continuation of his never-ending love affair with human nature. Part detective story, part family-saga and part an oblique voyage of self discovery, Basil Street Blues is an entrancing story, startlingly funny, profoundly moving; a very English tragic-comedy.

  • Lytton Strachey

    Lytton Strachey
    The New Biography
    "It is impossible to suppose that this ‘Life' will ever be superseded . . . the best literary biography to appear for many years."—John Rothenstein, New York Times "Written with vivacity and scrupulousness. . . . [Michael Holroyd] has a great novelist's sense of the obstinate mystery of the human person."—George Steiner, The New Yorker

    Bernard Shaw

    Bernard Shaw
    The Pursuit of Power 1898-1918
    When Michael Holroyd's multivolume life of Bernard Shaw was published, it was hailed as a masterpiece, and William Golding predicted that it would take its place "among the great biographies." Now the biography is available for the first time in a lively and accessible abridgment by the author. This is the quintessence of Shaw. The narrative has a new verve and pace, and the light and shade of Shaw's world are more dramatically revealed as Holroyd counterpoints the private and public Shaw with inimitable insight and scholarship. Playwright, wit, socialist, polemicist, vegetarian, and irresistible charmer, Bernard Shaw was the most controversial literary figure of his age, the scourge of Victorian values and middle-class pretensions. Born in Dublin in 1856, he grew up there, a lonely child in an unsettling menage a trois. His father, George Carr Shaw, had turned to drink, and his mother was muse to a Svengali-like music teacher whom she followed to London. The young Shaw, anxious to escape his heritage, also left for London to reinvent himself as the legendary G.B.S.--novelist, lover, politician, music critic, and finally playwright. From his first passionate affair with a beautiful middle-aged widow, he moved on to flirtations and liaisons with young actresses and socialists before finally settling into marriage in 1898. At the turn of the century, Shaw was in his prime, a theatrical impresario and author of those great campaigning plays--Man and Superman, Major Barbara, The Doctor's Dilemma, and John Bull's Other Island--that used laughter as an anesthetic for the operation he performed on British society. By 1914 the author of Pygmalion was the most popular writer in England, and increasingly recognized throughout Europe and America. Though ready with advice to others on how to stay married, he fell painfully in love with two of the most dazzling actresses of the age, Ellen Terry and Mrs. Patrick Campbell. The reluctant recipient of a Nobel Prize for literature and an Academy Award for his screenplay for Pygmalion, Shaw became an international icon between the two world wars, feted from China and Soviet Russia to India and New Zealand, though still contriving to provoke the establishment in the United States, South Africa, and Ireland. In old age he was vigorous and prolific, espousing many new and quixotic causes. He revealed himself increasingly as conjurer, fabulist, and seer through his powerful late works, including Saint Joan, the Chekhovian Heartbreak House, the modernist fantasy Back to Methuselah, and the imaginative dream plays and political extravaganzas. Covering almost a century, from 1856 to 1950, this unparalleled life of Shaw presents the magnificent double portrait of an age and of a man who was born fifty years too soon. Holroyd magically captures the essence of Shaw's protean genius in a tragicomedy that

    George Bernard Shaw Volume 1

    George Bernard Shaw Volume 1
    Holroyd has done a masterly job of cutting down his huge biography to a lively and manageable one-volume life -- the definitive Shaw for the general reader and the student. It has verve and pace, the light and shade of his life are emphasized, digressions cut, and Shaw comes overjust as much larger than life as he always was, just as contrary, and even more sympathetically and movingly portrayed. This is a dazzling portrait of the man and his age.

    Bernard Shaw

    Bernard Shaw
    Lure
    When Michael Holroyd's multivolume life of Bernard Shaw was published, it was hailed as a masterpiece, and William Golding predicted that it would take its place "among the great biographies." Now the biography is available for the first time in a lively and accessible abridgment by the author. This is the quintessence of Shaw. The narrative has a new verve and pace, and the light and shade of Shaw's world are more dramatically revealed as Holroyd counterpoints the private and public Shaw with inimitable insight and scholarship. Playwright, wit, socialist, polemicist, vegetarian, and irresistible charmer, Bernard Shaw was the most controversial literary figure of his age, the scourge of Victorian values and middle-class pretensions. Born in Dublin in 1856, he grew up there, a lonely child in an unsettling menage a trois. His father, George Carr Shaw, had turned to drink, and his mother was muse to a Svengali-like music teacher whom she followed to London. The young Shaw, anxious to escape his heritage, also left for London to reinvent himself as the legendary G.B.S.--novelist, lover, politician, music critic, and finally playwright. From his first passionate affair with a beautiful middle-aged widow, he moved on to flirtations and liaisons with young actresses and socialists before finally settling into marriage in 1898. At the turn of the century, Shaw was in his prime, a theatrical impresario and author of those great campaigning plays--Man and Superman, Major Barbara, The Doctor's Dilemma, and John Bull's Other Island--that used laughter as an anesthetic for the operation he performed on British society. By 1914 the author of Pygmalion was the most popular writer in England, and increasingly recognized throughout Europe and America. Though ready with advice to others on how to stay married, he fell painfully in love with two of the most dazzling actresses of the age, Ellen Terry and Mrs. Patrick Campbell. The reluctant recipient of a Nobel Prize for literature and an Academy Award for his screenplay for Pygmalion, Shaw became an international icon between the two world wars, feted from China and Soviet Russia to India and New Zealand, though still contriving to provoke the establishment in the United States, South Africa, and Ireland. In old age he was vigorous and prolific, espousing many new and quixotic causes. He revealed himself increasingly as conjurer, fabulist, and seer through his powerful late works, including Saint Joan, the Chekhovian Heartbreak House, the modernist fantasy Back to Methuselah, and the imaginative dream plays and political extravaganzas. Covering almost a century, from 1856 to 1950, this unparalleled life of Shaw presents the magnificent double portrait of an age and of a man who was born fifty years too soon. Holroyd magically captures the essence of Shaw's protean genius in a tragicomedy that

  • Works on Paper

    Works on Paper

    The Shaw Companion

    The Shaw Companion

    The Naked Civil Servant

    The Naked Civil Servant
    "As soon as I stepped out of my mother's womb...I realized that I had made a mistake", Quentin Crisp declares, giving a small hint of the witty and wry approach he takes toward the life he describes with uninhibited exuberance in this classic autobiography, which is both a comic masterpiece and a unique testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Crisp not only came out as a gay man in 1931, when the slightest sign of homosexuality shocked public sensibilities, but he did so with grand and provocative flamboyance, determined to spread the message that homosexuality did not exclude him or anyone else from the human race. His hilarious descriptions of encounters with parents, friends, employers, soldiers and sailors, and the law reveal the strength and humor of an honest man, determined to face the world with the uncensored, unapologetic truth about himself.

    A Cezanne in the Hedge and Other Memories of Charleston and Bloomsbury

    A Cezanne in the Hedge and Other Memories of Charleston and Bloomsbury
    The Bloomsbury circle has long preoccupied writers, critics, and the general public alike. For many years its focal point was Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, home to Vanessa and Clive Bell and Duncan Grant.A Cézanne in the Hedgebrings together thirty firsthand reminiscences of the Charleston, vividly and amusingly evoking its creativity—and eccentricity. Childhood memories from Quentin Bell, Angelica Garnett, and Nigel Nicholson are interspersed with appraisals of the work of Bloomsbury members such as Roger Fry, Maynard Keynes, and Virginia Woolf and of their contribution to twentieth-century British art and thought. The finale is a childhood spoof written by Virginia Woolf entitled "A Terrible Tragedy in a Duckpond."

  • Eminent Victorians

    Eminent Victorians
    "Eminent Victorians" marked an epoch in the art of biography; it also helped to crack the old myths of high Victorianism and to usher in a new spirit by which chauvinism, hypocrisy and the stiff upper lip were debunked. In it, Strachey cleverly exposes the self-seeking ambitions of Cardinal Manning and the manipulative, neurotic Florence Nightingale; and in his essays on Dr Arnold and General Gordon, his quarries are not only his subjects but also the public-school system and the whole structure of nineteenth-century liberal values.

    A Month in the Country

    A Month in the Country
    In J. L. Carr's deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter's depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

    Major Critical Essays

    Major Critical Essays

    The Last Colonial

    The Last Colonial
    Christopher Ondaatje is a true child of the British Empire. Born in Ceylon in 1933 and brought up on a tea plantation, he was sent as a teenager to boarding school in England. But soon after Ceylon was granted its independence in 1948, his family found themselves destitute, and the young Ondaatje left school and got a job. In 1956 he made his way to Canada with just thirteen dollars in his pocket. From this improbable beginning there followed a series of commercial triumphs until 1988 when he abruptly abandoned high finance at the peak of his career and reinvented himself as an explorer and author, focusing mainly on the colonial period. It is the curious encounters behind these often precarious adventures that make up The Last Colonial. The stories tell of Ondaatje’s childhood days in Ceylon, his early life in Canada, his fascination with inexplicable events and local superstitions, and his sometimes perilous travels researching biographies of Ernest Hemingway in Africa, Leonard Woolf in Ceylon, and Sir Richard Burton in India and Africa. Complemented by the artist Ana Maria Pacheco’s magical, sometimes disturbing illustrations, the stories conjure up a truly unique portrait of a world that is vanishing forever.

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