A Look at Biographies

Wow, I just got a notice that it’s my 7 year anniversary on WordPress. Imagine.

While reading some of Thomasina Beck’s books on the history of embroidery, the name of Ottoline Morrell kept coming up, particularly in reference to a bedspread she had embroidered during her years as a hostess and friend to Virginia Woolf and others in the Bloomsbury Group. Also, Ottoline was friendly with May Morris, the daughter of William Morris and she cropped up in the biography of William Morris I read last year.

I read a biography of Ottoline several years ago after initially reading about her in a Bertrand Russell biography and Virginia Woolf’s biography by her nephew Quentin Bell. The Bloomsbury people ate and drank and lingered on at Ottoline’s home for weeks, but made fun of her and gossiped about her behind her back. They were quite ratty to her at times which was why I wanted to learn more about her.

She carried on a long-term affair with Bertrand Russell which I also found intriguing. Despite the ridicule she endured she had some kind of hold on people, she was interesting and rather eccentric and given to wearing extravagant, rather outré clothing. I have a lot of respect for her. I bet she was a good friend even when the sentiment was not reciprocated.

But in reading about her in these embroidery books, I realized I had forgotten quite a bit about her so wanted to re-read her biography. The first time I got an inter-library loan for it, but this time I ordered a used paperback so I could read it slowly and have it in my collection to re-read again, and perhaps get my husband to read it.


Ottoline Morrell: Life on the Grand Scale by Miranda Seymour is a good book. I also think I’ve read several other biographies of the time since then so will find it even more interesting the second time. Not bad for $11 CAD. I tend to read groups of biographies. This period in the early 20th century is fascinating and filled with interesting artists and writers. I find myself coming back to it.

So much so that I’m going to re-read Virginia Woolf’s biography too.


In the past week I read two attention-grabbing biography books by James Bowen. The first is A Street Cat Named Bob and the sequel is The World According to Bob. WELL worth it and both about James and his cat in London, England. It has been translated into 26 languages, so he has quite a following throughout the world.


It’s very easy to ignore the homeless or assume they are all losers. Really, these are assumptions based on ignorance. I like to read books like this to remind me to look closer.

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4 Responses to A Look at Biographies

  1. Congratulations on seven years in wordpress. What an interesting post, I have just finished watching the TV series on the Pre-Raphelites, ‘Desperate Romantics’, and have been researching them and have moved onto William Morris, you have just opened up a new avenue of exploration, thank you. Such an interesting time and people. Karen

  2. JJ ColourArt says:

    Thanks Karen, it hardly seems like 7 years.

    The Morris biography I read was by Fiona MacCarthy. No one does socialism like the rich!

    Don’t forget Gertrude Stein, G.B. Shaw and all the artists like Kandinsky, Chagall, Georgio de Chirico, Magritte, the Vienna contingent like Klimt and Schiele, dancer Isadora Duncan, Georgia O’Keeffe and early photographers Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz.

    So many things to explore.

    • Thanks, it is amazing when you start this type of adventure there are so many different avenues to explore, great tips for me to follow up on.

      • JJ ColourArt says:

        I started with Georgia O’Keeffe, and that led to Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz and then Isadora Duncan. It really is a snowball. I also read a biography of Man Ray.

        At some point I want to read a bio of Willem de Kooning–the only Abstract Expressionist whose work I can take seriously. There is apparently a massive 700-page bio of him. Read one biography and you get the whole group and what was going on at the time, and then it leads on.

        American poet Frank O’Hara–read his biography and it led to others of painters and musicians of the time. I LOVE biographies.

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