Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Point-of-view filters

What disturbs me sometimes about biographies is that our ideas of a person are ruled very much by who is still around and willing to talk (or whose words are still around) when the bio is being written. You can't always tell who has an ax to grind, or who has an interest in sugar-coating a reputation. This is not to mention the agenda of the biographer.

In fiction, we can play with these ideas, controlling these points of view deliberately. The character who badmouths someone else: is she providing fair warning, or unjustly smearing that person? Is the narrator being honest? And just how rose-colored are the lenses through which we see the love interest?


  1. I read a biography by someone who is supposed to be an expert on this historical figure. The biographer spent most of his adult life studying and lecturing on his subject. But it is clear that he dislikes, or even hates, the historical figure. It seems as if he does have an agenda.

    1. And that makes me wonder whenever I see it--it seems such a shame to spend all that time and energy researching and writing about a subject one dislikes.

      I thought Farley Mowat did a good job with his bio of Dian Fossey. He clearly admired her, but he covered her honestly enough that you could see why many people did have problems with her. I could see why she did the things she did, but also see where she was overstepping or worse.

      I suppose there are are also biographers who start out liking their subjects and then at some point realize they have dug up material that makes them change their minds!