Ian Hamilton   Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography from Shakespeare to Plath.
Faber & Faber, 344 pages, $24.95

reviewed by Thomas Mallon

This highly sensible and entertaining study of literary biography seems to have surprised its own author. Ian Hamilton’s prescription for approaching writers’ lives slowly and respectfully “may sound fishy,” he admits, “coming as it does from the biographer of Robert Lowell (d. 1977) and the near, would-be or failed biographer of J. D. Salinger (1919– ), but there it is. We live and learn.” Indeed, those who remember the Lowell book as a repetitive, over-documented re-creation of nervous breakdown after nervous breakdown, and who followed Hamilton’s later battle over the Salinger letters, will be pleased to see how lean and writer-friendly Keepers of the Flame has turned out. Its...


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