As a biographer, I’m often more puzzled than enlightened by personal interviews. Establishing the facts is tricky enough, and the truth can be elusive. The people I talk to may be old, in frail health, or have failing memories. They sometimes “remember” what’s been written or said instead of what actually happened, or say what they think I want to hear. They may even lie to make themselves look better. Recently, I came across a new difficulty in literary biography: ideological blindness.

I went to England last November to do research for a life of George Orwell. I had the names of two men, Frank Frankford and Sam Lesser, who’d fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Frankford, who’d been in the Anarchist POUM (United Marxist Workers Party) militia with Orwell, and who was now aged eighty-five, had agreed to see me; but I didn’t know anything about Lesser, or if he...

 

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