Kay Redfield Jamison, a MacArthur Fellow and author of the standard text on manic-depressive illness and many other studies on the subject, begins her book by denying that she has written a biography. Since she is dealing with an individual and with the major episodes of his life, how is this not a biography? She does not say. But I presume she is thinking of biography as a chronological narrative that includes not just the major, but also many of the minor details of a subject’s life as part of a complete account. She does not say anything, really, about biography as a genre, except implicitly in her attack on Ian Hamilton’s Lowell biography, which many of Lowell’s friends, according to Jamison, dislike, and which she represents as having done a disservice to its subject.

The brief against Hamilton is that he makes too much of Lowell’s mental...

 

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