Peter Ackroyd’s Biographies: The Parallel Lives of Thomas More, T.S. Eliot and the Biographer Himself?
Peter Ackroyd is one of the most prolific and accomplished biographers in English literary life. As a native of London and a staunch believer in the genius loci – the spirit of place, Ackroyd’s biographies are indeed cultural biographies, charting the subject’s life on a rich background of ideologies, issues, concerns, values, and beliefs of an age, and in the case of this particular biographer – a place. In Ackroyd’s biographies, the place in question is usually London; he is meticulous in listing particular London localities; his heroes – “London luminaries” and “Cockney visionaries”, as he calls them, tread the same London streets and look at the same London landmarks, separated by a time gap of several centuries. It is argued in the present paper that the typically Ackroydian device of narrating parallel lives lived on the same well-defined territory but separated by a time gap, employed by the author with success in his novels, Hawksmoor and Chatterton, can also be traced as applying “across” his texts and, to an extent, to the interpretation of his own literary path.
In his two highly acclaimed biographies of T.S. Eliot (1984) and Thomas More (1998), which also marked important stages in Ackroyd’s own literary career, the biographer portrays a hero who wins fame by challenging established pieties and the stale conventions of intellectual life dominating in his epoch; whose works are novel and groundbreaking, but who then, in a dramatic turn, reverts to the old, “conservative” positions when he realises that...
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