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THE BIBLIO FILE is a leading podcast that examines "the book" and book culture. Hosted by NIGEL BEALE it features wide ranging conversations with writers, poets, book publishers, booksellers, book editors, book collectors, book makers, book scholars, book critics, book designers, book publicists, literary agents and other best practitioners who busy themselves with the world of books.

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Jan 17, 2022

Hermione Lee was President of Wolfson College from 2008 to 2017 and is Emeritus Professor of English Literature in the English Faculty at Oxford University. She is a biographer and critic whose work includes biographies of Virginia Woolf (1996), Edith Wharton (2006) and Penelope Fitzgerald (2013, winner of the 2014 James Tait Black Prize for Biography and one of the New York Times best 10 books of 2014). She has also written books on Elizabeth Bowen, Philip Roth and Willa Cather, and a collection of essays on life-writing, Body Parts. In 2003 she was made a CBE and in 2013 she was made a Dame for services to literary scholarship.
 
We met via Zoom to talk about the what, how and why of biography, and the role of the biographer. During our conversation I reference a book that Hermione wrote in 2009 called Biography: A Very Short Introduction. Topics covered include the practice of autopsy and portraiture; truth and fiction; empathy; conversation; selection and shaping; gossip, privacy and intrusion; the multiplicity of selves and identities; 'definitive' lives; vivid details; anecdotes; obsessional commitment, and detachment; Freud and psychoanalysis; unknowns and gaps; objectivity; Richard Holmes's memoir Footsteps; and Virginia Woolf.