Nadine Gordimer has had much to survive this year–being assaulted by thieves at the age of 82 in her own home, grimacing reviews of her most recent novel, and now more reports about the rift between the Nobel Prize-winning author and her biographer, Ronald Suresh Roberts.
Rachel Donadio reports for the New York Times:
Among other things, Gordimer objected to the way he characterized an affair she had in the early ’50s , Roberts said. She also found distasteful Roberts’s account of the slow decline and death, in 2001, of her second husband, Reinhold Cassirer, a refugee from Nazi Germany and the nephew of the philosopher Ernst Cassirer.
More correspondence followed, in which Gordimer expressed objections both to Farrar, Straus and to Roberts, who insisted on his right to authorial autonomy….
In “No Cold Kitchen,” Roberts writes how Gordimer once introduced him to her Swedish publisher. “ ‘Ronald is my biographer,’ ” she says. “ ‘He is dangerous.’ She paused with the kind of grimace easily mistaken for a smile: ‘It’s a very strange relationship.’ ”
I’m not sure why the NYT did the story now; the first stories came out back in 2004:
“Ronald Suresh Roberts told the Guardian he was shaken by how a subject he revered turned on him after a seven-year collaboration intended to produce a sympathetic biography of her life and work.
The 80-year-old’s objections led to publishers in the United States and Britain dumping the manuscript. “She is supposed to represent freedom of speech but she wanted complete control, tsar-like, which would have turned the manuscript into pious crap.”
I suppose there are few relationships as close, and as twisted, as the one between a biographer and his subject. And it’s probably the fact that they spent seven years in collaboration that makes some of this sound exactly like the messy end of a marriage juddering to a halt.