While in Tasmania recently, with a tour group, I had the privilege of listening to a talk given by author and academic Alison Alexander. She was talking about the subject of her book, Lady Jane Franklin, and it was fascinating. The Ambitions of Lady Jane Franklin was published in 2013. Jane was ambitious, determined, energetic and totally ‘unfeminine’, according to the standards of the day. Her main ambition was to make her husband, explorer John Franklin, a success, but she had other intriguing ideas as well – she tried hard to rid Tasmania of snakes! She took on the tough political world of Van Diemen’s Land, turned her husband’s failure to find the North West Passage into a success, and adopted Aboriginal children to see what happened when they were ‘civilised’. The book deservedly won the National Biography Award in 2014.
Alison was asked at the end of the talk about how necessary it is for a biographer to ‘like’ or ‘admire’ his or her subject. This is something that Richard Holmes also raises in his superb The Long Pursuit, mentioned above. While Alison clearly found much to admire in Jane, there was also a lot to dislike, and it was intriguing to hear what she had to say.
Alison is a prolific author. I have read her biography of Mary Grant Bruce, Billabong’s Author (1979). Other works by Alison that sound interesting include Governor’s Ladies, A Mortal Flame (2013) about Tasmanian novelist Marie Bjelke-Petersen who wrote pulsating romances although she was a lesbian, and one on artist Patricia Giles. Next time I take a tour group to Hobart, we’ll be visiting the Female Factory, so I’ll need to read Alison’s Beneath the Mountain.
I can strongly recommend Alison as a speaker and writer. My tour group was entranced by all she had to tell us and I plan to read more of her historical and biographical works. Have you read any of her books? Tell me by leaving a comment.