Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography by P D James - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

Importunate Biographers Well Kept at Bay

Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography


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Some years ago, in a non-fiction study (titled Deadlier than the Male), I attempted to find out why respectable English women novelists were and still are so good at writing about crime. I concluded that those who choose the genre have several shared characteristics, including an extreme reluctance to make any public exposure of their personal feelings and desires. P D James proves typically reticent, prefacing this 'fragment of autobiography' with the disclaimer: 'There is much that I remember but which is painful to dwell upon. I see no need to write about these things.'

Sooner or later some biographer, no doubt, will do so, but not while Phyllis James is able to prevent it. The late Sir William Golding used to put off researchers into his life by telling them to wait until he had finished his autobiography. He never wrote it. Lady James,

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