ART & LIFE

POSTCARD BIOGRAPHIES FROM THE ARCHIVES OF THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
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The Independent Culture
Starting in the late 1920s, the National Portrait Gallery invited leading writers to create 70-word biographies, of subjects whose portraits hang in the Gallery, for the backs of postcards. In this 12-week series, we present some of the most exceptional and unexpected of these unknown literary gems

1. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) on George Eliot (1819-1880)

Sprung from country people but insatiably intellectual, George Eliot's early novels are the fruit of happy memory; her later of melancholy thought. Isolated by an ambiguous marriage, extravagantly praised, she early lost vitality and her novels suffered. But she stretched the capacity of fiction, and forced it not only to tell a story and reflect manners but to contain the comment and criticism of a large mind brooding over life. V Woolf

The art of biography exemplified? Some contributors needed several drafts, and a few anguished letters, to compress their thoughts into 70 acceptable words. Virginia Woolf seemed to have no trouble submitting her copy exactly to length, and it makes a brilliant example of how to frame pithy criticism, essential biographical information and thoughts on the nature of fiction in so short a space. No one seemed to mind the ungrammatical opening.

Portraits, drawings and letters from the "postcard biography" archives are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2. Free.

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