Arts: Greer gives biographer a roasting

A biography of Germaine Greer, to be published in Australia next week, has provoked an intemperate attack by the feminist academic. She tells Kathy Marks why she regards its author as `the lowest form of literary life'.
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The timing could not be more perfect. Tomorrow Germaine Greer will arrive in Melbourne to address a writers' festival. She will walk off the aircraft into the arms of waiting television crews, clutching their copies of Greer: Untamed Shrew hot off the press.

For tomorrow is also publication day of the unauthorised biography of one of Australia's most famous exports. The country is already buzzing with gossip about the book, extracts of which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald last week.

Dr Greer has not read it, nor does she plan to. But the mere idea of it has left her frothing with indignation, heaping rich insults upon its author, Christine Wallace, a Canberra-based finance journalist.

Yesterday, as she packed her suitcases at her rambling Essex farmhouse, she was still spitting bile across the equator. The biography, she said, was "a piece of excrement", while Ms Wallace was "a flesh-eating bacterium" and a "brain-dead hack".

"I am still alive, in case it has escaped anyone's notice, and I happen to think that living people own their own lives," she said. "If anyone wants to read it, they should go right ahead. For the purposes of my own sanity, I have no intention of doing so. It's probably got stuff about me dancing naked on tables in pubs. I can't think of anything more hideous."

In fighting mood, Dr Greer also revealed that she planned to issue a libel writ on her return from Australia against The Guardian, over its allegations relating to the appointment by Newnham College, Cambridge, of Dr Rachel Padman, a transsexual. Dr Greer is on the governing body of the all-female college.

Dr Greer, 58, attacked Ms Wallace for interviewing her mother, who she said was suffering from senile dementia. "This is a woman who got into the bath 10 days ago and did not get out for four days," she said. "My mother says whatever comes into her head. If Christine Wallace was crazy enough to believe what she said, then she really is a dimwit.

"Certainly she's no sort of a writer, judging by the letters she sent me ... But I'm not planning to sue her. If this is the only way she can think of to pay the rent, I feel sorry for her."

The biography traces Dr Greer's colourful evolution from Melbourne undergraduate to preacher of sexual liberation in Sixties London. It also examines her life as a feminist icon since the publication in 1970 of her seminal work, The Female Eunuch.

It appears to be the fact that the book has been written at all that is upsetting her, rather than its contents. Yesterday she shrugged off one of its more sensational allegations: that she had an affair with a fellow 12-year-old, Jennifer Dabbs, in Melbourne in the Fifties.

"It's not unusual for schoolgirls to fall in love with each other," she said. "It's no big deal. If Jennifer wants to be famous as a schoolgirl crush, that's up to her."

Dr Greer's final word on Ms Wallace? "She clearly has a wretched propensity for trying to make money out of other people's work. Maybe I should be pleased that I'm not reduced to such ignoble shit in order to make a living."