Greer savages `dung beetle' biographer

An unauthorised look at the feminist's life has inflamed the privacy row

An Unauthorised biography of Germaine Greer has provoked a furious attack from the feminist, who has denounced the Australian journalist who wrote it as a "parasite". It has also rekindled a fiery debate about the invasion of famous people's privacy.

Even before the publication in Australia this week of Greer: Untamed Shrew, its subject has described Christine Wallace, the book's author, as a "dung beetle", "intestinal flora" and a "wretched bloody woman". And already, some fellow feminists have sprung to Ms Greer's defence, likening Ms Wallace to a paparazzo hounding Diana, Princess of Wales. The Greer biography is due to be published in Britain next year.

Ms Wallace spent four years researching her book, which traces Ms Greer's childhood in Melbourne, her postgraduate years at Cambridge and her life as an celebrity after the publication 27 years ago of The Female Eunuch, the ground-breaking book about women's liberation.

When she wrote to Ms Greer asking for co-operation, Ms Wallace received the sort of reply that would have turned many an author pale and made them question whether it was worth going on. Ms Greer later instructed her friends and family not to speak to Ms Wallace, and warned that she would have the author "kneecapped" if she approached her mother, Peggy Greer, in Melbourne.

Ms Wallace yesterday told the Sydney Morning Herald, which ran extracts from her book last week: "I was completely devastated. It was very damaging to me and to the project."

But go on she did. At the base of Ms Greer's response was the unspoken question: who is Christine Wallace, and what right does she have to dissect my life? At 37, Ms Wallace is a generation younger than Ms Greer, 58. She is a finance journalist who lives in Canberra. She justified her project on grounds that Ms Greer is one of the two most famous Australians to stride the world stage. The other, Rupert Murdoch, has been the subject of several biographies, all unauthorised.

Many people obeyed Ms Greer's orders and closed ranks against Ms Wallace, but some did not. Among the latter was Peggy Greer, who appears to have ignored her daughter's wishes (the same way Mr Murdoch's mother, Dame Elisabeth, ignored his some years ago). Ms Wallace has disguised her informants and, from the slabs of text released so far, it is not always clear whether she is relying on fresh information or on interviews already published with Ms Greer and others.

Predictably, Australian newspapers have chosen to extract the most racy sections, dealing with Ms Greer's early life as a sexual liberationist. There is an account of her, in her "search for a beddable Englishman", struggling on a cricket ground under the moonlight with the host of a dinner party after the other guests had gone. "She lost a pounds 15 earring and bawled him out for lack of loyalty to the cricket club, leaving him smoothing the ravaged wicket remorsefully," Ms Wallace writes.

As queen of the London counter-culture in the Sixties, Ms Greer met Tom Wolfe, the American writer. He found her "unforgettable, [with] the most outrageous mouth I had ever heard on a woman". Ms Wallace writes: "As their dinner together proceeded at a restaurant on the King's Road, Germaine got bored and set fire to her hair. Two waiters ran over and flapped furiously at the flames with napkins, while Greer sat with a sublime smile on her face."

Ms Wallace maintains she was more interested in Ms Greer's intellectual roots than her sexual adventures, and that her book as a whole reflects this.

She is not the only Australian writer recently to resurrect Ms Greer's early life. A more sassy portrait of the undergraduate Germaine Greer at the University of Melbourne in the late Fifties has emerged in Screw Loose, a memoir by another Australian journalist, Peter Blazey, published posthumously last month.

Blazey recalled how Ms Greer's uninhibited acting performances in student revues turned her into a campus celebrity: "Tall, loose-limbed and good- humoured, she strode around the campus, aware that she was much talked about. Wild rumour swirled behind her like a nimbus. She wore the smile of someone preparing to quit Melbourne forever. We male virgins gossiped about her, as nuns might giggle over the visit of Madonna Ciccone to their nunnery. In 1959, she was a walking one-woman sexual revolution."

When Ms Greer made a sexually provocative remark to Frank Knopfelmacher, a conservative right-wing academic and commentator, he replied: "Ah, Miss Greer, you are so unconventional - in such a conventional way." Blazey wrote: "Germaine laughed at this elegant put-down. In those days, she didn't mind being sent up."

These days, it is a different story. Ms Wallace's book has yet to be assessed for what light, if any, it throws on Germaine Greer the feminist, polemicist and thinker. The book's titbits about her personal life are unlikely to advance an image that already exists of Germaine the fearless non-conformist, whose shocking behaviour 30 years ago looks somewhat tame today.

But that is not the point, according to Susan Mitchell, an Australian feminist writer, who last week attacked Ms Wallace for invading Ms Greer's privacy. "Should we not ask just who is the victim here?" said Ms Mitchell. "The unwilling Greer or the self-righteous Wallace? It is painful enough for the subject who willingly agrees to be interviewed and then feels betrayed, but how much more painful when someone with whom you feel no empathy, and with whom you have no wish to speak, assumes the moral right to interpret your life and make money out of it."

That question no doubt will be asked again when Ms Greer herself returns to her home city in a fortnight to give a keynote address on "Sex, Angst and the Millennium" at the Melbourne Writers' Festival. People are waiting to see whether she slams the book or treats it with lofty disdain. Ms Wallace, it seems, is resigned to the latter.

"I do not want a public fight with Germaine Greer," she told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I've had Germaine in my head for nearly four years. As admirable and fascinating as she is, that's really been enough."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Sales, Bristol

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Birmingham

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Manchester

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT)

£100 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are active...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game