Letter: We want heroes and so we want biography

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The Independent Online
Letter: We want heroes and so

Ben Pimlott ("Cultivating a deliberate deceit", 23 November) says "many scholars look down on biographies", and that however popular a form it is - indeed because it is so popular - academics are suspicious of it. But now, he says, "one enterprising university has just started an MA in biography".

In the English department at the University of York, we've been running a successful MA on "Life-writing: autobiography and biography" for two years. And at an Anglo-French biography conference organised by the British Council in Paris last week, the biographer Richard Holmes suggested, to applause, the foundation of a Chair in European biography.

These days, biography is taken seriously, as well as read hugely. This isn't just because we're all gossips and voyeurs at heart. We have a passionate interest in what Pimlott calls "the notion of a model life". More than ever before, we want heroes and heroines, we want life-stories, and we want to know how individuals reflect their times. Biography is more than entertainment: it matters to us.

Hermione Lee

Weeton, Leeds

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