I’ve just started dipping into Kenneth Dover’s Marginal Comment, his autobiographical volume which attracted comment in the press when it was published in 1994 owing to his frank discussion of his powerful desire in 1985 to have one of his colleagues, Trevor Aston killed (“without getting into trouble”). It is full of good things, such as this passage (p.69):
“My ambition in 1945 had been: to marry a congenial wife, and with her to bring up children who would become good people; to get a tutorial fellowship at an Oxford or Cambridge college, preferably Balliol; and to write at least one book which would be well regarded by people in my own subject and would be of lasting value to them. I felt by 1950 that I had not done too badly so far. I leave aside wilder ambitions, such as writing a good novel or becoming Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, and fantasies, such as growing a prehensile tail covered with dense fur.”
I was going to add that good autobiography is extremely rare, but since I barely read autobiographies these days, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. I enjoyed Louis Althusser’s The Future Lasts a Long Time in 1995, and Timothy Garton Ash’s The File more recently, both of which are excellent, though quite odd in their different ways.
Nick reminds me [3.4.2002] of another volume of memoirs, which has always meant a great deal to me: Norman Fowler’s rather blissful effort, Ministers Decide.