The biographer perspires

For a few days, I am almost entirely taken up with two smallish but extended projects that have nothing to do with my biography of George Calderon. This is highly frustrating. I tied up chapter 14, which ends with George going over the top on 4 June 1915, a fortnight ago, and desperately want to get on with chapter 15, which picks up the thread immediately with Kittie’s frantic efforts to find out what had happened to him. I am afraid of losing the momentum of the narrative. I perspire with impatience. Equally, though, I am daunted by the task of telling the rest of Kittie’s life in two chapters amounting to only 5000 words… They will have to be very compressed, but they have got to retain that momentum and interest, because the story of the rest of her life ought to be as moving as that of George’s. If I don’t manage it, I can see that they will be the first thing ‘editors’ say has to go.

I deceive myself, however, in thinking that only these other projects are preventing me from starting chapter 15 and finishing the book; that I have all the knowledge at my finger-tips to complete Kittie’s life. Although I ‘know’ my story and have access to all of Kittie’s extant papers, queer things keep cropping up that have to be researched. For example, I have always known she was born in Donegal on 5 March 1867, but in order to deal with her visit to the family home there in 1939 — which had a powerful impact on her, described in her diary — I have to know exactly where on her father’s large estate she was born. I hadn’t realised this before, because I hadn’t decided I must deal with her Irish visit. I’ve ordered her birth certificate from Eire. Intriguingly, the database entry for this document has her as Catherine, not Katharine. So what is behind that?

I also have to know when her housekeeper (see my post of 4 October 2014) died. Elizabeth Ellis had started with the Calderons at Hampstead in 1911/12 and stayed with Kittie through her peregrinations after 1922 until (it seems) just before Kittie left her home at Ashford in 1948 for nursing care in Brighton. It is not proving easy to pinpoint this death certificate, as the name Elizabeth Ellis is quite common and the window for her death quite wide. Also, I spent a lot of time some years ago trying to establish what happened to Kittie’s ashes, but without success, and must exercise fresh thought and effort on that.

Next entry: A biographer in-spires


About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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