The kangaroo and the fountain-pen: Nina Hamnett and the artist as autobiographer

Binckes, F (2017) The kangaroo and the fountain-pen: Nina Hamnett and the artist as autobiographer. In: Word and Image: the Second Modernist Network Cymru, 12 - 13 September 2017, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Wales.

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In a 1952 review of Augustus John’s memoir Chiaroscuro, Wyndham Lewis drew attention to the anomalous position of the artist-autobiographer. Augustus John is an exceptionally good writer; and upon this most reviewers have dilated, with a tendency to compare him with other painters who have written books. This is the obvious reaction, it would seem, when a painter takes to the pen: to see a man of that calling engaged in literary composition, affects people as if they had surprised a kangaroo, fountain-pen in hand, dashing off a note. This paper explores the position of another such disciplinary kangaroo: Augustus John’s near contemporary, friend, and compatriot Nina Hamnett. Born, like John and his sister Gwen, in Tenby, Hamnett occupies a seemingly privileged position within the narratives of British artistic modernism. Her reputation as modernist innovator and bohemian icon was assured during her lifetime, and has endured. This visibility facilitated the publication of her best-selling autobiography Laughing Torso (1932) and its less well-known sequel Is She a Lady? (1955), the former playing a prominent role in retrospective assessments of Hamnett’s life and career. And yet, as Lewis understood, the tendency to read artist’s autobiographies primarily for their historical content has produced a curious critical blind spot: Hamnett’s status and location as a writer. This aporia is particularly visible given the level of attention paid to the graphic output of modernist writers, and to the framing of autobiographical texts by Hamnett’s male contemporaries, including John himself.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NE Print media
P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2018 16:59
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:47
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