While speculation has always been crucial to biography, it has often been neglected, denied or misunderstood. This edited collection brings together a group of international biographers to discuss how, and why, each uses speculation in their work; whether this is to conceptualise a project in its early stages, work with scanty or deliberately deceptive sources, or address issues associated with shy or stubborn subjects. After defining the role of speculation in biography, the volume offers a series of work-in-progress case studies that discuss the challenges biographers encounter and address in their work. In addition to defining the ‘speculative spectrum’ within the biographical endeavour, the collection offers a lexicon of new terms to describe different types of biographical speculation, and more deeply engage with the dynamic interplay between research, subjectivity and that which Natalie Zemon Davis dubbed ‘informed imagination’. By mapping the field of speculative biography, the collection demonstrates that speculation is not only innate to biographical practice but also key to rendering the complex mystery of biographical subjects, be they human, animal or even metaphysical.
Table of Contents
Part 1. Contexts and Methods
Experiments, Opportunities and Provocations in Speculative Biography: Opening and Overview
Donna Lee Brien and Kiera Lindsey
A New Contextualisation of ‘"The Facts Formed a Line of Buoys in the Sea of My Own Imagination": History, Fiction and Speculative Biography’"
Donna Lee Brien
The Speculative Method: Scientific Guesswork and Narrative as Laboratory
Part 2. Experiments
On the Threshold: Conceptual Speculation
Ffion Murphy with Donna Lee Brien and Kiera Lindsey
Show Your Workings: Towards A Creative Historical Toolkit
William G. Pooley
Scrying the Lost Wildflowers of ‘Wee Witchee Wee’
Writing to Save Sun Bears: Speculating about Non-Human Characters within Biography
Sarah Pye with Paul Williams
Choreographing George Balanchine: The Life as Ballet Program
Part 3. Opportunities
Speculating about a Spy: Working with ‘Suspicious Sources’ in Deciphering the Life of Ralph Harry
Based on the Evidence and My Experience: The Role of Speculative Biography in a Decolonised Reimagining of the Bungalow, Alice Springs 1914–1929
Bespoke Biography: Writing Fiona Foley Provocateur: An Art Life
Using Informed Imagination When Writing About Controversial Characters: The Case of Dr Felix Kersten and Himmler
Anne M. Carson
Part 4. Provocations
Speculative Historical Viability: A Grave Undertaking?
Challenges and Limitations of Speculation in True Crime Biography: A Lawyer’s Lens
Biographical ‘Facts’ and Speculative Forms: Writing John and Rose Morley Through New Eyes
Kevin A. Morrison
The Curious Case of Cornelius Cardew: An Exercise in Reflective Speculation
Why Not Tell?: Eddie Samuels, the Authentic Self and the Novel as Speculative Autobiography
Speculative Biography as Dewdrop: Writing Women’s Lives
Donna Lee Brien is Emeritus Professor of Creative Industries at Central Queensland University, Australia. Specialising in research on genres of non-fiction writing, Donna has published 23 books and monographs. Author of The Shadow Side of Nursing: Paradox, Image and Identity (with Margaret McAllister, 2020), co-edited collections include Writing the Australian Beach: Local Site, Global Idea (2020), Publishing and Culture (2019), Offshoot: Contemporary Life Writing Methodologies and Practice (2018), The Routledge Companion to Literature and Food (2018) and Recovering History through Fact and Fiction: Forgotten Lives (2017). Past President of national peak body the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, Donna co-edits The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture.
Kiera Lindsey is a Senior Research Fellow conducting an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award on speculative biography and historical craft at the University of Technology Sydney. She has published book chapters and journal articles on nineteenth-century history, historical craft and biography. Her first speculative biography, The Convict’s Daughter was published in 2018 and described as ‘fearlessly carving a new path between history and fiction’. Her second is concerned with colonial artist and republican, Adelaide Ironside. Kiera has been an on-camera historian and a regular guest on ABC Radio National. She is currently an executive councillor with the History Council of New South Wales.
"A really useful essay collection in which critic practitioners explore speculative biography in inventive and subtle ways, adding valuable terms to theory and critical debate. Drawing on challenges across a wide range of projects, contributors make their encounters with narrative difficulties into productive conversations that will inspire and interest life writing scholars."
- Clare Brant, Centre for Life-Writing Research, King’s College London
"At a time when life narratives declare themselves biofiction, autofiction, creative non-fiction, or simply "based on a true story," Speculative Biography: Experiments, Opportunities, and Provocations applies critical and theoretical rigor to life representation as a product and a practice. Its contributors describe and assess challenges encountered and answered in the process of assembling and imagining a "life world," as archive, supposition, and method come together in narratives that acknowledge the nuances of represented truth"
- Craig Howes, Director, Center for Biographical Research, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa