Hermione Lee to Write Tom Stoppard Biography

Faber & Faber is pleased to announce the acquisition of the biography of Tom Stoppard by Hermione Lee on the day that she is appointed a Dame for services to literature.

Editorial Director for Drama, Dinah Wood, acquired UK & Commonwealth rights including Europe and excluding Canada from Caroline Dawnay at United Agents. Faber will also handle serial and translation rights. The publication date has not yet been scheduled.

Hermione Lee commented as follows:

‘It is immensely exciting for me that I am going to write Sir Tom Stoppard’s biography. This wonderful literary opportunity has come out of some conversations with him in which he’s given the project his enthusiastic blessing. He has told me he will help in any way he can: he said “he thought he would be one of my more important sources”. But he also said that he will like to think of my work on him going on in a “parallel universe”, while he gets on with his own work and life. This seems to me a good way for a living subject to treat their biographer.

To have Tom Stoppard as a biographical subject is, in prospect, an extraordinary joy and privilege. It’s to spend the next few years researching, thinking about, and writing on our greatest living dramatist, a playwright whose imagination ranges across life, art, language, science, history, politics and philosophy with dazzling inventiveness and generosity, one of the funniest, most intelligent and most humane writers on earth. It’s to pursue the story of a life of high drama and interest, moving in childhood from Czechoslovakia, Singapore, Australia and India to England, and in adulthood from journalism to theatre, radio and film. It’s a story full of remarkable men and women from all over the world and in many different professions, from actors and directors to philosophers and scientists to world-leaders such as Vaclav Havel. It’s a story that spans, already, fifty years of astonishing writing, from the leap to fame in the 1960s with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to, most recently, the brilliant and moving BBC TV adaptation of Parade’s End.

‘It’s also a story of political involvement, activism, and courage. Tom Stoppard was given the PEN/Pinter Prize this year, and in his acceptance speech he talked about the conditions of life which he values: “the freedom to think for oneself, to use one’s discretion, to name things for what they are and not for what they purport to be, to apply common sense, and common humanity.” In his work with PEN, Amnesty, Index on Censorship, and on behalf of freedom of expression, for instance in defence of the Belarus Free Theatre, he contributes, without self-advertisement, to those values. This is a story of a writer with his ear to the world.

‘As a biographer I always start from a position of admiration for the work and curiosity about the complex relationship between the work and the life. As well as being a biographer, I’m a teacher and a literary critic, and the head of an Oxford graduate college (Wolfson College, founded by Isaiah Berlin, one of Stoppard’s intellectual heroes). I’ve written biographies of Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton and Penelope Fitzgerald, and books on Elizabeth Bowen and Philip Roth. For me, this project is a first. I’ve never yet written a biography of a living person, a dramatist, or a man. Nothing could be more interesting for me than to take on this new challenge, bringing to it the experience of forty or so years of writing books about writers.

‘Many of Tom Stoppard’s works play with the problem of biography, the tricks of memory, and the truths and travesties involved in reconstructing the past: think of Arcadia, Indian Ink, Travesties, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia. From Housman to Herzen, from Tristan Tzara to Turgenev, real people inhabit his imaginary worlds, but not in the ways they might have expected when they were alive. One of the characters in Indian Ink says: “Biography is the worst possible excuse for getting people wrong”. I have the chance to get this person right, and I hope I may succeed.’

Dinah Wood said of the acquisition:

‘To unite one of our most brilliant and charismatic playwrights with the highly distinguished biographer Hermione Lee is a dazzling prospect. Faber has published Tom Stoppard since 1967: I cannot wait to discover what has been going on behind the scenes. So far, we have had only tantalizing glimpses. It is a dream acquisition for the list.’

Faber’s CEO Stephen Page said:

‘We couldn’t be more delighted, this will be a landmark publication for Faber.’