The triad of recent revelations about Mother Teresa, Johnny Cash, and Arthur Miller — individuals whose lives you’d think had been pretty fully documented — says a lot about the potential comeuppance for any biographer who believes that he can fully know his subject.
You can research your heart out and still know only what is known and knowable — there’s no way to divine what was never utter aloud or written down, or what has yet to be shared beyond the subject’s most intimate circle.
I wonder whether the danger is greater for writers of biographies for children, with their briefer texts and limited room for shading and ambiguity, or whether there’s an expectation that our audience requires that these texts be more certain.
Don’t look at me for answers. I’m still fairly new at this. I just don’t know.