Bair, Deirdre 1935–
Bair, Deirdre 1935–
PERSONAL: Born June 21, 1935, in Pittsburgh, PA; married Lavon H. Bair (a museum administrator), May 29, 1957; children: Von Scott, Katherine Tracy. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., 1957; Columbia University, M.A., 1968, Ph.D., 1972. Politics: Liberal. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—Woodbridge, CT.
CAREER: Freelance journalist, 1957–69; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, assistant professor of English, beginning 1976; New York University Institute for the Humanities, professor of contemporary literature and culture; lecturer and writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Awards for biography, 1981, for Samuel Beckett: A Biography; fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, C.G. Jung Foundation, Australian University, Griffith University, and New York University Institute for the Humanities.
Samuel Beckett: A Biography, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (New York, NY), 1978, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Anaïs Nin: A Biography, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
Jung: A Biography, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.
Calling It Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of journalism and scholarly articles to various publications.
SIDELIGHTS: Deirdre Bair's study of Samuel Beckett is most amazing in that the Irish author had never before permitted a biographer's inspection. Consequently, his promise to neither help nor hinder her efforts was all the encouragement Bair needed to embark on her task. For six years she probed into Beckett's life, corresponding with hundreds of his friends and acquaintances, to produce her award-winning Samuel Beckett: A Biography.
One of Bair's intents, as written in her preface, is to offer a "factual foundation for all subsequent critical exegesis." Whether or not she succeeded in establishing such a groundwork has been debated by critics. Some critics have claimed that the volume contains hearsay, while others have praised it for its factual trivia. Much of Bair's focus on the mysterious Beckett surrounds his relationship with his mother, who was angered by her son's literary commitment. She went as far as to fake illness to draw him from this task. Their relationship was forever volatile, and Beckett himself suffered from guilt, as well as physical ailments that included boils, cysts, and tremors. Bair's work on the biography of Beckett earned her a National Book Award for biography.
Bair followed her volume on Beckett with Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography. This volume offers insights into the life of the French feminist author of fiction and nonfiction—including The Second Sex—who lived openly with existentialist philosopher John Paul Sartre and edited his work. Their relationship lasted from 1929 until his death in 1980, a time during which Sartre took other lovers. Her other long-term relationship was with American novelist Nelson Algren, beginning in 1947, and Bair draws on the hundreds of letters written by her to him, in English. The letters reveal this relationship as the only love in de Beauvoir's life that brought her both intellectual and sexual fulfillment.
Anaïs Nin: A Biography is an account of the life of the controversial writer. A Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor wrote of the book: "Bair's steady documentation is the ideal counterpart to Nin's life and work." Much of what we know of Nin comes from her diaries, which Bair notes are not entirely truthful, and Nin herself kept her lies in a box in order to keep track of them. Nin was born in Paris and abandoned by her father, with whom she purportedly later had a sexual relationship. Bair describes Nin as a "major minor writer," and told Salon interviewer Cynthia Joyce that the perfect sexual life Nin writes of in her diaries caused women to strike out in search of similar lives, often with unsatisfying results. Nin took many lovers, including the author Henry Miller, and boasted of having sex with four or five men in a day. Her erotic fiction brought her success, and she took her work seriously. Her husband, Hugo Guiler, a poet who turned banker in order to support Nin's lifestyle, was generous to a fault, which nearly bankrupted him. Her much younger second husband, Rupert Pole, survived Nin, and he and Nin's family and friends afforded Bair access to her personal papers.
Jung: A Biography is Bair's study of the psychoanalyst who studied with Sigmund Freud. Carl Jung distanced himself from Freud and his belief that at the heart of all neuroses and psychoses lies an incest complex. He drew on a variety of methods, including dreams, to analyze his patients, most of whom were wealthy and sexually frustrated women. A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded by saying that Bair's examination of the elderly Jung, in "'a vanishing world,' trying to understand himself at last by writing his brilliant memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections, is riveting, inspiring, and unforgettable." The reviewer called Jung a "triumph of scholarship [that remains] highly accessible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic, June, 1990, Susan Rubin Suleiman, review of Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography, p. 113.
Belles Lettres, January, 1996, Boyd Zenner, review of Anaïs Nin: A Biography, p. 4.
Booklist, March 1, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Anaïs Nin, p. 1174; October 15, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of Jung: A Biography, p. 360.
Bookwatch, July, 2006, Alma Bond, review of Jung.
Contemporary Review, July, 2004, review of Jung, p. 61.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2003, review of Jung, p. 1205.
Library Journal, October 15, 2003, E. James Lieberman, review of Jung, p. 84.
New Criterion, November, 2003, Anthony Daniels, review of Jung, p. 23.
New Republic, June 11, 1990, Anne Hollander, review of Simone de Beauvoir, p. 27.
New Statesman & Society, June 23, 1995, Victoria Radin, review of Anaïs Nin, p. 43.
Newsweek, March 20, 1995, Laura Shapiro, review of Anaïs Nin, p. 65.
Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1990, Wendy Smith, "PW Interviews Deirdre Bair: This Biographer Finds It an Advantage To Write about People While They're Still Alive," p. 47; February 6, 1995, review of Anaïs Nin, p. 71; September 15, 2003, review of Jung, p. 52.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1995, review of Anaïs Nin, p. 249.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1995, Nancy Mairs, review of Anaïs Nin, p. 21.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1995, Bettina L. Knapp, review of Anaïs Nin, p. 803.
New York University Institute for the Humanities Web site, http://www.nyu.edu/ (September 22, 2006), biography.
Salon, http://www.salon.com/ (September 22, 2006), Cynthia Joyce, "Dear Diary: Deirdre Bair on the Secret Life of Anaïs Nin" (interview).