Murray, Nicholas 1952–
Murray, Nicholas 1952–
PERSONAL: Born 1952, in Liverpool, England. Education: Attended Liverpool University.
CAREER: Writer, biographer, novelist, poet, and literary critic. Participates in many lectures, talks, and readings, and has appeared on television and radio programs.
MEMBER: English PEN, Welsh Academy.
Bruce Chatwin, Seren Books (Brigend, Wales), 1993.
Plausible Fictions (poems), Rack Press (Powys, Wales), 1995.
After Arnold: Culture and Accessibility, The British Library, Centre for the Book (London, England), 1997.
A Short Book about Love, Seren Books (Brigend, Wales), 2001.
Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual, Little, Brown (London, England), 2002, published as Aldous Huxley: A Biography, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Remembering Carmen, Seren (Brigend, Wales), 2003.
The Narrators (poems), Rack Press (Powys, Wales), 2006.
Contributor of articles and reviews to the Independent (London, England), the Independent on Sunday, the Guardian (London, England), the Jewish Chronicle (London, England), the Tribune, Planet (Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales), London Magazine, and Times Literary Supplement. Also contributor of poetry to the New Welsh Review, Metre, Thumbscrew, and Poetry Wales.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A third novel; a new nonfiction book.
SIDELIGHTS: Nicholas Murray is best known for his biographies of literary figures, beginning in 1993 with Bruce Chatwin, an account of the writer whose works included travel volumes, such as On Patagonia, and novels, such as Songlines, On the Black Hill, and Utz. Roger Clarke, writing for the New Statesman & Society, contended that Murray's book constitutes a "short, somewhat peevish biography." But Choice reviewer S. Donovan deemed the biography an "excellent introduction to the life and work of Bruce Chatwin," and Victoria Neumark, in her Times Educational Supplement assessment, described Bruce Chatwin as a "thoughtful but stilted appraisal."
Murray's next biography, A Life of Matthew Arnold, concerns the prominent Victorian writer whose publications include the famous poem "Dover Beach" and the volume Culture and Anarchy. "A strength of this biography is its picture, worked up from contemporary papers, of an educated and well-connected person's life in the mid-19th century," wrote an Economist reviewer. Richard D. Altick, writing in the Washington Post Book World, called A Life of Matthew Arnold a "well-researched and eminently readable study," and James R. Kincaid observed in the New York Times Book Review that Murray's book provides "the finest picture yet of Arnold as a playful and poised ironist, against-the-grain social critic, mocker of the knowing and the smug."
World Enough and Time: The Life of Andrew Marvell derives the first part of its title from "To His Coy Mistress," Marvell's most popular poem. A Publishers Weekly reviewer contended that Murray's "presentation of [Marvell's] love life lacks excitement," but he acknowledged Murray as "eminently sensible in his assessment of Marvell's possible homosexuality and Lolita-like alliances." Stephen Wade wrote in Contemporary Review: "This new biography will provide assistance in the effort of making judgments and insights into this very amiable, talented and ultimately startlingly original writer."
Despite the surfeit of biographies on illustrious writer Aldous Huxley, Murray took a different look at the author's life in Aldous Huxley: A Biography. With this book, Murray set out to "show in this fresh life that he [Huxley] may be speaking to our current condition in more interesting ways than has recently been allowed," Murray stated in the book. Murray shows special interest in the relationship between Huxley and his wife, Maria Nuys, which is, according to Utopian Studies contributor Toby Widdicombe, where the book "shines." Widdicombe went on to comment that despite the book's "organizational problems," Murray "deals well with human suffering" when describing the illness that led to Huxley's death, but also "does well with the mystic stage in Huxley's intellectual development," a facet missing from many other biographies on the writer. Widdicombe concluded that the book is "well worth reading," and that "above all, Murray shows himself quite frequently to be the experienced biographer that he is as he moves aside to let his subjects speak." In a Booklist review, Donna Seaman depicted the book as a "vivid and fast-flowing portrait."
For his next biographical undertaking, Murray turned to the famous German-language novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka in Kafka. In what Library Journal contributor Ali Houissa described as a "fascinating portrait" and "balanced literary biography," "Murray offers a new and original reading of one of the most complex writers of the twentieth century." Nation contributor John Banville maintained that Murray's Kafka is "eminently sensible on a subject about which much high-flown transcendental nonsense has been written." Banville regarded Murray as "scrupulous" and went on to describe the biography as "a good straightforward account of the life, and of the work," pointing out that "where Kafka's self-condemnations are concerned, he [Murray] lays out the evidence and leaves the judgments to others." Banville concluded: "His portrait is all the more moving for the measured fashion in which it is executed."
"Kafka is a fascinating subject," Murray told Mark Thwaite in an interview for the ReadySteadyBook Web site. "The resources a biographer can draw on … are very rich indeed and enable us to explore and share the intimate life of Kafka in a way that is simply not possible with a writer like Huxley," who Murray described as "far less self-analytical." When asked what advice he had to offer to aspiring writers, Murray responded: "My advice to young writers is very, very simple: read…. If you are saturated in the very best writing, some of it will rub off."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Murray, Nicholas, Aldous Huxley: A Biography, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.
Biography, winter, 2001, James A. Winn, review of World Enough and Time: The Life of Andrew Marvell, p. 342; summer, 2003, Clive James, review of Aldous Huxley: A Biography.
Booklist, March 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Aldous Huxley, p. 1268.
Choice, October, 1993, S. Donovan, review of Bruce Chatwin, p. 291; February, 2001, A.C. Labriola, review of World Enough and Time.
Contemporary Review, August, 2000, Stephen Wade, "Andrew Marvell: The Poet and His World," p. 120; February, 2005, Anthony Radice, "Kafka and His World," review of Kafka, p. 116.
Economist, July 20, 1996, review of A Life of Matthew Arnold; June 17, 2000, review of World Enough and Time, p. S13.
International Fiction Review, January, 2004, Lidan Lin, "Aldous Huxley in the Age of Global Literary Studies," p. 78.
Library Journal, November 1, 2004, Ali Houissa, review of Kafka, p. 85.
Nation, October 18, 2004, John Banville, "The Human Stain," review of Kafka, p. 34.
New Criterion, June, 2000, Paul Dean, review of World Enough and Time, p. 78.
New Statesman & Society, October 22, 1993, Roger Clarke, review of Bruce Chatwin; May 31, 1996, Fred Inglis, review of A Life of Matthew Arnold, p. 39.
New York Times Book Review, March 16, 1997, James R. Kincaid, "Culture and Irony," review of A Life of Matthew Arnold.
Nineteenth-Century Literature, June, 1999, Dorothy Mermin, review of A Life of Matthew Arnold, p. 110.
Publishers Weekly, March 6, 2000, review of World Enough and Time.
Spectator, June 8, 1996, William Buchan, review of A Life of Matthew Arnold, p. 32; December 18, 1999, Julian Mitchell, review of World Enough and Time, p. 69.
Times Educational Supplement, May 7, 1993, Victoria Neumark, "Chatwin's Tracks."
Times Higher Education Supplement, November 17, 2000, review of World Enough and Time, p. 41.
Times Literary Supplement, June 14, 1996, Nicholas Shrimpton, review of A Life of Matthew Arnold, pp. 4-5; January 28, 2000, Blair Worden, review of World Enough and Time, p. 9.
Utopian Studies, spring, 2005, Toby Widdicombe, review of Aldous Huxley, p. 290.
Washington Post Book World, February 26, 1997, Richard D. Altick, review of A Life of Matthew Arnold.
ReadySteadyBook, http://www.readysteadybook.com/ (May 11, 2004), Mark Thwaite, interview with Nicholas Murray.