Ref. No. 8
||Sept. 17, 2001
||Trailblazing biographer to deliver Pratt Lecture
Note to editors:
One of Canada's most eminent biographers, Phyllis Grosskurth, O.C., will
deliver Memorial University's Pratt Lecture on Friday, Sept. 21, 2001.
Prof. Grosskurth has written a series of major biographies of such figures
as Lord Byron, Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, John Addington Symons, and
Leslie Stephens. Her lecture is entitled Who is killing Biography? The
lecture, which is free and open to the public, begins at 8 p.m. in the Reid
Theatre, located in the Arts and Administration Building on Memorial's St.
Born in Toronto in the 1920s, Prof. Grosskurth did her undergraduate degree
in the Faculty of Arts and Science, studying English literature at Trinity
College, University of Toronto. She finished the degree in 1960 and went to
the University of London for her doctoral program, where her thesis was on
a 19th-century British writer named John Addington Symonds.
In the course of her research Grosskurth found Symond's previously unknown
autobiography, which revealed he was a homosexual, and turned her thesis
into a book. When the biography was published it sparked controversy by
overturning previous assumptions about one of Britain's esteemed men of
letters, but it also established her writing career. In 1965 the book won
the Governor General's award for non-fiction, and she was just named an
officer of the Order of Canada for the almost four decades of distinguished
work that followed it. The attention garnered by the Symonds biography led
to her being asked in 1965 to join the English department at University of
Toronto's oldest federated college, University College. The department
hired her along with two other women-the first female academics hired in
the department's history.
In the ensuing years Prof. Grosskurth combined teaching, which she took
great pleasure in, with biography writing. In her mind, the two were
closely linked. "I always loved being at the university because it was a
learning experience, and writing biography is learning." Her subjects
ranged from Freud and sex researcher Havelock Ellis to the poet Byron. They
are all, in her words, "idiosyncratic subjects" that interested her, and
they all had the appeal of being outcasts in some sense.
Professor Grosskurth, now a professor emeritus at the University of
Toronto, frequently reviews for The New York Review of Books and The Globe
and Mail and lectures on the history of psychoanalysis and the art of
For further information, please contact Ivan Muzychka, manager, Memorial
University News Service, 737-8665.