The Recovery of the West

There are dangers in a daughter writing her father's biography: the danger that she will be too uncritical if her relationship with him were close and affectionate; or, as is more common these days, that she will be too critical if it were not. Similarly, she may rely too much on her own reminiscences or otherwise insinuate herself into her pages. Christina Scott has done a superb job of steering a clear course, and though her biography of her father, Christopher Dawson, could have been better, it could not have been much better.

Mrs. Scott has a sound sense for the telling detail. She knows that the principles revealed in Henry James' rhetorical questions apply as much to the art of biography as to the art of fiction: "What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?" She spends far less time in telling us what was her father's character than in showing us. This is as it should be.

Take, for instance, her inclusion in full of her father's reply to Christopher Hill's scathing review of Dynamics of World History:

My attention has just been drawn to the article in your current issue by Christopher Hill on "The Church, Marx and History," in which he states that "the late Mr. Dawson was not a great historian."


I do not wish to assert that I am "great" but...

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