Book Review

This time, I’ve gone for something a bit different – a book review.

However, if you’re missing your regular fix of ideas, this week two of the very best Alexander bloggers have both been considering the words you use:
Jen Mackerras   and  Imogen Ragone
I promise that between them they will keep your thinking muscles working.  Meanwhile, here’s what I thought of:

F.M., The Life Of Frederick Matthias Alexander, Founder of the Alexander Technique     Michael Bloch; Little, Brown; 2004

Bloch has produced an intriguing and frustrating biography.  Undoubtedly well-written and well-researched, it cannot in any way be described as neutral or objective.   While it does not exactly come under the heading of a ‘hatchet job’ – Bloch is far too skilful and subtle for that – the criticisms and griping from all manner of different sources is insistent and pervasive, and never balanced by the equivalent measure of praise.  The result is to create an impression of Alexander as a man who had a brilliant idea, but was far too disreputable in character to be a fitting custodian of that idea.  I may be cynical, but having read in the Prologue that Bloch had been, at the time of writing, a student of Walter Carrington for over ten years, I cannot shake my mind free of the suspicion of a hidden agenda.

That said, I would still recommend the book for anyone who wants to build up a picture of a complex character who had a long and colourful life.  Much of Alexander’s background and personal life was insalubrious, to say the least, which is probably why it is carefully avoided in most of the writing about him.   Take a few examples: all four grandparents were transported criminals; he was outspoken and critical with a fearsome temper; he lived with his future wife at the time she was married to her first husband, and the three seem to have had a rather cosy relationship; there is a hint that Irene Tasker left to teach in South Africa because Margaret Goldie was winning in the rivalry for FM’s affections.   None of that popped up during my training course!

However, the more facts that point against FM, the more remarkable his achievement becomes.  In an age that was obsessed by class and family connections (just think of the first series of Downton Abbey), the dubious interloper managed to establish himself as a teacher to a remarkably high strata of London society.  He earned enough for a very comfortable lifestyle for himself and numerous dependants amongst his extended family, and rebuilt his business three times in the face of one economic crash and two world wars.  That is a formidable achievement by anybody’s standards.

CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

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6 comments on “Book Review
  1. Karen, first thanks so much recommending my blog! Secondly, I had forgotten about this book, though it sits upon my book shelf. I read it during my training – and yes we certainly learned many interesting details about FM’s life 😉 I don’t remember feeling that there was any “hidden agenda” though, although the book certainly didn’t skirt the less favorable aspects of his life, that’s for sure! You have peaked my interest again, and I think a re-read is in my near future! Thanks!

  2. Great review Karen. I read this years ago and like Imogen had pretty much forgotten it.
    I think FM’s messy family background was a reflection of the messy background of Tasmania itself – the last part of Australia to be settled by Europeans, the unusually high percentage of whom were convicts and, most of all, the near total elimination of the Tasmanian Aborigines in a very short period of time – rounded up in hunting parties, placed in concentration camps etc. 1869 marked not only FM’s birth, but the death of the last male Aborigine – just 50 years after first settlement.

    I think of FM as a sort of phoenix rising from the ashes of this horror.

    • Hi Robert,

      Glad you liked the review. I didn’t know about the Aborigines, apart from a general awareness of maltreatment across the whole of Australia. It does make me wonder just what it was like growing up in Tasmania at that time, the rigidness, prejudice and brutality on all sides. It’s even more remarkable that FM should come out of that melting pot with an unshakeable belief in the potentialities of human beings, and a determination to help them achieve it. Phoenix is a good metaphor! Karen

  3. samiggmik says:

    Excellent book review, Karen. You’ve certainly made me want to read it. Now I just need to find the time!

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