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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Irving Stone was born on July 14, 1903 in San Francisco to his Jewish parents, Charles Tennenbaum and Pauline (Rosenberg) Tennenbaum Stone. After completing his school education, Irving joined the University of California, Berkeley for his graduation and acquired his degree in 1923. The next few years he spent in the University of Southern California pursuing his post-graduate studies. In the meantime, he had also started teaching economics to the undergraduate students of the university. And after completing his higher education, he worked as a lecturer in different departments of the University. Earlier in 1948 he was a visiting Professor of Creative Writing, at the University of Indiana and later on in 1961, at the University of Washington. In 1966, he worked as a lecturer in the University of Southern California and California State Colleges. Shortly afterwards, he was chosen as a member for different councils, committees and colleges in U.S.A. and abroad.
Irving Stone’s stint as a writer started from 1926. He authored a number of plays like ‘The Dark Mirror’ and ‘The Magnificent Doll’ between 1928 and 1946. He penned biographical fictions like ‘Lust for Life’ (1934), ‘Sailor on Horseback’ (1938) and ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ (1961) and made a significant mark in that genre. In ‘Lust for Life’ he traced the life of Van Gogh, in ‘Sailor on Horseback’ he talked about Jack London and in ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ he revealed the struggle of Michelangelo, as an artist. Besides these historical stories, he wrote a number of articles and books and earned critical acclaim. He was bestowed with awards like the Christopher Award, Silver Spur Award and Gold Trophy for his contribution in the field of writing.
Irving Stone’s life has been one of intense mental activity and achievement. He did a lot of research before writing his books and then got into the skin of the characters of his writings in order to infuse life into them. Thus his biographical fiction resounds with life and has earned him acclaim. Today, he has established himself as one of the best contemporary American writers of the twentieth century. At home, he is happy leading his sunset years with his wife, Jean Factor and his children.
Irving Stone has earned a name for himself as a writer of ‘bio- history.’ ‘Lust for Life’, ‘Sailor on Horseback’ and ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ are a few of his works that can be grouped under this category. Stone defined ‘bio-history’ as "bring history to life in terms of the tremendous human stories that have made history". With the publication of ‘Lust for Life’ in 1934, the contemporary biographical novel was regenerated. Stone’s interest in people and his intention to set the historical records straight made him write on such great artists as Van Gogh and Michelangelo. And he fairly succeeded in revealing the true personality of these artistic geniuses.
Irving Stone did extensive research for each book in order to give an accurate presentation of his historical characters. It took him four and a half years to write ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’. During the years of his research for the novel, Stone had engaged the founder of the Italian Department of the University of California, Los Angeles to translate the letters of Michelangelo into English. However, Stone felt "even if there is endless documentation it would be impossible to know what a man thought inside his own mind. ... This is where the novelist’s creative imagination has to take over, and this raises the great question: Do you push your character around, and distort history, or do you study (him) so carefully, identify with him so totally and with such honesty, that when you come to the point where documentation leaves off, and you must put yourself inside the heart and mind of this man or woman, you can think and feel as he (or she) would have, in the given circumstances? This is the creative part of the book, and if you are honest, if you are sincere, if you have worked hard, if you are determined to be true and to achieve exact identity and to plumb the depths of a man’s feelings, I think you have a good chance of doing the job proudly."
Irving Stone started off with the factual details provided about the protagonists of his novels and then delved deep into the psyche of the characters to understand their mind and actions. He revealed this investigative technique to Susan Forest "I live with the character. I must. And I have to feel myself inside the character’s skin, head, mind, and brain. I live where he lived, eat what he ate, go among his people. During this time, I don’t do anything else. There is no other way to write a biographical novel." A few critics too believe that Stone idealizes his characters in this way. The truth is that Stone recreates his characters in flesh and blood and relives the scenes from their lives so authentically that the readers are sure to empathize with these protagonists. No reader of ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ will remain unmoved after reading about the humiliation and pain suffered by Michelangelo at the hands of his antagonists! The plight of Michelangelo is sure to touch the heart of the readers.
There have been mixed reactions to ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’. Some critics like Richard Winston have called the book "at its best a biography ... at its worst as fiction." Others like Phoebe Adams aver that the novel "contains a number of things that never happened, is dry as marble dust all the way, and never for one second suggests Michelangelo or any other working artist." However, most of the readers share Aaron Bohrod’s view that the novel is "a lively, scholarly, reasonably swift paced, cleanly chiseled piece of fictional biographic writing." The artistic world should be thankful to Irving Stone for tracing the life of a genius like Michelangelo and providing an insight into his mind to reveal the true greatness of the artist.