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LaVonne Neff

The Gargoyle on the Steeple

When the late Malcolm Muggeridge agreed to let Richard Ingrams look at his unpublished papers, he made one stipulation: no resulting biography should be published before Kitty Muggeridge's death. Ingrams, a friend and admirer of the British journalist, respectfully waited, as did Gregory Wolfe, an American writer and editor. A year after Kitty's June 1994 funeral and five years after Malcolm's death, books by both men were released in England. Ingrams's was simultaneously published in the United States; Wolfe's did not cross the Atlantic until June of this year. Though Wolfe's book emigrated later, it deserves the closer attention: if either book deserves to be called "The Biography," it is his.

In many ways the two biographies are similar. Both proceed chronologically, giving similar accounts of Malcolm's parentage, Cambridge education, travels abroad, female companions, editorial stints at the Manchester Guardian and Punch, years as a talking head for the BBC, and late-in-life conversion to Catholicism. Both include a selection of photographs--in fact, many of the same ones. In spite of obvious regard for Muggeridge, neither author whitewashes his many infidelities, his inability to commit to any project, or his obsessions with health, morals, and his own persona.

Ingrams, a British journalist and friend of the Muggeridge family since 1961, has written the more sprightly account. His narrative is fast-paced and anecdotal, and he outshines Wolfe in portraying Malcolm's women, particularly Kitty. But Wolfe has done his homework well. Now publisher and editor of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, Wolfe became acquainted with the Muggeridges in 1979 during his college days. Not only did he interview many of Muggeridge's family members and associates and analyze his published writings, he also made heavy use of the unpublished papers now in the Muggeridge Collection at Wheaton College, Illinois. Ingrams's book has no footnotes, whereas Wolfe's is extensively documented. ...

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