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Humphrey Carpenter; British Biographer

Sunday, January 9, 2005; Page C10

Humphrey Carpenter, 58, a prolific biographer of leading British and American cultural figures who also wrote a popular series of children's books, died Jan. 4 of a pulmonary embolism in Oxford, England. He had Parkinson's disease.

Mr. Carpenter wrote biographies of author J.R.R. Tolkien, composer Benjamin Britten and poets W.H. Auden and Ezra Pound, but he was particularly known for his group biographies, or studies of cultural movements. He perfected the form in 1978 with "The Inklings," about the British intellectual circle that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. He also wrote "Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s" (1987) and "The Brideshead Generation" (1989) about Evelyn Waugh and his cohorts.

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Mr. Carpenter's 1996 biography of Robert Runcie, the former archbishop of Canterbury, portrayed the archbishop's derogatory views of Princess Diana and gay priests and was denounced by Runcie.

Mr. Carpenter, who spent most of his life in Oxford, was a polymath who wrote and spoke frequently in broadcasts on British radio and television on a wide range of topics. He wrote two books celebrating children's literature and was also the author of a series of nine children's novels featuring the adventures of Mr. Majeika, a kindly wizard.

Mr. Carpenter, who had a genial, somewhat untidy manner, was a popular figure in British literary circles. He also was a musician who played bass fiddle in Vile Bodies, a group dedicated to the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s. The band's name was borrowed from the title of a novel by Waugh.

He continued to work despite his illness and had recently completed another Mr. Majeika story. Survivors include his wife and two daughters.


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