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Michael Bloch
F. M. the Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander
Founder of the Alexander Technique
Hardback; paperback. 288 pages. 2004.
Published by Little Brown (UK). 216 x 144 mm.
ISBN 0316728640/978-0316728645. Paperback: 0316860484/978-0316860482.
Status: In print.
First published 3 June 2004
A modern and highly readable biography by a professional biographer.
Mouritz description
Alexander’s life story is exciting by any standards: from Tasmania to London, from elocution to an extraordinary innovative and effective method for health and self-development. This is a scholarly, well- researched and excellently written biography by a long-time pupil and professional biographer, Michael Bloch. In telling the story of the life and work of Alexander, Bloch conveys a sense of Alexander’s personality and provides a psychological insight into the man behind the Technique. Bloch is not a teacher and so limits his comments on the Technique to a critical examination of Alexander’s writings (he is not impressed) and contemporary reports by Alexander’s pupils. Bloch’s attitude is respectful but not reverential. In the epilogue he examines whether Alexander qualifies as a ‘guru.’ This is a modern and highly readable biography which will appeal to teachers and pupils alike and which makes Alexander less enigmatic.
Publisher's description

The Alexander Technique is a method of muscular re-education, which has become standard training for actors, dancers and singers, and is practised for health reasons all over the world. Its founder, Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), was an Australian actor who stumbled upon it in the 1890s after studying himself in mirrors to discover why he had lost his voice. He realised that most people suffered from the same postural defects he had noticed in himself, and that this explained much of what went wrong with them. F.M. (as he was known) came to London in 1904 and became enormously successful. During the First World War he practised in America with equal success, converting the American philosopher John Dewey to his cause. He wrote four books (all still in print), and his supporters included Aldous Huxley, George Bernard Shaw and Stafford Cripps. He was, however, a difficult and argumentative man who made enemies. Towards the end of his life he embarked on a libel action against the South African government, which had accused him of charlatanism. He won, and went on practising and propagating his technique until his death aged 86.

Review by Beret Arcaya
First published in AmSAT News, no. 67, 2005.

Michael Bloch has rendered a great service to the Alexander Technique community in this, the first full-scale biography of FM Alexander. Using many sources and including interviews with people who knew F.M., Bloch gives us a very insightful and probing look at the personal life of this singular man. The flowing and seamless style of his presentation makes for a very absorbing and enjoyable read.

The book begins with a short history of Tasmania and the events that placed FM’s grandparents in Tasmania Alexander’s early surroundings, childhood, family life and the relationships that contributed to the force of his character are all set up for the reader. Subsequent chapters trace life in Melbourne, his acting career, his development of the technique, and follow him on his journey to London and the establishment of the Technique from what had been a personal discovery.

Most interesting to this reader is the way it is all this is fleshed out with information about his friends and family, and the growing development of his character and thinking

Bloch paints a portrait of a resourceful, free thinking and determined young man who succeed in putting himself on the map in London with little assistance. This is a lesson to many of us who would like to teach more than we do.

Alexander’s years in America, his return to London during the war, his establishment of the training course, the South African Libel trial, his stroke and last years are all described step by step, problem by problem., Alexander always moved forward in very surprising ways; it is just this unpredictability that makes him enigmatic.

Bloch’s task as biographer has been made more difficult by a lack of information and by Alexander’s own efforts to modify the facts of his background to present himself in a better light. For many periods the record is very meager; Bloch remarks that that “frustratingly little information is readily available” Alexander left all his papers to his younger brother Beaumont and apparently many of these personal papers were destroyed a in a fire. In addition, many of his illustrious pupils apparently left no accounts of their interaction with him. and there are absolutely no examples of his speaking voice either, as the recordings that had been made were destroyed in the war. What then can we really know about this man?

Some of the information is not new to us as teachers; for the rest, Bloch has had to make some suppositions to fill in the blanks. He does that with intelligence and sensitivity. This reader appreciates the information he gives us and the thoughtful way he makes sense of the existing sources, There is enough to give a lot of insight into Alexander’s personality and quirks. The excavation and nearly forensic detail of the often hidden aspects of Alexander’s life fill us in on the deeper aspects of the man. For this reader, this book served to illuminate the person behind the wonderful and life changing discoveries he made.

And the book leaves this reader with many questions. Was Alexander a nearly compulsive gambler? Was he generous of himself? Was he suspicious of help from others? Did he self-sabotage at times and is this at odds with the logical clear-headed thinking he taught? Why were there so many worshipful women flocking around him throughout his life? As Bloch remarks, “one feels there is scope here for future research.” One hopes that someday new material will come to light to answer these and other questions about this fascinating man.

I hope you read this absorbing and well-written account by Michael Bloch. In its pages, you will discover new ways to view the person and character of the man who developed the Alexander Technique.

© Beret Arcaya. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
Review by Eric Binnie
First published in ExChange, vol. 13, no. 1.

Michael Bloch is a working biographer with a British legal background. Though he has taken a number of Alexander lessons and has consulted several prominent master teachers, he is not himself an Alexander teacher. In many ways this is an advantage. He recognizes and celebrates F.M.’s unique discovery, yet he also writes more candidly about the founder’s personal quirks and obsessions than many professional Alexander Technique teachers might do.

Bloch draws upon, and gives credit to, earlier biographical works by students, teachers, and Alexander family members. His research is thorough. If he has been unable to pursue a particular line of enquiry to its full extent, he states this, and points out any likely direction for future study. What is new about Bloch’s biography is that it is written for a general audience, not exclusively for Alexander specialists. This is the remarkable story of a man of limited educational background who ultimately mixed freely in the highest ranks of academic, governmental, and medical society, and did so on the strength of supreme confidence in his own originality and understanding.

Despite his great success, F.M. tended to be suspicious, prickly, and secretive. Bloch discusses these characteristics extensively and fairly. This study is no hagiography: the reader encounters F.M. with all his faults. The work is particularly informative on details of F.M.’s troubled marriage, on his frequent quarrels with those most willing to help him, on his dogged and financially ruinous pursuit of legal redress for defamation in the South African courts. Admirers of Alexander’s work would find themselves frequently distressed by his sudden reversals. In analyzing this puzzling trait, Bloch uses cogent quotations from contemporaries, such as Lulie Westfeldt and John Dewey. Bloch pinpoints this paradox; F.M.’s pattern of behavior is the very thing that his life’s work has enabled so many others to avoid.

Though he does not avoid F.M.’s weaknesses, Bloch greatly admires the founder’s achievements, and endeavors to explain his charismatic appeal. He never doubts that F.M. was a very great teacher. Perhaps he is a little too glib when he lumps together most of Alexander’s female assistants as suffering from suppressed romantic longings for their mentor. He provides little real evidence for this unkind generalization. Yet the book’s strength lies in the author’s ability to encapsulate the complex historical context of F.M’s. long and colorful life, without distracting the reader from the central interest of the life itself. With consummate ease, Bloch fills in Alexander’s background of colonial Tasmania, the excitement of Victorian Melbourne, the busy decades of travel between London and New York, and the later years of struggle to establish the unique validity of his discovery. Bloch’s photographic illustrations are helpful and revealing, his research is detailed and informative, his writing is engaging and elegant.

This new study will appeal to specialists and general readers alike. It fills an obvious gap in the Alexander bibliography, and is likely to prove highly successful. This is a fine and balanced biography of a remarkable innovator. It can hardly fail to increase the current interest in F.M.’s work and legacy.

© Eric Binnie. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.

Earliest publication date: 3 June 2004