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Ford, Eliot, Joyce, and the Problems of Literary Biography

  • Max Saunders

Abstract

‘Biography’ and ‘autobiography’ are terms which combine life and writing with deceptive ease. The relations between the two components have in fact rarely been easy; and describing literary biography as ‘Writing the Lives of Writers’ indicates part of the theoretical complexity of that particular version of life-writing. Yet thinking about literary biography tends to be based on a series of familiar binary oppositions which generally involve posing a term of life against a term of writing: experience vs art; biography vs criticism; autobiography vs novel; truth vs fiction; and so on. Common sense won’t let us do without these oppositions. But their use is founded on a forgetting of the history of fiction: an amnesia about how the novel rose by undermining those very oppositions. English fiction-writers of the eighteenth century — Swift, Defoe, Richardson, Sterne — provoked interest, and unease, by faking travelogues, prison confessions, letters, lives and opinions: in other words, by forging autobiographies. It may be more than a coincidence that literary biography as a genre rose — with Samuel Johnson in England — at about the time when the novel became less concerned to impersonate autobiography. (The advent of Romanticism guaranteed that the individual life-story should be taken more earnestly.)

Keywords

Good Book Literary Personality Truth Fiction Good Soldier Fictional Mode 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
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Copyright information

© Max Saunders 1998

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  • Max Saunders

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