Biography in literature

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When studying literature, biography and its relationship to literature is often a subject of literary criticism, and is treated in several different forms. Two scholarly approaches use biography or biographical approaches to the past as a tool for interpreting literature including literary biography and biographical criticism. Additionally, two genres of fiction rely very heavily on the incorporation of biographical elements into their content, biographical fiction and autobiographical fiction.

Literary biography[edit]

A literary biography is the biographical exploration of the lives of writers and artists. Biographies about artists and writers are sometimes some of the most complicated forms of biography.[1] Not only does the author of the biography have to write about the subject of the biography but also must incorporate discussion of the individual's literary works into the biography itself.[1][2] Literary biographers must balance the weight of commentary on the individual works alongside the biographical content in order to create a coherent narrative.[1] This balance is affected by the degree of biographical elements in an author's literary works. The close relationship between writers and their work relies on ideas that connect human psychology and literature and can be examined through psychoanalytic theory.[2]

Literary biography tends to have a plethora of autobiographical sources. Elizabeth Longford, a biographer of Wilfrid Blunt noted "Writers are articulate and tend to leave eloquent source material which the biographer will be eager to use."[3] However, some authors and artists go out of their way to discourage the writing of biographies about themselves, as was the case with Kafka, Eliot, Orwell and Auden. Auden said "Biographies of writers whether written by other of themselves are always superfluous and usually in bad taste.... His private life is, or should be, of no concern to anybody except himself, his family and his friends."[4]

Well received literary biographies include Richard Ellman's James Joyce and George Painter's Marcel Proust.[1][4]

Biographical criticism[edit]

Biographical criticism is the deliberate use of biographical information to give light on the difference created by experience between an author and his audience, and thus provide insight into how to understand that particular work.[5]

Biographical fiction[edit]

Biographical fiction is fiction which takes a historical individual and recreates elements of their life in turn telling a fictional narrative, usually in the genres of film or the novel. Within different pieces of biographical fiction, the relationship between the biographical and the fiction can vary. This variation can lead to different approaches to the fiction. Some biographical fiction asserts itself as a factual narrative about the historical individual, like Gore Vidal's Lincoln. While other biographical fiction will create two parallel strands of narrative one in the contemporary and one focusing on the biographical history, such as Malcolm Bradbury's To the Hermitage and Michael Cunningham's The Hours. No matter what style of biographical fiction, the novelist usually bases the novel on historical research.[6]

Biographical fiction has its roots in late 19th century and early 20th century novels which were based loosely on the lives of famous individuals without direct reference to them, such as George Meredith's Diana of the Crossways (1885) and Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence (1919). During the early part of the 20th century this became a distinct genre, with novels that were explicitly about individuals' lives.[6]

Autobiographical fiction[edit]

Autobiographical fiction, or autofiction, is fiction that incorporates the author's own experience into the narrative. Autobiographical fiction allows the author to both rely on and reflect on their own experience. However, the reading of the autobiographical fiction need not always be associated with the author himself, rather can be treated as distinct fictional works.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Backschneider 11-13
  2. ^ a b Karl, Frederick R. "Joseph Conrad" in Meyers (ed.) The Craft, pp 69-88
  3. ^ Longford, Elizabeth "Wilfrid Scawen Blunt" of Meyers (ed.) The Craft, pp 55-68
  4. ^ a b Meyers, Jeffrey "Introduction" in Meyers (ed.) The Craft, pp 1-8
  5. ^ Benson, Jackson J (1989). "Steinbeck: A Defense of Biographical Criticism". College Literature 29 (16): 107–116. JSTOR 25111810. 
  6. ^ a b Mullan, John (30 April 2005). "Heavy on the source John Mullan analyses The Master by Colm Tóibín. Week three: biographical fiction". The Guardian. 
  7. ^ "Melvyn Bragg on autobiographical fiction". The Sunday Times. 8 February 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dale Salwak, ed. (1996). The Literary Biography. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0333626399.