Tag Archives: biography theory

Monitoring of publications

by Michael Benton
Palgrave Macmillan – Sept. 2015
ISBN 9781137549570

Drawing upon a wide range of biographies of literary subjects, from Shakespeare and Wordsworth to William Golding and V.S. Naipaul, this book develops a poetics of literary biography based on the triangular relationships of lives, works and times and how narrativeTowards a Poetics of Literary Biography operates in holding them together. Biography is seen as a hybrid
genre in which historical and fictional elements are imaginatively combined. It considers the roles of story-telling, factual data in the art of life-writing, and the literariness of its language. It includes a case study of the biography of Ellen Terry, discussion of the controversial relationship between a subject’s life and works, ‘biographical criticism’ and, through the issue of gender, the social and cultural changes biographies reflect. It frames a poetics on the basis of its strategy and tactics and demonstrates how the literal truth of verifiable data and the poetic truth of what is narrated are interdependent.

edited by Zachary Leader
Oxford University Press – Oct. 2015
ISBN 9780198704065

Life-writing’ is a generic term meant to encompass a range of writings about lives or parts of lives, or which provide materials out of which lives or parts of lives are composed. These writings include not only memoir, autobiography, biography, diaries,On Life-Writing autobiographical fiction, and biographical fiction, but letters, writs, wills, written anecdotes, depositions, marginalia, lyric poems, scientific and historical writings, and digital forms (including blogs, tweets, Facebook entries). On Life-Writing offers a sampling of
approaches to the study of life-writing, introducing readers to something of the range of forms the term encompasses, their changing fortunes and features, the notions of ‘life,’ ‘self’ and ‘story’ which help to explain these changing fortunes and features, recent
attempts to group forms, the permeability of the boundaries between forms, the moral problems raised by life-writing in all forms, but particularly in fictional forms, and the relations between life-writing and history, life-writing and psychoanalysis, life-writing and philosophy. The essays mostly focus on individual instances rather than fields, whether historical, theoretical or generic. Generalizations are grounded in particulars. For example, the role of the ‘life-changing encounter,’ a frequent trope in literary life-writing, is pondered by Hermione Lee through an account of a much-storied first meeting between the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova; James Shapiro examines the history of the ‘cradle to grave’ life-narrative, as well as the potential distortions it breeds, by focusing on Shakespeare biography, in particular attempts to explain Shakespeare’s so-called ‘lost years’.

The “New Biography” Movement


Posted by Maryam Thirriard, doctoral student in English Literature at Aix-Marseille Université, ALLSH Faculty.

(voir plus bas pour texte en français)

The “New Biography” Movement: Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Harold Nicolson and André Maurois.

  Studies on Modernism have generally been restricted by the overshadowing dogma of “impersonality” but recent publications, such as Max Saunder’s  Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, & the Forms of Modern Literature (OUF, 2010), have begun to open the way to reassessing of the importance of life-writing in the works of the Modernists. My doctoral project aims at furthering the understanding of Modernist biography as it developed in the 1920s and 1930s as well as assessing its impact on the developments of biography writing and general literature.

   This PhD research project follows on from my MA dissertation in English Literature at Aix-Marseille Université, which focused on the elements of biography writing used by Virginia Woolf in her fictional biography of Vita Sackville-West, Orlando (1928). Woolf is also the author of two other biographical studies, Flush: A Biography and Roger Fry.  I wish to study the techniques used in Modernist biography by focusing on Virginia Woolf’s works and publications on biography as well as those of three other authors: Lytton Strachey (Eminent Victorians, Queen Victoria, Elizabeth and Essex, Portraits in Miniature…), Harold Nicolson (Paul Verlaine, Tennyson, Byron: The Last Journey, Swinburne, Some People,…) and André Maurois (Ariel ou La Vie de Shelly, La Vie de Disraeli, Don Juan ou La Vie de Byron, Edouard VII et son temps,…).

   All four writers experimented with new approaches to writing biography and Woolf brought them together in what she called “the new school of biographies”, as stated in her essay “The New Biography” (1927). The dynamic discussion these authors animated in the 20s and 30s will, I believe, reveal the existence of a movement or consensus among biographers and I shall argue that this group of writers, all linked to “new biography”, had a crucial impact on the development of biography as a literary genre at that particular time in the history of literature and that they have also affected more recent biography writing.

   Another and connected aspect of my research will concern biography as an academic field of study, a field still in its early stages, as is the generic theorisation of biography.  Within this I have chosen one major component to focus on: the Self; and I aim to adopt a transversal and comparative approach to bring out generic concepts regarding the Self in biographical narratives, which I believe will have general relevance to the study of biographical work of other authors and periods. Defining the nature of the Modernist Self will fuel an essential reflection on the strategies engaged in unfolding the subject in these biographical narratives. This will lead to studying the narrative construction of these texts, their modes of representation as well as the relation between biography and fiction.

   For methodology I plan to adopt a bottom-up approach, confronting the theory and praxis of these authors as exemplified in their work and publications. As well as relying on the theories produced in the twentieth century by the French theorists or biography specialists such as Leon Edel, I intend to refer to twenty-first century research emanating from what has become known as “the biographical turn”, and would include the fields of New Historicism and Reception theory.

Le Mouvement de la “Nouvelle Biographie” : Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Harold Nicolson et André Maurois.

   En confrontant théorie et praxis de quatre biographes modernistes de l’entre-deux-guerres, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Harold Nicolson et André Maurois, ce projet propose une réflexion sur le genre de la biographie, son évolution radicale à ce moment-là de l’histoire de la littérature et son impact sur la littérature générale et comparée. La recherche se focalisera plus particulièrement sur les problématiques du sujet biographique.

   Cette recherche établirait bien plus que l’existence d’un mouvement de biographes –peut-être le premier dans son genre : d’une part il révélerait l’envergure de la biographie dite « nouvelle » dans l’œuvre moderniste et, d’autre part, il contribuerait à la théorisation générale du sujet biographique, notamment en relation avec les constructions narratives. L’étude vise aussi à conceptualiser et théoriser le sujet tel qu’il est perçu et pratiqué par ces “nouveaux biographes”.

   A partir du constat de l’importance des écritures biographiques chez les modernistes dans l’entre-deux-guerres et de la place qu’occupe plus spécifiquement la biographie sur cette scène littéraire, il s’agira d’étudier la nature de ce groupement particulier d’auteurs et ce qui les lie sur le plan de la théorie et de la pratique. Ceci nous mènera nécessairement à développer une réflexion sur la nature et les problématiques relatives au sujet moderniste qui pourra ensuite étayer l’analyse des choix stratégiques mis en œuvre par nos auteurs pour construire et déployer le sujet dans leurs biographies. Une attention particulière sera accordée à l’étude des constructions narratives, la relation entre biographie et fiction ainsi que les modes de représentation. Cette recherche s’inscrit dans une perspective comparatiste transversale qui contribuera, d’une part, à théoriser le sujet biographique en mettant en évidence les angles approches les plus à même de l’appréhender et le cerner ; d’autre part, à proposer une méthode d’approche et d’analyse pouvant servir de façon générique à la conceptualisation d’un élément propre à la biographie –  ici le sujet et son déploiement dans la narration biographique.

   Comme il s’agit de proposer une contribution au champ émergent des études biographiques, cette recherche mobilisera en priorité les travaux théoriques d’auteurs qui ont contribué de manière significative à la conceptualisation de la biographie depuis le début du XXe siècle. Cela impliquera également une mise en pratique des résultats du « tournant biographique » qui s’est produit dans les Humanités, dans le sillage du nouvel historicisme et des théories de la réception en particulier.