The Art of Literary Biography

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Is literary biography so widely read for popular, "prurient" reasons, or for reputable intellectual reasons? Is it of interest only in so far as it illuminates a writer's work? How much can we know about a life, such as Shakespeare's, where the documentation is so slight? These are among the wide range of questions addressed by the seventeen leading biographers and literary critics in this important new work.

Always a popular genre, biography has become one of the most immediate and accessible modes of writing about literature. This book examines such literary figures as Conrad, Lawrence, Huxley, Virginia Woolf, and the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Lord Rochester, while addressing the nature and form of literary biography--the concept of biography as autobiography, the problems the genre poses, the necessity of the ignorance of a biographer, and the literary biographer at work. The distinguished contributors include Anthony Storr, Lyndall Gordon, Richard Holmes, Jon Stallworthy, Hermione Lee, David Bradshaw, and Ann Thwaite.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Excellent....It is the fact that biography shares two 'homes'--the academy and the commercial market--that make it such a fruitful area for further scrutiny. The Art of Literary Biography points the way."--New Statesman and Society (UK)

"A most attractive seminar on the art, or craft, of telling the story of story-tellers' existences."--The Observer

"The best of these writers highlight what fun biography can be, and so shed light on a fascinating cultural phenomenon."--Financial Times

"[A] sprightly collection of essays on the art of biography."--Sunday Times

"[An] excellent book....The Art of Literary Biography offers an intriguing look at variety within the genre."--Isis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198182894
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/1995
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John Batchelor is Joseph Cowen Professor of English Literature at Newcastle University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction 1
1 Biography: Inventing the Truth 15
2 A Life for a Life 27
3 Secondary Lives: Biography in Context 43
4 Biography: Cult as Culture 57
5 Psychiatry and Literary Biography 73
6 Women's Lives: The Unmapped Country 87
7 John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester: An Author in Search of a Character 101
8 Conrad's Truancy 115
9 Virginia Woolf and Offence 129
10 Huxley's Slump: Planning, Eugenics, and the 'Ultimate Need' of Stability 151
11 Elizabeth Bishop: The Secret Life of a Poet 173
12 Jane Austen, Matthew Arnold, Shakespeare: The Problem of the Opus 187
13 Starting Again: One of the Problems of the Biographer 201
14 Pieties and Literary Biography 213
15 The Necessary Ignorance of a Biographer 227
16 Virginia Woolf and 'The Proper Writing of Lives' 245
17 Learning about Ourselves: Biography as Autobiography 267
Notes on Contributors 281
Index 285
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