Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature

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'I am aware that, once my pen intervenes, I can make whatever I like out of what I was.' Paul Valery, Moi.

Modernism is often characterized as a movement of impersonality; a rejection of auto/biography. But most of the major works of European modernism and postmodernism engage in very profound and central ways with questions about life-writing. Max Saunders explores the ways in which modern writers from the 1870s to the 1930s experimented with forms of life-writing - biography, autobiography, memoir, diary, journal - increasingly for the purposes of fiction. He identifies a wave of new hybrid forms from the late nineteenth century and uses the term 'autobiografication' - discovered in a surprisingly early essay of 1906 - to provide a fresh perspective on turn-of-the-century literature, and to propose a radically new literary history of Modernism.

Saunders offers a taxonomy of the extraordinary variety of experiments with life-writing, demonstrating how they arose in the nineteenth century as the pressures of secularization and psychological theory disturbed the categories of biography and autobiography, in works by authors such as Pater, Ruskin, Proust, 'Mark Rutherford', George Gissing, and A. C. Benson. He goes on to look at writers experimenting further with autobiografiction as Impressionism turns into Modernism., juxtaposing detailed and vivacious readings of key Modernist texts by Joyce, Stein, Pound, and Woolf, with explorations of the work of other authors - including H. G. Wells, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and Wyndham Lewis - whose experiments with life-writing forms are no less striking. The book concludes with a consideration of the afterlife of these fascinating experiments in the postmodern literature of Nabokov, Lessing, and Byatt.

Self Impression sheds light on a number of significant but under-theorized issues; the meanings of 'autobiographical', the generic implications of literary autobiography, and the intriguing relation between autobiography and fiction in the period.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Certainly a book to return to. Saunders remarks nicely of Pound that '[h]is project was always to condense the voluminous to the luminous'; one might say with the slightly different infliction that Self Impression earns its volume by the luminosity of its readings." —Biography

"An important book that will inspire further work on life-writing in the modern period." —English Literature in Transition

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199579761
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/18/2010
  • Pages: 500
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Max Saunders is Professor of English at King's College London, where he teaches modern English, European, and American literature, and is Co-Director of the Centre for Life-Writing Research. He studied at the universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and was a Research Fellow and then College Lecturer at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He is the author of Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, 2 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1996), the editor of Ford's Selected Poems, War Prose, and (with Richard Stang) Critical Essays (Carcanet, 1997, 1999, 2002), and has published essays on Life-writing, on Impressionism, and on Ford, Conrad, James, Forster, Eliot, Joyce, Rosamond Lehmann, Richard Aldington, May Sinclair, Lawrence, Freud, Pound, Ruskin, Anthony Burgess and others. He is also general editor of International Ford Madox Ford Studies. He is currently researching the To-Day and To-Morrow series on a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship.

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Table of Contents

Part I: Modern Ironisations of Auto/Biography and the Emergence of Autobiografiction: Victorian and fin-de-siecle Precursors
1. Im/personality: The Imaginary Portraits of Walter Pater
2. Aesthetic Auto/biography: Ruskin and Proust
3. Pseudonymity, Third-personality, and Anonymity as disturbances in fin-de-siecle auto/biography
4. Autobiografiction: Stephen Reynolds and A. C. Benson
5. Auto/biografiction: Counterfeit Lives: A Taxonomy of Displacements of Fiction towards Life-Writing
6. Literary Impressionism and Impressionist Autobiographies: Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Ford Madox Ford
Part II: Modernist Auto/biografiction
7. Heteronymity I: Imaginary Authorship and Imaginary Autobiography: Pessoa, Joyce, Svevo
8. Heteronymity II: Taxonomies of Fictional Creativity: Joyce (continued) and Stein
9. Auto/biographese and Auto/biografiction in Verse: Ezra Pound and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley
10. Satirical Auto/biografiction: Richard Aldington and Wyndham Lewis
11. Woolf, Bloomsbury, the 'New Biography', and the New Auto/biografiction
12. After-Lives: Postmodern Experiments in Meta-Auto/biografiction: Sartre, Nabokov, Lessing, Byatt

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