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Literary Biography: An Introduction

ISBN: 978-1-4443-1007-8
280 pages
February 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Literary Biography: An Introduction (1444310070) cover image
Literary Biography: An Introduction illustrates and accounts for the literary genre that merges historical facts with the conventions of narrative while revealing how the biographical context can enrich the study of canonical authors. 
  • Provides up-to-date and comprehensive coverage of issues and controversies in life writing, a rapidly growing field of study
  • Offers a valuable biographical and historical context for the study of major classic and contemporary authors
  • Features an interview with Wilfred Owen's biographer, Dominic Hibberd; a gallery of literary portraits with commentaries; close readings that illustrate the differences between fiction and biography; speculation about likely future developments; and detailed suggestions for further reading
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List of Illustrations

Acknowledgements

Introduction

1. Literary Biography Now and Then

The Cinderella of Literary Studies

The Rise and Rise of Literary Biography

Dr Johnson: Biographer, Theorist and Subject

Virginia Woolf: Time, Memory and Identity

2. Life [Hi]Stories: Telling Tales

Aspects of Narrative

(i) Beginnings: Charlotte Brontë

(ii) Middles: Thomas Hardy

(iii) Endings: Jane Austen

The Naked Biographer

Inventing the Truth

3. Reading Biography

Biographer, Biography and the Reader

Imagining Blake

Problems of a Hybrid Form

Reading Lessons

4. Literary Biomythography

Biomythography

Myth-Making: The Brontë Paradigm

(i) Facts: Selection and ‘Spin’

(ii) Fact into Fiction

(iii) Fiction into Myth

(iv) Myth into ‘Faction’

(v) Demythologising the Brontës

Variations on the Theme

(i) Byron

(ii) Dickens

(iii) Sylvia Plath

Conclusions

5. Inferential Biography: Shakespeare the Invisible Man

Virtual Shakespeares

(i) The Facts

(ii) The Theatrical Context

(iii) The Social Context

(iv) The Shakespeare Mythos

(v) The Shakespeare Canon

The Implied Author: Inferential Biography

(i) The Art of Love: The Sonnets

(ii) Prejudice, Discrimination and the Law: The Merchant of Venice

(iii) War and the Politics of Nationhood: Henry V

(iv) Language and Thinking: Hamlet

(v) Art and Artifice: The Tempest

The Limits of Imagination

6. Literary Biography and Portraiture

Sister Arts

(i) Biography and Portraiture: Reynolds’s Portrait of Dr Johnson

(ii) Reading the Image: Cassandra Austen’s Sketch of Jane Austen

(iii) Visual Myth-Making: Henry Weekes’s Shelley Monument

(iv) Celebrity Image: Thomas Phillips’s Portrait of Byron in Albanian Dress

(v) Visual Memoir: Joseph Severn’s Portrait of John Keats

(vi) Bardography: The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare

(vii) The Inner Life: R. W. Buss’s Dickens’s Dream

(viii) Sisters’ Arts: Vanessa Bell’s Portrait of Virginia Woolf

(ix) ‘To prepare a face …’: Patrick Heron’s Portrait of T. S. Eliot

(x) Branwell’s Ghost: Branwell Brontë’s Portrait of his Three Sisters

Art to Order

7. Comparative Biography: Dickens’s ‘Lives’

The Victorian Dickens

The Modern Dickens

The Post-Modern Dickens

Lives and Times

8. Literary Auto/Biography

Acts of Self-Creation in Wordsworth and Joyce

Wordsworth’s ‘biographic verse’

Joyce’s ‘artist, like the God of creation’

Masks and Metaphors

9. Biography in Practice

An Interview with Dominic Hibberd, author of Wilfred Owen: A New Biography

Living with the Subject

Imagining Wilfred

Matters of Life and Death

10. Authorised Lives

The Life of Graham Greene by Norman Sherry  

Bernard Shaw by Michael Holroyd

T. S. Eliot by Peter Ackroyd

Orwell: The Life by D. J. Taylor

Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life by Andrew Motion

Contemporary Lives

11. Literary Lives: Scenes and Stories

Dinner with Dr Johnson and John Wilkes

Dinner with Mrs Ramsay

Biography and Fiction

12. Biography and the Future

Select Bibliography

Further Reading

General Bibliography

Index

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Michael Benton is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Southampton. His publications include the highly influential Teaching Literature 9–14 (with Geoff Fox, 1985) and several widely used anthologies of poetry, most notably the Touchstones series (with Peter Benton, various editions 1968–2008). His most recent book was Studies in the Spectator Role: Literature, Painting and Pedagogy (2000).
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  • Provides up-to-date and comprehensive coverage of issues and controversies in life writing, a rapidly growing field of study
  • Offers a valuable biographical and historical context for the study of major classic and contemporary authors from Shakespeare to Larkin
  • Features an interview with Wilfred Owen's biographer, Dominic Hibberd; a gallery of literary portraits with commentaries; close readings that illustrate the differences between fiction and biography; discussion of future developments; and detailed suggestions for further reading
See More
"Last year I was sent Michael Benton's Literary Biography: An Introduction prior to publication, and was happy to supply a recommendation for the dust jacket. I described it then as an "elegant. introduction which is likely to appeal to both established scholars and to the growing number of university students who study the subject at all levels." Having read the book again for the purposes of this review, I am happy to stand by my initial response. Indeed, I would add that the book is sufficiently rich and thoughtful to provide an even more enjoyable and informative reading experience the second time around." (Biography, Summer 2010)

"A general reader with an interest in literature or biography or both will find much of interest here." (M/C Reviews, March 2010)

"Lucid and intelligent." (The Times Literary Supplement, November 2009)

"Here is an admirably lucid yet sophisticated introduction to that most venerable and enjoyable of genres, literary biography. Often perceived as a 'Cinderella' subject, of only marginal interest to the academy, literary biography has not always received the kind of sustained, intelligent scrutiny which it deserves. Michael Benton goes a long way towards righting this wrong with this elegant introduction which is likely to appeal to both established scholars and to the growing number of university students who study the subject at all levels."
—Kathryn Hughes, Professor of Life Writing, University of East Anglia

"Provides tutors and students with a useful means of entry to a complex and rapidly developing area of debate."
—Dinah Birch, University of Liverpool

"I found this book both highly enjoyable and informative. It is simply excellent – very well written, elegant in structure and individual phrasing, a fascinating topic and a provocative introduction to a range of biographies."
—Geoff Fox, Exeter University

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