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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

Description

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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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgements xii

Introduction xiii

1 Literary Biography Now and Then 1

The Cinderella of Literary Studies 1

The Rise and Rise of Literary Biography 4

Dr Johnson: Biographer, Theorist and Subject 7

Virginia Woolf: Time, Memory and Identity 12

2 Life [Hi]Stories: Telling Tales 18

Aspects of Narrative 18

(i) Beginnings: Charlotte Brontë 19

(ii) Middles: Thomas Hardy 21

(iii) Endings: Jane Austen 25

The Naked Biographer 28

Inventing the Truth 30

3 Reading Biography 35

Biographer, Biography and the Reader 35

Imagining Blake 38

Problems of a Hybrid Form 42

Reading Lessons 45

4 Literary Biomythography 47

Biomythography 47

Myth-Making: The Brontë Paradigm 48

(i) Facts: Selection and ‘Spin’ 49

(ii) Fact into Fiction 50

(iii) Fiction into Myth 50

(iv) Myth into ‘Faction’ 51

(v) Demythologising the Brontës 52

Variations on the Theme 53

(i) Byron 54

(ii) Dickens 55

(iii) Sylvia Plath 58

Conclusions 63

5 Inferential Biography: Shakespeare the Invisible Man 67

Virtual Shakespeares 68

(i) The Facts 68

(ii) The Theatrical Context 69

(iii) The Social Context 71

(iv) The Shakespeare Mythos 72

(v) The Shakespeare Canon 73

The Implied Author: Inferential Biography 74

(i) The Art of Love: The Sonnets 75

(ii) Prejudice, Discrimination and the Law: The Merchant of Venice 77

(iii) War and the Politics of Nationhood: Henry V 79

(iv) Language and Thinking: Hamlet 82

(v) Art and Artifice: The Tempest 85

The Limits of Imagination 87

6 Literary Biography and Portraiture 92

Sister Arts 92

(i) Biography and Portraiture: Reynolds’s Portrait of Dr Johnson 94

(ii) Reading the Image: Cassandra Austen’s Sketch of Jane Austen 96

(iii) Visual Myth-Making: Henry Weekes’s Shelley Monument 98

(iv) Celebrity Image: Thomas Phillips’s Portrait of Byron in Albanian Dress 100

(v) Visual Memoir: Joseph Severn’s Portrait of John Keats 102

(vi) Bardography: The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare 104

(vii) The Inner Life: R. W. Buss’s Dickens’s Dream 106

(viii) Sisters’ Arts: Vanessa Bell’s Portrait of Virginia Woolf 108

(ix) ‘To prepare a face …’: Patrick Heron’s Portrait of T. S. Eliot 110

(x) Branwell’s Ghost: Branwell Brontë’s Portrait of his Three Sisters 112

Art to Order 114

7 Comparative Biography: Dickens’s ‘Lives’ 117

The Victorian Dickens 118

The Modern Dickens 121

The Post-Modern Dickens 125

Lives and Times 130

8 Literary Auto/Biography 132

Acts of Self-Creation in Wordsworth and Joyce 132

Wordsworth’s ‘biographic verse’ 134

Joyce’s ‘artist, like the God of creation’ 143

Masks and Metaphors 149

9 Biography in Practice 152

An Interview with Dominic Hibberd, author of Wilfred Owen: A New Biography 152

Living with the Subject 153

Imagining Wilfred 157

Matters of Life and Death 166

10 Authorised Lives 171

The Life of Graham Greene by Norman Sherry 172

Bernard Shaw by Michael Holroyd 176

T. S. Eliot by Peter Ackroyd 181

Orwell: The Life by D. J. Taylor 186

Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life by Andrew Motion 192

Contemporary Lives 199

11 Literary Lives: Scenes and Stories 202

Dinner with Dr Johnson and John Wilkes 203

Dinner with Mrs Ramsay 208

Biography and Fiction 215

12 Biography and the Future 218

Select Bibliography 225

Further Reading 225

General Bibliography 229

Index 239

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Author Information

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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The Wiley Advantage

  • 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

Reviews

"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)

"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)

"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."—(Katherine Hughes, Biography)

"Brisk and readable … lucid and intelligent"—(Claire Harman, Times Literary Supplement)  
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