Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form

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The independent genre of biography as distinct from general history writing, began to emerge in the 18th century and reached its contemporary form at the turn of the 20th century. Longer and more extensive biographies were written in Greek by Plutarch , in his Parallel Lives , published about 80 A. In this work famous Greeks are paired with famous Romans, for example the orators Demosthenes and Cicero , or the generals Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar ; some fifty biographies from the work survive.

Another well-known collection of ancient biographies is De vita Caesarum "On the Lives of the Caesars" by Suetonius , written about AD in the time of the emperor Hadrian. In the early Middle Ages AD to , there was a decline in awareness of the classical culture in Europe.

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During this time, the only repositories of knowledge and records of the early history in Europe were those of the Roman Catholic Church. Hermits , monks , and priests used this historic period to write biographies. Their subjects were usually restricted to the church fathers , martyrs , popes , and saints. Their works were meant to be inspirational to the people and vehicles for conversion to Christianity see Hagiography. One significant secular example of a biography from this period is the life of Charlemagne by his courtier Einhard.

Biography : fiction, fact, and form / Ira Bruce Nadel.

In Medieval Islamic Civilization c. AD to , similar traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad and other important figures in the early history of Islam began to be written, beginning the Prophetic biography tradition. Early biographical dictionaries were published as compendia of famous Islamic personalities from the 9th century onwards. They contained more social data for a large segment of the population than other works of that period.

The earliest biographical dictionaries initially focused on the lives of the prophets of Islam and their companions , with one of these early examples being The Book of The Major Classes by Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi. And then began the documentation of the lives of many other historical figures from rulers to scholars who lived in the medieval Islamic world. By the late Middle Ages, biographies became less church-oriented in Europe as biographies of kings , knights , and tyrants began to appear. Following Malory, the new emphasis on humanism during the Renaissance promoted a focus on secular subjects, such as artists and poets, and encouraged writing in the vernacular.

Giorgio Vasari 's Lives of the Artists was the landmark biography focusing on secular lives. Vasari made celebrities of his subjects, as the Lives became an early "bestseller". Two other developments are noteworthy: the development of the printing press in the 15th century and the gradual increase in literacy. John Foxe 's Actes and Monuments , better known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs , was essentially the first dictionary of the biography in Europe, followed by Thomas Fuller 's The History of the Worthies of England , with a distinct focus on public life.

Influential in shaping popular conceptions of pirates, A General History of the Pyrates , by Charles Johnson, is the prime source for the biographies of many well-known pirates.

A notable early collection of biographies of eminent men and women in the United Kingdom was Biographia Britannica edited by William Oldys. The American biography followed the English model, incorporating Thomas Carlyle 's view that biography was a part of history. Carlyle asserted that the lives of great human beings were essential to understanding society and its institutions.

While the historical impulse would remain a strong element in early American biography, American writers carved out a distinct approach. What emerged was a rather didactic form of biography, which sought to shape the individual character of a reader in the process of defining national character.

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The first modern biography, and a work which exerted considerable influence on the evolution of the genre, was James Boswell 's The Life of Samuel Johnson , a biography of lexicographer and man-of-letters Samuel Johnson published in Itself an important stage in the development of the modern genre of biography, it has been claimed to be the greatest biography written in the English language.

Boswell's work was unique in its level of research, which involved archival study, eye-witness accounts and interviews, its robust and attractive narrative, and its honest depiction of all aspects of Johnson's life and character - a formula which serves as the basis of biographical literature to this day. Biographical writing generally stagnated during the 19th century - in many cases there was a reversal to the more familiar hagiographical method of eulogizing the dead, similar to the biographies of saints produced in Medieval times.

A distinction between mass biography and literary biography began to form by the middle of the century, reflecting a breach between high culture and middle-class culture. However, the number of biographies in print experienced a rapid growth, thanks to an expanding reading public.

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This revolution in publishing made books available to a larger audience of readers. In addition, affordable paperback editions of popular biographies were published for the first time. Periodicals began publishing a sequence of biographical sketches. Autobiographies became more popular, as with the rise of education and cheap printing, modern concepts of fame and celebrity began to develop. Autobiographies were written by authors, such as Charles Dickens who incorporated autobiographical elements in his novels and Anthony Trollope , his Autobiography appeared posthumously, quickly becoming a bestseller in London [8] , philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill , churchmen — John Henry Newman — and entertainers — P.

The sciences of psychology and sociology were ascendant at the turn of the 20th century and would heavily influence the new century's biographies. Human behavior would be explained through Darwinian theories. The development of psychoanalysis led to a more penetrating and comprehensive understanding of the biographical subject, and induced biographers to give more emphasis to childhood and adolescence.

Clearly these psychological ideas were changing the way biographies were written, as a culture of autobiography developed, in which the telling of one's own story became a form of therapy. Writers get married and divorced, make money and lose it, drink too much or stay sober, like billions of other people.

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Biography. Fiction, Fact and Form. Authors: Nadel, Ira B. Free Preview Biography as an Institution. Pages Nadel, Ira Bruce. Preview Buy Chapter 30, Biography: Fiction, Fact, and Form. Front Cover. Ira Bruce Nadel. Macmillan Publishers Limited, - Literary Criticism - pages. 0 Reviews.

With an artist, the opposite is true: What matters is precisely what is left over when the actions are tallied up. For as soon as we identify two works by the same person, we begin to make connections between them — to notice similarities of subject and theme, treatment and technique. And since the biographical author is the only common denominator between the books, we cannot help developing at least a rudimentary idea about her, even if we know nothing but the name.

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In this she stands at the opposite pole from Shakespeare, who as a dramatist camouflaged even his literary personality. The question is whether we learn anything important about this literary self when we get to know its real-life biography. I think we can, but only if we keep in mind that the goal of literary biography is not to provide subject matter for gossip or reverence , nor to help us issue an easy moral verdict.

Biography Fiction Fact Form by Ira Bruce

Rather, it is to use the life to clarify the factors that shape the work — to show how life and work were both shaped by the same set of problems and drives. Bookends: Columnists. When posting a job ad, you MUST include a salary, payment terms, or rate, otherwise we will reject your ad. If you want make a change or wish to remove your job ad in the future, please email support freelancewriting.

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