Self Impression

Max Saunders

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780199579761
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722882 | DOI:

Series: Oxford English Monographs

Self Impression

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This book explores how writers from the 1870s to the 1930s experimented with forms of life‐writing — biography, autobiography, memoir, diary, journal — increasingly for the purposes of fiction. It argues for an upsurge in new hybrid forms — identified in a surprisingly early essay of 1906 (which provides a key term) as ‘autobiografiction’. Examples include ‘Mark Rutherford’, Gissing, Samuel Butler, Gosse, and A. C. Benson. The book offers a taxonomy of their extraordinary variety, showing how they arose as the pressures of secularization and psychological theory disturbed the categories of biography and autobiography. It argues that a group of concepts, forms, and tropes regularly co‐exist: portraiture, imaginary portraits, collections of such portraits; and (because they are often of imaginary artists) imaginary works of art and literature. Autobiografiction also sheds strong light on modernism. Modernism is often characterized as a movement of ‘impersonality' — a rejection of auto/biography — but most of its major works engage in profound ways with questions of life‐writing. The second part looks at writers experimenting further with autobiografiction as impressionism turns into modernism, and consists of detailed readings of Joyce, Stein, Pound, Woolf, and others, and juxtaposing their work with contemporaries whose experiments with life‐writing forms are no less striking. It argues that connecting modernist games with auto/biography and the ‘New Biography’ with their turn‐of‐the‐century precursors allows them to be understood in a new way. A coda considers the after‐life of these experiments in postmodern fiction. A conclusion considers the theoretical implications developed throughout, and argues that ‘autobiografiction’ can also shed light on under‐theorized questions such as what we mean by ‘autobiographical’ and the relations between autobiography and fiction.

Keywords: autobiografiction; life‐writing; impressionism; literary impressionism; modernism; Fin de siècle; autobiography; biography; imaginary portrait; heteronym; pseudonym; impersonality; form; aesthetic autobiography; postmodernism

Book.  608 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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Table of Contents

Introduction in Self Impression


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