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psychobiography


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A kind of biography that seeks to explain the character and behaviour of its subject according to a psychological theory of human development, usually one derived from Freudian psychoanalysis. The links that Freud made in several of his case histories between disturbing events in an individual's childhood and neurotic symptoms in later life offered an explanatory model that some biographers adopted under his influence, among the earliest of these being Lytton Strachey, whose book Elizabeth and Essex (1928) offered to explain the political conduct of Queen Elizabeth I as the result of an early deformation of her sexuality. Freud himself wrote a psychobiographical essay on Leonardo da Vinci (1910), and among his immediate disciples Marie Bonaparte wrote a full-length study of Edgar Allan Poe (1935) that arrives at a clinical diagnosis of his writings as symptoms of necrophilic sadism. More sophisticated exercises in psychobiography appeared in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, notably Leon Edel's five-volume life of Henry James (1953–72) and Erik Erikson's Young Man Luther (1968). Since then, a more sceptical intellectual climate has led biographers to be cautious about the dangers of reductionism in this approach. For a series of introductory accounts, consult William Todd Schultz (ed.), Handbook of Psychobiography (2005).

http://www.psychobiography.com Specialist resource on psychobiography.

Subjects: Literature.


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