Chapter

<i>Shaping Victorian Biography: From Anecdote to</i> Bildungsroman

Elinor S. Shaffer

in Mapping Lives

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780197263181
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734595 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5871/bacad/9780197263181.003.0008

Series: British Academy Centenary Monographs

Shaping Victorian Biography: From Anecdote to Bildungsroman

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By the end of the eighteenth century, European countries sought new functions for biographies. As the appetite and scope for more facts increased, and the need for reshaping them into a matter of national pride became the imperative, the writing of life found new models. This chapter discusses the formation of new models of Victorian biography. In the early nineteenth century, James Field Stanfield wrote a full-scale book on biography and Karl von Morgenstern coined the term Bidungsroman. Both formulated the terms in which biography and novel were to be in close proximity, both in likeness and difference. According to Stanfield, biography must assist in understanding the human character. It should aim to elucidate the range of human possibilities and to impart improvements in education and conduct. Stanfield argued that biography is a serious history wherein the historian is obliged to tell the truth, although at the same time there is a need for censorship in order to protect certain parts of the audience who should be edified by their reading. In these Victorian biographies, the aim was for the improvement of the individual and of the human race; hence certain latitude for the discussion of negative examples is allowed to impart moral illustrations. However, the dominant theme in Victorian biographies was negative representations of living persons. As the Victorian biographies dwindled, a new ideal form, Bidungsroman, unified the clash of unvarnished fact and edification, and closed the gap between novel and biography.

Keywords: eighteenth century; Victorian biography; James Field Stanfield; Karl von Morgenstern; Bidungsroman; biography and novel; improvement; moral illustrations; negative examples; edification

Chapter.  8250 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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