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Mapping LivesThe Uses of Biography$
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Peter France and William St Clair

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780197263181

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197263181.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use.date: 01 April 2020

The Newness of the ‘New Biography’: Biographical Theory and Practice in the Early Twentieth Century

The Newness of the ‘New Biography’: Biographical Theory and Practice in the Early Twentieth Century

Chapter:
(p.193) 11 The Newness of the ‘New Biography’: Biographical Theory and Practice in the Early Twentieth Century
Source:
Mapping Lives
Author(s):

Laura Marcus

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197263181.003.0012

The dominance of modernist and avant-garde literature in the early decades of the twentieth century directed attention away from certain texts and genres. Biography was one of the genres that underwent transformation. In the 1920s and 1930s, it took new forms, which gave rise to an unprecedented popularity of life-writing. This rise in the popularity of biographies was linked to the perception that they had been reinvented, requiring a new level of critical self-awareness. This chapter discusses biographical theory and practice in the early twentieth century. This biographical dimension crossed national boundaries wherein common biographical tenets were developed. In this period, the concept of ‘new biography’ proliferated. This new concept of biographies was grounded on the relationship between the literary and the scientific, and the importance of the study of the character. In the chapter, the tenets and characteristics of the ‘new biography’ and the ‘new biographers’ are considered. It examines the new equality between the biographer and the subject; the brevity, selection, and attention to the form and unity associated with fiction; the development of central motifs in a life and of a key to personality; and the focus on the character rather than the events.

Keywords:   1920s and 1930s, new forms, biographical theory, biographical practice, early twentieth century, biographical tenets, new biography, new biographers, new equality, attention to form

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