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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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The Proper Study?

The Proper Study?

Chapter:
(p.6) (p.7) 1 The Proper Study?
Source:
Mapping Lives
Author(s):

Richard Holmes

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197263181.003.0002

Lytton Strachey in 1918 suggested that English biography had found its true calling as the most delicate and humane of all the branches of the art of writing. Three generations later, the form has expanded, gained a new broad readership, and achieved intellectual authority. Biography has been called the ‘true art of writing’ and a humanist discipline. It has been hailed as the proper study of mankind. While biography was becoming a recognized art of writing, its value and nature remained a contested issue. In the early days, a biography was primarily a maverick and unacademic form of writing. Academia too was not keen to recognize biography, particularly as a literary genre. It has constantly assaulted the form of biography as trivial, exploitative, fictive, and a corrupter of pure texts and of scholarly morals. And more importantly, a biography was deemed as devoid of serious poetics, post-Aristotelian regulations, and subjective. This chapter examines whether biography is an art and discipline that can be taught and evaluates whether life-writing can be a proper subject for an academic course. It examines the possible contents, aims, and benefits if biography was to be considered as a university subject, including the grounds that would claim biography as a genuine humanist discipline.

Keywords:   Lytton Strachey, English biography, art of writing, humanist discipline, study of mankind, unacademic writing, trivial, exploitative, fictive, pure texts

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