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The Art of Literary Biography$
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John Batchelor

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780198182894

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198182894.001.0001

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Secondary Lives: Biography in Context

Secondary Lives: Biography in Context

(p.43) 3 Secondary Lives: Biography in Context
The Art of Literary Biography


Oxford University Press

Biography has to accept that it is a traditional, rather old-fashioned form, evolving slowly rather than by great imaginative leaps and profound intellectual discoveries. Attempts to cry it up on the whole do more harm than good. The biographer's life is the first to be made ‘secondary’ to that of his or her subject. Literary biography is still an extended act of attention to one person, a canonization of a life-and-works, a privileging of one existence over others, and an assumption that the life and the writing are intimately bound up together. The biographer seeks to annihilate the distance between self and his subject by taking on the subject's own voice. The secondary lives can present almost insurmountable problems for the biographer. Full-scale biographies of ‘secondary lives’ are becoming more common. However, publishers desperate for a new subject are still keener on the umpteenth biography of a celebrity than on one of a fascinating but previously unknown minor figure.

Keywords:   literary biography, secondary life, biographer

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