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Autobiographical Writing and British Literature 1783-1834$
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James Treadwell

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199262977

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199262977.001.0001

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The rise of ‘autobiography’

The rise of ‘autobiography’

(p.3) 1 The rise of ‘autobiography’
Autobiographical Writing and British Literature 1783-1834

James Treadwell

Oxford University Press

The word ‘autobiography’ is a late 18th-century coinage; but by 1834 Carlyle referred to ‘these Autobiographical times of ours’. The chapter describes the debate over the nature and propriety of what was felt at the time to be a newly prominent way of writing. From Dr. Johnson's 1750 essay on biography to an 1829 article by Mary Busk in Blackwood's, the chapter analyses some important instances of contemporary commentary on autobiography by critics and reviewers. While the commentators agree on the principles that would make autobiographical writing valuable, their prescriptive ideals prove difficult to maintain. The act of reading autobiography provokes confusions and missed expectations, which turn out to be crucial to the period's emerging sense of what autobiographical writing actually is.

Keywords:   Carlyle, genre, reviews, Johnson, prescription

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