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Reviewed by:
  • In Quest Of The Other Person: Fiction As Biography, and: Exile And The Writer: Exoteric And Estoeric Experiences, A Jungian Approach
  • Philip Stevick
Ina Schabert. In Quest Of The Other Person: Fiction As Biography. Tübingen: Franke, 1990. 235 pp. pb. 48 DM.
Bettina L. Knapp. Exile And The Writer: Exoteric And Estoeric Experiences, A Jungian Approach. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1991. 253 pp. $29.50.

A hybridization of biography and fiction is nothing new—consider the fictionalized criminal biographies of the English eighteenth century or the novelizations of the eminent by Bulwer Lytton in the nineteenth. Still, those early examples seem marginal to the purposes either of biography or fiction, facile, sensational perhaps, popular in the worst sense, specious and ignorable. Nowadays, on the other hand, "fiction as biography" seems central and ubiquitous, self-conscious, and serious about its art. As for its ubiquity, Ira Shabert's bibliography contains, along with such obvious examples as Claudius and Hadrian, Nat Turner and Huey Long, citations to fictionalized versions of Nostradamus, Chatterton, Saint-Simon, Shelley, and Marx's daughter. As for the artistic seriousness of the form, Shabert's intelligent commentary stands as testimony.

What is at issue is implicit in her title. Books that recreate a life that was once lived, about which historical and archival material exists, raise a set of problems whose solutions are not self-evident. The first is the question of why such re-creation should exist at all, what things such books can do which conventional biographies cannot. But more importantly, the idea of fiction as biography suggests the whole range of vexed questions involving self and other, "intersubjectivity," as the phenomenologists put it, the ability to enter into the self of the subject.

One way of examining such questions is to draw upon the commentary of the writers of those fictional biographies. Generally self-conscious about what they do, the writers of such fictions tend to be incisive and witty, profoundly interesting. Another way is to lay out the contours of personality theory, drawing on literary criticism, philosophy from Sartre to the present time, and psychoanalysis. Schabert does both with grace and ease. Mainly, of course, questions of the nature of the form can best be answered by an ingenious attention to some exemplary works. Her choices remind a reader of how extraordinarily various the form is: they range among Robert Graves' Wife to Mr. Milton, Marguerite Yourcenar's Hadrian's Memoirs, George Garrett's Death of the Fox, and Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot. Paying tribute to the virtuoso uniqueness of each of her examples, Shabert also pulls together certain common strains, a tendency to choose as subjects figures who oppose the totalizing and anti-individualistic forces that surround them, a common authorial intent, to "inscribe the person as a dynamic principle, running a gamut of moods, feelings, sense experiences, intellectual positions, managing a plurality of roles." [End Page 824]

Despite the extent of her bibliography, Schabert's book does not seek to survey the field. And other examples will occur to readers, fictional biographies of Dickens, Tolstoy, Carlyle, Freud, and dozens more. Instead, she seeks to lay out a "poetics" of the field, with some crucial examples, and at this she succeeds splendidly. It is difficult, these days, for the best promoted of books to make their way in the world. A book published in Tübingen is especially likely to get lost in the shuffle, which is a pity for this confident, strongly argued book.

By now, Bettina Knapp has written a number of studies based on Jungian principles, enough so that anyone who has encountered her works knows what to expect—a compelling and sensitive argument extended through an unusual range of texts. Another feature of her work is its relation to the Jungian theory that informs it. It is Jung that provides the premise of the work, its conceptual structure, its reason for being. But the result is a body of insights and comparisons so cogent that a reader interested in exile but not very interested in Jung can still find a rich and suggestive analysis.

At the start, Knapp makes it clear that she wishes...


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