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BOOK REVIEWS 1. THEORY OF BIOGRAPHY Ira Bruce Nadel. Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984. $25.00 Ira Bruce Nadel's historical, critical, and theoretical study of biography, the end product of much thought and frequent publication by him on the subject, bears the interesting, alliterative, and revealing subtitle "Fiction, Fact and Form." Is it mere chance, one wonders, or is it by design and conscious intention that "fact" comes surrounded by "fiction" and "form"? Is the order of the three subtitular elements determined merely by rhythmic properties (does "Fiction, Fact and Form" sound better than "Fact, Form and Fiction" and better than "Form, Fiction and Fact") or is it determined by the relational, interdependent significance of the three terms? Is "fact" too stark, too crude, too gross and unyielding and uninteresting to be approached except by way of "fiction" (if we come through the front door of the title) or by way of "form" (if we come through the back door)? I am not sure of the answers to these questions but what I am sure of is that fact is at the center of Mr. Nadel's inquiry and his subtitle-not mere brute fact, however, but fact transformed, transcended, and redeemed—and that it is the vexing and vexed relationship of fact to fiction and form in the writing and reading of biography that provides the thematic thread through the maze ofthis study. The two sister practices (as many people consider them: I would think them more like rather distant cousins) of biography and autobiography have received curiously unequal and shifting critical attention over the years. For quite a long time no critical or theoretical attention was directed to autobiography except—and this is admittedly a very large, very important exception—by autobiographers themselves and then almost always within the covers of the autobiography (St. Augustine in the great Books λ and XI of his Confessions, for example, or Rousseau, in his paranoid fashion, at a hundred different spots in his Confessions). Biography, on the other hand, has been much discussed as a craft or an art in the past sixty years or so—I choose the number of years more or less at random but also that they should contain André Maurois series of Clark lectures of 1928, first published in English in 1929 as Aspects of Biography. Critical writing on biography during this period was often, though not quite always, produced by people who had themselves written biographies and indeed one might say that it was a kind of by-product of the wnting of biographies. Unlike cntical and theoretical treatments of autobiography, however, the criticism of biography seldom found its way into biographical texts but was produced on the side, as it were, and published separately and it frequently had a kind of howto -do-it or how-I-wrote-it quality about it. · Harold Nicolson, André Maurois, Leon Edel, Edgar Johnson, and James L. Clifford, all of them biographers and critics of biography, are relevant names to mention and there are many more whose names might be adduced. I mean no offence when I say that theory—at least theory as we understand the term when, currently, we refer to "literary 429 theory"—had little part to play in the sort of biography criticism I have been speaking of. Relatively shallow as to theory, these exercises by biographercritics might best be classified as a kind of "practical criticism." Now all this time the matter stood very differently with criticism of autobiography. While the practical criticism of biography was flourishing no one seemed to feel autobiography interesting enough for critical attention. Maurois devoted one of his lectures to autobiography seeing it—and this was typical of the time and the biographer's temperament—as a rather suspect variety of biography which later was for Maurois, as for other biographers, much the more interesting mode of writing. But then some thirty years ago everything was turned around as the New Criticism waned, literary history (of the old variety) fell out of favor, and literary theory came to the fore. Now everyone was fascinated with the questions raised by autobiography and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 429-431
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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