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ELT 44 : 3 2001 woman. It is the dark version of Sinclair's life, the opposite of Mary Olivier's story, the failure of sublimation. The laconic and minimalist style of Harriett Frean is interpreted by Raitt as a "form of modernity which uses linguistic sparsity and intensity to install femininity not as a site of enigma and fecundity, but as a state of deprivation and disappointment ." Raitt's thorough analysis of Mary Olivier and Harriett Frean, based on psychoanalytical criticism, is accurate and detailed, and it includes references to classical interpretations of these novels and also to texts used by Sinclair (William James's The Principles of Psychology, Henry Maudsley's Body and Mind and Herbert Spencer's The Principles of Biology ) that might have influenced her thought. The appendix of this biography includes an autobiographical sketch by Sinclair entitled "The Miss-May-Sinclair" that provides the reader with a mildly comical perspective of Sinclair's consideration of herself: But little is known of this very curious & interesting animal.... Its habit is to hide itself in its outer burrow, or studio, during the forenoon, when the little creature applies itself, with comic fury, to building up a heap of manuscripts wh. wd. seem to serve it for purposes of protection and indeed nutrition. ... When young it is capable of absorbing metaphysics in prodigious quantities & giving them forth in the form of blank verse. The specialist and the general reader will profit by reading this serious , impassioned book, which dexterously combines rigorous scholarship and simplicity. Maria F. Llantada Diaz University of Santiago de Compostela Biography Today Paula Backscheider. Reflections on Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. xxii + 225 pp. $45.00 SHOULD JOSEPH LASH, in Eleanor and Franklin, have told us—in such contrast to two other recent biographies—that Eleanor looked at Franklin's "collapsed" legs and thought of Michangelo's Pietal What can we understand of recent developments in the genre from the example of Mark Kurlansky's Cod: a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World! What questions are at stake for either the biographer or the reader in knowing that Längsten Hughes's grandmother sometimes covered him in a bullet-ridden shawl worn by her husband when he fought with John Brown at Harper's Ferry? The answers to these ques364 BOOK REVIEWS tions are not clear. Few concerning anything to do with biography are. I once listened at the National Endowment for the Humanities School of Criticism and Theory while a distinguished biographer tried to give a convincing theoretical justification for having written his biography in the first place. The general consensus was, he couldn't; what he had on his hands was an old-fashioned humanist subject rather than a network of "discourses," and, perhaps worse, what he presumed to provide were accurate facts about this subject, as opposed to an invented narrative. However, we agreed even more that these scandals shouldn't, and wouldn't, prevent us from reading biographies. Paula Backscheider would have been pleased, but not surprised. Her fine book (born and nurtured, she acknowledges, from two National Endowment seminars) is written for people who can't get enough of biographies, and don't care if it violates their theoretical principles. Indeed, her initial "tour of decisions that biographers make" is a resolutely reader-centered one. What do readers want? "They want integrity, judgement, interpretive skill, and a good read." They don't want any conflict between these things. Ideally, they want a great nineteenth-century realist novel, which happens to be true, as only history can be. Indeed, this is what the culture wants. Reflections on Biography is most emphatic about the importance of the cultural work that biographies do, and it sees no contradiction or dissonance at all between each generation's need to recreate its own concerns (about women or race, most recently) through narratives of worthy individual figures from earlier generations. "Narrative," Backscheider concludes, "is the chief means by which we understand a life, ours or anyone else's, and endow it with coherence and meaning over time." In support of this position, she devotes her first four chapters to the narrator: about the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 364-368
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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