In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

30:4, Reviews EXPERIMENTS IN BIOGRAPHY Ruth Hoberman. Modernizing Lives: Experiments in English Biography, 1918-1939. Foreword by A. O. J. Cockshut. Carbondale, and Edwardsville: Southern IUinois University Press, 1987. $21.95 Given a half-century's perspective, a consensus on "the new biography" has emerged. Ruth Hoberman joins Ira B. Nadel and others who have recently described Lytton Strachey's revolution as a modemist epiphenomenon, enjoying the critical rights and privileges of an historical school, while its power to arouse passions pro and con becomes a vague memory. Indeed, as A. O. J. Cockshut's foreword takes some satisfaction in reminding us, current literary biography has almost uniformly returned to the documentary—if not the hagiographie —methods of the Victorians, against which the revolution was aimed. Finding the broad lines of transition weU established, we need not look to Modernizing Lives either for striking restatements of the new biography's differences from its Victorian forebears or of its participation in the modemist ethos. It is largely in the close study of narrative technique that Hoberman's energy is invested and it is here that the main rewards of this book lie. In taking some gingerly steps through the forbidding realm of narratology , she has opened the door to further inquiry into what everyone agrees is an art but no one has had the tools to investigate: biography as narrative. Professor Hoberman establishes three theoretical models of biography for her analyses: noveUstic (narrated in ways comparable to the fictional omniscient narrator), mediated (where the biographer's ongoing perceptions are dramatized ), and psycho- or sociobiographical (in which the display of internal and external forces is more important than the voice of the narrator). A chapter is devoted to each of these types: Strachey, Geoffrey Scott and David Cecil exemplify the noveUstic biography, Henry James, Percy Lubbock and A. J. A. Symons the mediated, and the later Strachey (of Elizabeth and Essex), E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf the psycho/sociobiographical. The analyses are studded with local insights, e.g., that Paterian anxiety about the continuity of the self in time invades the noveUstic biographers' efforts to portray the unity of their subjects—an anxiety shared by the subjects themselves and detectable in the biographies' tale of "the self establishing a fictive unity by which it is then entrapped" (62). At important points, the genre is shown to bear strong links to modem fiction, as when the mediated biographers (especially James in William Wetmore Story and his Friends) are shown becoming the true subjects of their texts: "The story merely of the biographical subject is 'thin,' but the story of the subject's story—i.e., of his perceptions and responses—means appropriation and betrayal to the extent it is possible at all. The only alternative is ... the story of the biographer 's story" (111). This shift to the narrative of biographical curiosity, investigation and ironically mitigated reward is aptly compared to the great Conradian shift represented by Marlow's foregrounding over Kurtz or Jim. 500 30:4, Reviews The most questionable of the theoretical models is the third: not only did Strachey, Forster and Woolf resist the kind of explanation usually caUed psychobiographical or sociological, but their original strategies for depicting their subjects as the intersection of persons (usually friends), rather than of impersonal forces in their miUeux, scarcely resemble what comes to mind under the rubric of "biographies concerned with placing the inteUectual development of their subjects within a social context" (163). The author attempts to distinguish her sense of sociobiography, "a dramatized interaction of social forces," from "analytical intellectual or social history," but the distinction is eventuaUy vulgarized as one between female and male historiography, "a record of intimacies and influences rather than conflict" (197). There would be a benefit in more clearly describing the ideas of self and society implicit in these biographies; they resemble G. H. Mead's theory of the group formation of the individual, or McTaggart's philosophy of coUective mind. In preparation for this enterprise, Hoberman has Ughtly equipped her theoretical forces with Gombrich on conventional schemata, White on metaphor and other tropes, and Genette on focalization or what used to be called point...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 500-502
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.