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Jessica Martin, Walton's Lives: Conformist Commemorations and the Rise of Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xxii + 353pp. $80. Review by Clayton D. Lein Jessica Martin's Walton's Lives is the most important study of Walton since David Novarr's magisterial The Making of Walton's Lives (1958). It argues a decidedly different case from Novarr's study, however, which Martin deems anachronistic in its concerns. Most important, she provides readers with a profound understanding of the intricate confluence of cultural and literary forms and forces informing Walton's biographical narratives. Martin aims to restore Walton's literary reputation by defining the contexts for his practices and by demonstrating his masterful manipulation of inherited conventions and traditions. She proves him to be a sophisticated and subtle craftsman, the key figure in the British tradition transforming protobiographical narratives into the biographical tradition we enjoy today. Martin's finest service is to elucidate scores of patterns and conventions within the various rhetorical and discursive traditions that lie behind early modern biographical narratives, which she variouslyterms "exemplaryLives" and "commemorativenarrations." She focuses particularly on Protestant funeral sermons, Plutarch's biographical narratives, and prefatory biographical accounts to authors' works, crucial independent forms which Walton examined, absorbed, and explored in developing his own approach and practices. Donne's funeral sermon on Magdalen Herbert influenced his early Life ofDonne. Walton read Plutarch with great interest and referred to him repeatedly both in the Lives and in The Compleat Angler. Numerous prefatory accounts of authors, moreover, provided Walton with models, concepts, phrasings, and considerable primary material for his biographies, as Martin, Novarr, and numerous others have documented extensively, and Martin has shrewd and useful things to say about works Walton is certain or likely to have read. Walton's contemporaries chiefly aligned him with Plutarch, and Martin demonstrates that to "call Walton a 'new Plutarch' is to link him to a virtually pedagogical tradition" (p. 35). Central to Plutarch (as to the other traditions noted above) is the writing of virtue and the issue of exemplarity, a didactic stance directed to improving the "readers' life practice" (p. xiii). The emerging biographical form of chronological narrative, moreover, proved to be well suited "to replacing argument with narrative" (p. 229). This orientation fostered Book Reviews89 an energetic interplay between the descriptive and the prescriptive, an interaction allowing numerous prescriptive discursive forms to interact with proto-biographical narratives. Walton, consequently, was not different from his contemporaries and forbears in this textual mixture, but considerably better in shaping it. (Martin uses Walton's own sole prescriptive work, Love and Truth, to quite good effect, exploring specific connections between that work and his biographies.) Martin further demonstrates how the practice of prefatory proto-biographies of ecclesiastical figures by Walton's predecessors led ultimately to the supplanting of the printed works by the biographical preface (p. 284) and to the creation of a "kind of latter-day scripture" (p. 152), a development accounting for a wide range of imagistic, gestural, symbolic, and allusive details in early modern biographies. Not the least of Martin's services is her delineation of the rich scriptural intertextuality informing Protestant conformist biographical narratives. Following her general survey of this pedagogical tradition, Martin offers detailed analyses of four of Walton's Lives, all biographies of "godly prototypes," which she wittily groups as Plutarchan parallel lives, an approach both problematic and advantageous. Walton's Lives of Donne and Herbert are assessed as personally motivated accounts and as biographies "vivified by the truth of love" (pp. 167, 203), also as biographies knowingly conceived as partial in their representation (pp. 171, 226). Walton's Lives of Hooker and Sanderson, both commissioned by bishops, are then examined as more comprehensive efforts, as "life and times" biographies and as highly politicized Restoration narratives "struggling] to make sense of the Civil War" (pp. 227, 273, 288). In each grouping, Martin shows how the later biographies of Herbert and Sanderson involve a sophisticated refinement of strategies forged for the earlier biographies of Donne and Herbert, respectively (pp. 213-16, 273, 298). Her analyses here as elsewhere are excellent. She examines Walton's struggles with voice and authority as a layman writing the lives of ecclesiastical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 88-94
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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